ASO appoints French anti-doping agency for Paris-Nice

Teams meanwhile aiming to find consensus

Paris-Nice road race organisers ASO have, under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation, placed France’s national anti-doping agency the AFLD in charge of doping control at the season’s traditional ‘Race to the Sun’ curtain-raiser. 

The news will come as a further slap in the face to the UCI, who yesterday said that if the race goes ahead without its doping control officials and commissaires, it effectively enters the realms of a private competition with no international status whatsoever.

However, it appears that the AFLD was well prepared for the call from ASO, perhaps not surprisingly as the story has more than a sense of déjà vu about it, mirroring as it does events surrounding last year’s race. And in an ominous indication of a potential escalation of the clash between the international federation and ASO, the AFLD has indicated that it is ready to take on similar responsibilities for the Tour de France.

No longer, it seems, is the agency simply viewing itself in the role of a UCI contractor, implementing doping controls deemed appropriate by cycling’s international governing body. Speaking before Monday’s announcement by the UCI which denounced the "insubordination of ASO and it allies" , Pierre Bordry, Président of  the AFLD said:  “The first thing we had to consider was our strategy. The UCI’s approach seemed too systematic to us. They test only the stage winners and the overall race leader. To avoid being tested it is sufficient to simply finish down the field. There needs to be more random testing.”

Under French law the AFLD can test nails, hair and even skin samples and Mr Bordry has said that it may be necessary for his organisation to undertake testing outside of France in the run-up to the Tour, if indeed they are charged with running the race’s anti-doping programme. However, the possibility that the AFLD will take on such a role also throws into question the future of the biological passport programme instigated by the UCI.

“These irresponsible attitudes threaten to undermine the remarkable efforts recently made in cycling, in particular with the biological passport, which the UCI reserves the right to apply as a priority to those of its partners who abide by its rules,”  the federation said in a strongly worded statement yesterday. 

Teams association says it will take a stand

Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer, in his capacity as president of the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP), said Tuesday he is currently discussing the issue with his fellow team managers.

"For the moment I'm consulting with all of the teams so that we can unanimously define which direction we are going to take," Boyer told AFP Tuesday. "After that I will be asking for a meeting with Pat McQuaid to inform him of our intentions.

"Our decision will determine how we will race (other events) the rest of the season," added Boyer, referring to the events run by ASO, RCS and Unipublic - the organisers of a number of top French, Italian and Spanish races who have been in dispute with the UCI.

Races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Tour of Spain are now no longer classed on the Pro Tour, the elite cycling calendar set up by the UCI several years ago but which has been criticised by race organisers ever since.

Of the 27 races on the 2007 Pro Tour calendar, there are now only 16. All the races run by ASO, RCS and Unipublic now feature either on a 'World' calendar or an 'Historic' calendar - a name which has yet to be confirmed.

A brief statement by ASO suggested they are ready to dig their heels in:

"Despite the hostile positions taken by the UCI President, Paris-Nice will take place as planned from March 9-16, and will be organised according to the technical rules of the French Cycling Federation, in application of the French law."

Existing tensions between the UCI and race organisers, mainly over disagreements with the Pro Tour issues, have worsened this season.

Most recently, ASO controversially did not invite Astana - a Pro Tour team - to the 2008 Tour de France on the premise that the doping scandal which led to its exit from the 2007 edition had done lasting damage to the race's image.

That decision enraged the UCI, who highlighted the fact that other teams - such as French outfit Cofidis - were thrown off the race after a rider tested positive. McQuaid feels strongly that Astana, which features Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and third placed finisher Levi Leipheimer, should be allowed to race in July.

Anyone remember last year?

The current dispute over which teams should take part in Paris-Nice is almost exactly the same as the one that happened in 2007.

Then, ASO refused to invite Unibet.com - a ProTour team under UCI rules. ASO claimed that under French gambling laws, it was illegal for a team sponsored by an online gambling concern to advertise itself in France. Unibet said it would change its name and jersey for French races, but had no luck with ASO and was excluded from all its races, starting with Paris-Nice.

The UCI demanded that ASO invite Unibet, threatening all teams with sanctions should they participate. The crisis was finally averted a few days before the start of Paris-Nice, with the UCI backing down and allowing ASO to invite the teams it wanted. Unibet was left with a worthless ProTour licence and folded at the end of the year.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008

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