This year's Tour de France was almost certainly not the first time CERA has been used. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes finds out that this latest generation of EPO may have been influencing results in major events for at least a year before le Tour 2008.
The first widespread knowledge of the use of the Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator (CERA) drug Mircera in sport occurred when the Italian Saunier Duval-Scott rider Riccardo Riccò was ejected from the Tour prior to the start of stage 12. It followed earlier positives for 'standard' EPO by Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) and Barloworld rider Moisés Dueñas.
Contrary to suggestions made at the Tour, the third generation EPO agent - Mircera - was commercially available for almost a year prior to its first detection as a doping agent. It means that CERA could have been used in the 2007 Vuelta a España and world championships, in addition to other major events.
At the time of Riccò's explusion from the race, many statements were made by WADA, the UCI and other parties - that testers were ahead of the game and had already determined a method to detect CERA before its widespread use in the peloton. WADA spokesman Frédéric Donzé said immediately after Riccò's positive test that the news was, "a further indication that the net is closing on those athletes who still take the risk to dope. Thanks to the co-operation of the manufacturer of this substance (Roche) and of WADA-accredited laboratories, WADA received the molecule well in advance and was able to develop ways to detect it."
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