The UCI has responded to criticism by the Movement For Credible Cycling (MPCC) over its perceived lack of effort in the fight against doping. In a recent letter sent to UCI President David Lappartient, the MPCC called on the sport's governing body to do more against a suspected blood-doping 'mafia' particularly after the revelations of Operation Aderlass. The UCI has said that it shares concerns with the MPCC and that it is exploring new avenues to reinforce anti-doping in cycling.
"The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), whose commitment to the fight against doping is regularly acknowledged by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and other organisations in this domain, fully shares the concerns of the MPCC, which also wishes to see a more effective battle for a clean sport," a spokesperson from the UCI told Cyclingnews.
Operation Aderlass (or 'bloodletting' in English) is the name given to the Austrian and German investigation into a doping ring that was uncovered after the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office raided the nordic skiing world championships followed by a clinic in Erfurt, Germany.
The doping ring is alleged to have been carried out by German physician Mark Schmidt, who is a former team doctor for Gerolsteiner and Milram. German authorities later confirmed that 21 athletes from five different sports and eight different countries were under investigation for blood doping.
Stefan Denifl, who had signed with the CCC Team at the time, was the first cyclist to confess to blood doping as part of the investigation. It was reported that he had no 'red flags' on his biological passport.
In March, Georg Preidler (who raced for Groupama-FDJ) was the next rider to admit to having blood extractions. He told the Kronen Zeiting newspaper that he "had blood taken out but never put it back."
The UCI handed down four-year suspensions to Denfil and Preidler for their confessed involvement in Operation Aderlass. According to a report by the Austria Press Agency, Preidler has been charged with fraud in relation to his testimony in the Operation Aderlass doping inquiry. Denfil is facing possible prison time if convicted of fraudulently obtaining funds from sponsors while doping.
The UCI has also suspended Kristijan Durasek, Kristijan Koren, Borut Bozic and Alessandro Petacchi in connection with the case.
"In particular, the Aderlass affair – legitimate source of concern for all concerned parties - has convinced the UCI to explore new avenues to reinforce the anti-doping fight in cycling. This reflection englobes, for example, the discussion launched with the International Testing Agency (ITA) to study the potential advantages of a future collaboration, a spokesperson told Cyclingnews.
"The UCI wishes to underline that, as part of the Aderlass operation, it has sanctioned several individuals, most of them active at the highest level, thanks to the sharing of information with the authorities in charge of the investigation."
In its letter, the MPCC called on the UCI to carry out blood tests closer to the start and finishes of competitions to fight what it called a 'doping mafia protocol' whereby suspected athletes could be escaping detection because they are transfusing blood in the morning of a race and extracting blood directly following the race.
It also asked the UCI to conduct more out-of-competition blood tests, to test for plastics in blood samples to indicate possible blood transfusions, and to investigate the suspected use of AICAR, a banned experimental drug that is considered performance-enhancing.
The MPCC stated that it has based its requests for better blood testing on information provided by Preidler following Operation Aderlass. The banned rider has spoken with Iwan Spekenbrink and Marc Madiot the managers of Team Sunweb and Groupama-FDJ.
The UCI believes the Biological Passport, which records and monitors athlete blood profiles over a period of time, to be effective in the fight against doping since its introduction in 2008. However, the programme has been criticised for its limitations, and it has been argued to be flawed from both a legal and scientific standpoint.
"The UCI also wishes to reiterate that the blood tests carried out as part of the Biological Passport – where the MPCC suggests an extra effort be made – have led to the sanctioning of 24 riders as of today. Neither should it be forgotten that the interpretation of Passport data contributes greatly to the organisation of targeted tests," a spokesperson from the UCI said.
The UCI reiterated that based on information and documents received from Austrian police from Operation Aderlass, it requested the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) to re-rest samples taken in 2016 and 2017. It believes that the success of the anti-doping fight depends on the cooperation of all parties involved, in particular the sharing of resources and information.
"Like the MPCC, we invite all stakeholders to give us all information in their possession. We will continue to work with all parties committed to the fight for a clean sport. Above all, the UCI will remain the driving force in this combat, and the body that guarantees the credibility and appeal of our sport", said a spokesperson from the UCI.