Vroomen fears cycling is losing momentum in doping fight

Gerard Vroomen has lamented the news that Dr. Michael Ashenden has resigned from his position an independent member of the UCI's panel of experts that reviews the blood passport data.

Both Vroomen and Ashenden have raised similar questions regarding the UCI’s biological passport in the past, with both gentlemen querying gaps in passport testing last year.

While Ashenden was just one member of an 8-strong panel, he was by far the most vocal in term of talking to the media. His departure - based over a confidentiality order - coupled with the fact that the UCI has failed to launch a single passport case in two-years has led Vroomen to suggest cycling has lost momentum in the fight against doping.

"It would be absolutely amazing if the passport was perfect the first time around, but the whole sport has taken a step back since 2009," Vroomen told Cyclingnews.

The former Cervelo TestTeam boss was referring to a period in 2008 to 2010 when a number of breakthroughs were made. Riders were caught at the 2008 with CERA EPO pumping through their blood and the first biological passport cases were launched. For the first time doping and cheats appeared to be on the back foot.

"2009 was a perfect year. Everybody was scared because of the CERA test and everything that happened in 2008 and 2009 was fantastic. Not everybody in the sport may have decided to push through at that time maybe some people were too scared about the negative publicity and that’s a shame because it was a golden opportunity to really, really push through.

Ashenden’s move has left Vroomen wondering where the sport is heading.

"It’s sad. If you want to have a believable anti-doping programme then you need to be able to accept criticism and be able to improve it. Not pretend it’s perfect.

"Over time you have a worse system because you’re not capable of accepting criticism. Even if the passport was perfect right now it would still need improvement in order to stay perfect in the future. You need criticism in order to keep it in shape. I don’t know how good or not it is. I know there are gaps in testing for certain riders which is not good, but they’re nowhere near like they are in sports like tennis. It’s not like we need to wait a year and half to test someone."

Despite all this Vroomen, who has not been directly involved with a team for almost a year, believes that the sport is still in a better state than 10 years ago, when the biological passport was merely a pipe dream. And while much of the passport’s momentum is down to the UCI, Vroomen does acknowledge that a collection of bodies and organisations shoulder the responsibility.

"I still think we’re much better off in the sport than we were ten years ago but maybe it could have been a little bit better if some people hadn’t taken their eye off the ball. To be honest, it’s probably a combination of all sorts. It’s easy to say UCI, UCI, UCI but I don’t think that at all. It’s a combination of races, teams, federations to solve these problems.. It’s not something the UCI can solve as the others sit back and relax."

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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.