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Top rider under suspicion from passport data

One of cycling's top riders could face a doping sanction after testing under the biological passport programme revealed abnormal values, the UCI announced Friday. At a press conference in Aigle, Switzerland, the organisation's president Pat McQuaid and anti-doping manager Anne Gripper revealed some details from the testing done to date, but did not name any riders.

Of the 2,172 samples collected from riders since the beginning of the programme, there were 23 riders who "warranted further scrutiny" due to unusual patterns in blood or urine profiles. Of those, one rider is expected to be sanctioned, while four others are also facing potential bans.

The suspect riders come from a pool of 854 cyclists who have taken part in the programme, and McQuaid doesn't think the results are anything to be concerned about. "It is not unusual to have results of this kind, and there is no concern at this moment," McQuaid told the Associated Press.

The passport programme has persisted despite the withdrawal of support from the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), who split with the partnership after the UCI initiated a lawsuit against former WADA president Dick Pound. McQuaid said that the passport data is still being made available to the anti-doping agency, and that sanctions arising from the passport system will follow the WADA code - meaning a two-year ban for suspect athletes.

The Irishman was optimistic that this program has finally made a change in culture in a sport which has been riddled with doping for decades."We are seeing a major change at the top level of the sport," McQuaid claimed. "We all are aware that cycling has a doping problem and for 40 years has been dealing with a doping problem. We needed to go at it with a huge campaign in which we bombarded athletes with tests and the biological passport program gave us that opportunity."

The testing under the passport program targets blood and hormone values throughout the season that could reveal that performance enhancing drugs or methods have been used by an athlete. This type of 'longitudinal analysis' is thought to be more effective at detecting the use of blood boosters such as EPO or blood transfusions as well as hormones such as testosterone, but, according to Gripper, has not replaced traditional drug testing.

"Last year we completed just over 9,000 tests: this year we will be doing just over 18,500," Gripper told the Associated Press, although she expects the volume of testing to go down once they've established good baseline values for all the riders. "This is the peak year of testing. Once we have strong profiles we won't need the same volume of testing," she said. "Given the enormity of what we are doing it has been going well. We are getting the full support of the riders and teams."

The analysis of the data generated from the testing of riders' blood and urine under the passport system is done by a team of scientific experts, all of whom have studied the physiological effects of doping. The group includes Australian Michael Ashenden, who heads up the research consortium Science and Industry Against Blood doping, and was the co-creator of the test used to detect heterologous blood doping which snared Tyler Hamilton in 2004.

Also on the panel are Frenchman Michel Audran, Bo Berglund (Sweden), the chief physician of the Swedish Olympic Committee, Italians Giuseppe D'Onofrio, Pierluigi Fiorella and Giuseppe Fischetto, head of the medical department of the Italian Athletic Federation. Frenchman Olivier Hermine, Robin Parisotto (Australia) and Olaf Schumacher (Germany), the chief physician of the German Cycling Federation complete the list.

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