Dope testers strike adds to nerves

French dope testers are set to complain about working conditions by striking on the day the Tour sta

French dope testers are set to complain about working conditions by striking on the day the Tour sta
Bold new steps to combat doping at the Tour de France could be thwarted by strike action at the French National Anti-Doping Laboratory (LNDD), it has been revealed. On Saturday, as the Tour's 189 riders set out from Lige, Belgium, the employees of the laboratory based at Chatenay-Malabry, near Paris, will begin industrial action to protest against recent changes to "the management of personnel". The three unions which represent the 41 LNDD employees "have taken the decision to give advance warning of a strike, to begin on Saturday July 3 and to continue until the situation is satisfactorily resolved," said spokeswoman Sandra Ferary. "When we chose the first day of the Tour de France, we knew that this was our only chance of being listened to." The LNDD was founded as a French public body on January 1 2002, and is responsible for the analysis of samples from dope tests carried out at the Tour de France. Although the likelihood is that the LNDD will somehow be coaxed back into action, the strike threat is the latest contretemps in a scandal-ridden Tour build-up. On Tuesday, Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said publicly that it was "impossible not to envisage police drugs raids at the Tour". This morning it was the turn of French sports minister Jean-Franois Lamour to air his concerns: "It's not plain sailing, that's the least you can say," Lamour told L'Equipe. "I believe that a breach is starting to open up in sport which has real, popular roots. People are starting to ask themselves: is this ever going to stop?" Procycling has learnt that excitement about the UCI's plan to use blood tests to detect banned products at the Tour should also be tempered. On Monday, research scientists poured cold water on Leblanc's hopes that human growth hormone (HGH) should be detectable for the first time at the 2004 Tour. According to Dr Cathy McHugh, one of the research scientists working to develop a test for HGH at the University of Southampton in England, a legally sound detection method is still "one to two years away". The UCI has stated that it could freeze blood samples from the Tour and perform tests for HGH as soon as a method is approved. The Southampton project is one of two funded by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) to be closing in on an HGH test, but has encountered problems in proving that its method is reliable for black and Asian, as well as Caucasian, subjects. "If the Tour de France doesn't have any black or Asian competitors then, theoretically, the test is ready to go," McHugh told procycling. "However, it is unlikely that any sporting authority will apply for that kind of conditional legal clearance. "The cycling authorities are probably talking about an HGH test pre-emptively, to scare HGH users off early and avoid an avalanche of positive tests later on," McHugh commented. "In our research we are using blood samples frozen four years ago, so there's no problem if the UCI have to do likewise. The blood tests are very simple: they take four to five minutes and require only about 5ml of blood, taken from the inside of the elbow. Even if someone is tested every day, it doesn't amount to much blood out of the five litres in the body. It would just make a mess of the skin on your arm."
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