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It's all about blood. Increasing the ability of the blood to deliver oxygen to the muscles is a potent performance-enhancer. Athletes are prepared to go to tremendous lengths to beat the tests.
Italian police in possession of samples
Samples from the 2008 Giro d'Italia were due to be retested for the blood booster CERA after the subsequent high-profile doping positives of several top riders who participated in the event. Yet there has been no news on the retests since the Italian police seized the urine samples this May. Now the UCI has indicated that if those authorities don’t retest the samples, it will try to do so.
"The Italian police have the samples. We tried to get them but can’t do so," said UCI President Pat McQuaid on Wednesday. "We would be interested in testing them but haven’t been able to access them. If we get them back, we will carry out the examinations."
The 2008 Giro d’Italia took place several weeks before that year’s Tour was plunged into controversy, when riders such as Riccardo Riccò, Stefan Schumacher, Leonard Piepoli and Bernhard Kohl competed with the assistance of CERA and ultimately tested positive.
At the time it was claimed that CERA was new to the peloton but, as Cyclingnews reported last December, the product was most likely in use long before that. It was approved for public use in July 2007 and was said by Spanish media to have been seized during the Operación Puerto raids over a year earlier.
Riccò finished the Giro d'Italia in second place behind Spaniard Alberto Contador in May, 2008, then two months later tested positive for CERA. He claimed to have only used it in preparation for the Tour de France, but many have questioned the claims that he and Emanuele Sella competed clean in that Tour of Italy. Sella won three stages and the mountains classification, but then tested positive for CERA in July 2008.
In October of last year McQuaid played down thoughts of re-examining the Giro samples.
Stating that he was not opposed to retroactive testing, he said that there needed to be grounds to believe riders had been doping before re-examinations would be done.
"What I was asked is if the UCI are now going to test all of the samples of the Vuelta, all of the samples of the Giro, and all the samples of the 2007 Tour de France, because the AFLD retroactively tested samples from this year and found CERA there?" he said. "My answer was no to that.
"In principle, the UCI supports the idea of retroactive testing, and we always have done that. But it has got to be based on good information, either on suspicion in terms of [sudden] excellent performances, on information that would, for example, come from the biological passport, or information that will come from people in the field in relation to a particular individual."
On Wednesday the Irishman dismissed as false an internet report that said that Di Luca’s 2009 Giro B samples had been declared negative by a laboratory in Barcelona. He also told Cyclingnews that the reports prior to the Tour de France that there would be positive results announced from the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse were inaccurate.
"They were just rumours, all speculation," he said. "There was nothing definite on that. I am not sure what is ongoing and what is not ongoing from what events, but we were not expecting anything in particular at that time prior to the Tour. And there is nothing new at the moment from those events.
"What was mentioned then was wrong, just the same as when l’Equipe reported that more biological passport names would come out during the during the Tour and that never happened. They are just rumours."