Reporting by Bruce Hildenbrand
International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping head Anne Gripper called for patience with the new biological passport program in an interview with Cyclingnews this week. Questions about the effectiveness of the program were raised when French anti-doping chief Pierre Bordry fought for control of the 2009 Tour de France doping controls. The president of the AFLD wondered his agency had caught six riders using two different types of the blood boosting drug EPO, the use of which should have been detected by the UCI's passport.
Gripper has overseen the implementation of the passport program, which was only approved one year ago today. The Australian said that getting such a complex system off the ground and running has been a large task.
Establishing which teams would be involved, organising a system to track riders' whereabouts for testing, and collecting all the samples was the first hurdle to overcome. "We have collected a lot of samples this year. As of the end of September it was 6500 samples," she said.
The second step was to assemble the data and put it through analysis by the UCI's panel of experts. "What we have been able to do is to produce at least a blood profile on all the riders that are in the program, and those profiles have now been sent to our group, we also set up a group of scientific experts from a range of different disciplines, and those nine experts will provide recommendations to the UCI based on what they see in the profiles."
Gripper said that the experts have reviewed all of the profiles and are ready to follow up on the data. "We are now at the point where we are following up to get what we call full documentation packages on some of those profiles. That further information will be sent to the experts and they will then make a recommendation to the UCI as to whether we should open cases against those riders based on their profiles."
If this all seems bogged down in administrative detail, that is because the system is so new that the UCI must take every precaution to ensure that the actions they take will stand up to scrutiny. "These will be the first ever cases opened based on an indirect detection method. Indirect in that we don't get a nice piece of paper from the lab saying they found EPO or they found steroids. It is actually using their profile and interpreting that to say 'yes, we are more than 99.9% percent confident that this rider is doping'."
For such a new program, Gripper indicated, the scale of the task is unprecedented. "It is not the normal small program you run as a pilot. We've actually dived into it in a pretty major way.
"We are really pushing our way through, discovering all the hurdles, discovering all the issues that will hopefully make it easier for other endurance sports to tap into in future years."
Above all, Gripper hoped that critics would be patient while her agency works through all the details. "I know it is a little bit frustrating that we have gotten to this point and haven't actually opened any cases. But it is a new ground-breaking program. We want these first cases to stand up in court so we are prepared to take just a little bit extra time to ensure that we have got the level of evidence we need rather than rushing in and having cases that don't stand up and therefore potentially undermine the whole program."
Stay tuned for the full interview to be published next week. See also a two part interview with Gripper from 2007.