By Hedwig Kröner
The fight against doping cannot be won without the unconditional support of the professional teams, their team managers and riders. Team Slipstream Sports/Chipotle has been known for its seriousness in the matter, as the squad has been using a blood profiling programme this year similar to what the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will put into place for the 2008 season. Cyclingnews talked to the team's manager, Jonathan Vaughters at the Tour de France presentation last Thursday in Paris, who offered to give these instances some advice in developing the new 'biological passport'.
"I'm excited about it," Vaughters said about the new anti-doping programme which was decided on at the international summit in Paris earlier last week. "If we want to protect cycling, its great historic events, and have the ProTour progress into a truly global series – which is what I hope – we need to fully re-establish credibility into the sport. I want to see the details of the blood passport, because I think that, having done our programme this year, I know where the mistakes and traps are. The concept is great, and it's wonderful that WADA, the UCI and [Tour de France organiser] ASO are working together on this. Maybe they would like to listen to the experiences of Team CSC, T-Mobile and ourselves, as we might be able to help them."
The three teams have indeed worked with independent anti-doping controllers such as Rasmus Damsgaard in the case of CSC, and Paul Scott for Slipstream. "We also made mistakes in our programmes, so we can tell them about our experiences and hopefully speed up the process a little bit. The more the scientists are allowed to have their way on this, the better," the former pro explained, adding that he came up with some pretty 'phasy' ideas at the summit.
"Even with the blood profile, it's difficult to detect autologous blood transfusions. I know this sounds crazy – I'm fully aware of it – but one idea is to take the concept of a trading desk of a financial services firm. They have what is known as a compliance officer, who can look over your shoulder at any given moment: basically, a chaperone. A similar concept could be applied during a three-week race like the Tour de France, where we could have certain officials with full access to the teams, at any given moment. These persons could rotate and just pop into a room at a one-minute notice to check on the riders," Vaughters continued, even if he knew that the idea would completely undermine any of the scarce privacy left at a Grand Tour.
Still, he was confident that at least Slipstream riders would be supportive of such a drastic measure. "I mean, the people who trade hundreds of millions of dollars have a big responsibility, and it is a great honour for them to do this. So, if you are going to be the hero of millions of people worldwide, to have children look up to you and want to do what you're doing - that's also a privilege and a big responsibility. So you would just be trading that fame for a little more invasion in your life. My riders probably wouldn't like it, but they would be prepared to do it. The important part is: if they win a race and they have the blood passports and the chaperones, the skepticism over their victory would be so much less. My riders just want to know that everyone is going to believe them that if they win something, they won it clean."
It remains to be seen if all of the international peloton would be ready to let their privacy be invaded in such a way, if the institutions governing the sport pick up on the idea. At the Deutschland Tour this year, the race organisers had appointed chaperones to escort riders from the finish line to the anti-doping facility after each stage. But Andrey Kashechkin, who tested positive for blood transfusion in early August this year, has built his legal defence line on the claim that the anti-doping testing methods in cycling violate human rights.