After two days of intense negotiations, cycling's respective governing bodies concerned with the fight against doping have come to a consensus on the application of a biological passport for professional cyclists.
Cycling is in the midst of a massive spring cleaning operation following two years of disastrous doping stories that have tainted the sport and affected most notably the sport's blue riband event, the Tour de France. Last year the event was hit by a positive doping test submitted by its initial victor Floyd Landis, destroying the myth of his miraculous recovery from a pitiful day in the mountains to a triumphant resurrection the next day that launched him to victory. And that followed the barring of the pre-race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso due to their implication in a Spanish blood doping affair before the Tour began.
Then this year the Tour was hit by the withdrawal of the then-leader Michael Rasmussen of Denmark after it was revealed that he had missed four out of competition dope tests. That was aligned with the positive sample provided by pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov after one of his two stage victories that saw him booted out of the Tour as well.
Now, following the meetings in Paris Monday and Tuesday that saw the likes of the International Cycling Union (UCI), World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and Tour de France organisers ASO taking part, cycling's governing bodies hope to have found a solution to confine those damaging doping affairs to the past.
That solution is a biological passport, primarily focused on testing the blood but also urine of cyclists throughout the season to monitor any irregular biological changes happening in the cyclist's organism.
It's a complicated affair but as of January 1, all cyclists will be obliged to carry such a passport, the introduction of which will result in a significant increase in the number of tests carried out by the UCI. Compared with this year, next year shall see an increase in in-competition tests from 5,590 to 8,000 and out-of-competition tests from 1,000 to 7,000. There will also be an increase in the number of blood tests before races, although the exact figure has yet to be confirmed.
"The biological passport is an individual document, which records all the results of biological analyses carried out on each rider (at present, haematological parameters and urinary steroidal profile)," said the UCI on its website. "All this data, once collated, enables the haematological and urinary profile of a rider to be produced, and thus, to monitor with precision the evolution of the various parameters in his body in comparison with his constant references."
The passport will concern all riders racing for Pro Tour teams and also other continental teams that qualify for wildcards in UCI Pro Tour events.
This has been described as a major breakthrough for a sport that is so tainted by doping that sponsors have been withdrawing, afraid of having their brand associated with cheating, media outlets have refused to broadcast major events and spectators have been tuning out.
Maybe this move has come too late but what is notable is that the previously warring parties have come to an agreement, something that has not often been the case in this sport.
"Everyone has willingly come to agreement. Two months ago it was a long way from likely," said Patrice Clerc president of ASO.
Now a new chapter has begun in cycling, time will be the test of its success but in a sport that can ill afford any more doping scandals, time is not on its side.
© AFP 2007