Heras case gives UCI "unconditional confidence" in EPO test

Expert recommendations ignored?

By Anthony Tan

A statement released by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) yesterday said they "noted with regret the abnormal result of Roberto Heras' analysis in Madrid", but used the Spanish rider's positive counter analysis as its way of addresing criticism of the urinary test for erythropoetin (EPO).

"The UCI would like to express its full satisfaction as to the progress of the procedures related to this case, and reaffirms its unconditional confidence in the method used for the search of EPO," read one of the statement's opening lines.

"The regrettable context of suspicion and distrust created around this affair, which will once again have provoked very negative consequences for the image of the cycling, is only the will of a number to discredit, in a totally unacceptable way, the reliability of the most important tool with which the UCI, as first International Federation in the world to be equipped within the framework of its commitment against doping and this already in 2001."

Whether these words have been directly aimed at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and/or Cyclingnews is a question worth asking. Chief Online Editor Dr Jeff Jones' recent report titled: "Serious concerns over urinary EPO test" stemmed from the three recent cases in the endurance sport of triathlon, where scientists defending Rutger Beke, Virginia Berasategui and Ibán Rodríguez were able to prove to test for artificial or recombinant EPO (rEPO) could lead to false positives.

In early 2002, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called for the urinary EPO test to undergo an independent review, whose experts recommended seven points of improvement, ranging from the assessment of the urine samples prior to analysis to a new approach for the interpretation of the scanned EPO profiles, as well as the use of more appropriate testing materials.

The experts asked to review the test, Drs. Gabriel Peltre and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thormann, also noted stress-induced activity can lead to proteinuria, where the body can naturally excrete proteins that would yield a positive test - which lead to the three aforementioned triathletes having their cases dropped. Furthermore, the doctors noted the use of an antibody that is non-specific for rEPO identification - that is, other proteins in the sample could be identified.

However, the UCI appears to be unmoved by Drs. Peltre and Thormann's recommendation: "The positive results which ensued from it since its introduction until this last case of Roberto Heras prove unmistakably that the battle against the plague of EPO must be pursued, but demonstrate especially the efficiency of these controls," read the statement. "The charges pressing in a recurring way on other riders subjected to the same test are thus pure speculation."

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