28 May 2009

First blood passport case imminent

Cycling's governing body defended its blood profiling system's ability to catch cheats, and says it will use evidence "very soon" to open cases against riders suspected of doping.


Cycling's governing body defended its blood profiling system's ability to catch cheats, and promised it would use evidence "very soon" to open cases against riders suspected of doping.

Analysis of samples given by more than 850 cyclists for their so-called biological passports has reached the final stage, the International Cycling Union said in a statement. The tests "have indicated a certain number of anomalies and confirmed the results of several traditional anti-doping controls," the UCI said.

The global body defended the R72 million passport project after disgraced rider Bernhard Kohl denounced it this week as ineffective.

Kohl, who finished third at the 2008 Tour de France before being caught for using the blood-boosting hormone CERA, said his doping went undetected despite giving numerous samples. The 27-year-old Austrian was banned for two years and announced his retirement on Monday. At a press conference he implied doping was widespread, and that riders could not finish third in a race like the Tour without medical help.

Questioning passports 'makes no sense'
In a later interview with German television, Kohl said he earned a lucrative contract last year with Belgian team Quick Step – which was later cancelled - because his blood values appeared normal on his biological passport. The UCI rejected Kohl's statements as "completely incorrect".

"Any questioning of the effectiveness of the biological passport makes no sense as the rider's individual profile had not yet been fully drawn up," it said. "It was thus not possible for Bernhard Kohl to draw any valid conclusions on the effectiveness of the biological passport at that stage."

The passports were created as a pilot scheme with the World Anti-Doping Agency and launched in January 2008. The pilot scheme is funded in part by teams and race organizers while riders pay a percentage of their prize money toward the costs.

Riders give blood and urine samples to create an individual body chemistry profile using analysis designed by a WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Suspected doping is then spotted in fluctuations from the athlete's known baseline levels - in effect, searching for the evidence of doping rather than individual illegal substances.

UCI lawyers are currently preparing a first case which they hope will be watertight and set a strong legal precedent. – (Sapa, May 2009)

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