UCI performed no blood tests during Amgen Tour of California

Stage 7 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California

Stage 7 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California (Image credit: Jon Devich/Cyclingnews.com/epicimages.us)

A plan to implement a comprehensive and independent anti-doping scheme for the Amgen Tour of California was watered down when a deal to allow the US Anti-doping Agency (USADA) to perform all in-competition testing was scuttled by the sport's governing body. Cyclingnews has learned that no blood controls were performed during the race after the UCI took responsibility for the race-day testing.

Three months prior to the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, the race organisation and USADA announced "the most comprehensive anti-doping program in the history of the race", in which USADA, an independent testing body, would perform all pre- and in-competition testing, while the UCI would manage the results of the controls.

It was understood that, at the time of the announcement, the UCI had signed off on the plan, but just one day before the start of the race, it was reported that the deal fell through at the last minute. A source has confirmed to Cyclingnews that the deal had in fact been signed by all parties, but was terminated by the UCI.

Race organisers and USADA together funded pre-competition testing, which included both blood and urine tests for a variety of substances including growth hormone and EPO on all riders scheduled to compete in the race.

The plan was to continue the comprehensive testing during the race, but the UCI took over control before the event began. The UCI confirmed to Cyclingnews that while standard urine tests were executed, no blood tests were carried out during the entire eight-day race.

According to a source close to the race, a backlash from the UCI was the cause of the last-minute change.

The reason? Strong statements made at the February press conference by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, a vocal proponent of independent testing, who believes sports should not be responsible for policing themselves. "You've heard the expression 'the fox guarding the henhouse' over the years," Tygart said in the press conference. "There's this natural tension when the sport attempts to police itself of enforcing firmly and fairly the rules versus the other interest which is to promote and raise revenue for the sport."

"There was a deal to do pre-competition and in-competition testing," the source told Cyclingnews. "That deal was struck with the deputy director of USADA and the UCI and that was in writing. It outlined USADA would do pre- and in-competition testing, but that the result management would be done by the UCI. So USADA would be responsible to determine who would be tested and what would be tested for and the lab used. The results would go to the UCI.

"Then there was a press conference and there was the comment about the fox guarding the henhouse. McQuaid went crazy and demanded an apology. One wasn't forthcoming and there was a huge thing. It was seen as an affront to Pat McQuaid's honour and fuck the sport if Pat McQuaid's honour is impeached.

"The deal that had been agreed in writing was pulled off the table. Pat assured the race that the UCI would do the testing and test for EPO."

Cyclingnews asked the source if blood testing had been carried out at the race. The source said: "I don't know but I believe it was only urine testing."

In a statement to Cyclingnews, the UCI put the blame for the last-minute change onto USADA, stating, "they planned to do some before and during the race, but just few days before the start USADA rejected the agreement which we submitted to them, too late to organize it in time without their support.

When contacted by Cyclingnews, Travis Tygart was diplomatic about the breakdown over testing rights.

"It's their rules and their event and they decided to do the testing at their event and we didn't," he said. "We did the pre-[competition] testing on it as we specified, and that was really successful. As far as the event testing I couldn't tell you if there was blood or urine testing.

"We were prepared to do it and we wanted to test there because the race organiser wanted us to test there. We think that at any national US event, USADA as an independent body should be doing the testing. That's not what the UCI rules say."

Tygart remains steadfast in his belief that all anti-doping controls should be done by an independent body.

"That's the model that's most successful," he said. "I've testified in front of congress about it and say it every chance I get. There's an inherent conflict or at least an inherent perceived conflict when a sport attempts to police itself. That's why, where it is possible, there should be independent anti-doping testing. There's really no good reason not to.

"We'd put in the infrastructure to do it and we were told close to the event that we weren't going to do it. It is what it is. Under their rules it was their right to do it. We did all the pre-race testing and felt like we had a thorough urine and blood testing program in place, testing riders several months out from the event."

However, the news over the lack of any in-competition blood tests is at odds with the testing USADA and the race organisers had wanted. Several teams and a US domestic rider have all told Cyclingnews that no blood tests were carried out. Two teams have also made clear that no blood tests were carried out at either the Tour of Utah or USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado.

In recent weeks the UCI has stressed its new format of 'intelligent' testing in cycling and indicated that targeted testing in more rigorous areas has both improved the health of the sport and the image of cycling. However, targeted testing has been seen as a smoke screen for less testing by some.

Last month, Michael Ashenden told Cyclingnews that he had seen several gaps in biological profile tests carried out by the UCI. He did admit that this may have been due to target testing, but said he had not been made aware of any such plans by the UCI.

The UCI added that their out of competition testing is also targeted and in a far stronger position than it was two years ago and that the strength of the biological passport means that "we don't need to conduct tests on every race anymore."

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.