The world doping agency said Wednesday Italian rider Riccardo Riccò tested positive at the Tour de France after a secret molecule was planted in the blood booster EPO during its manufacture.
Riccò, 24, upset the big names of the sport to win two stages of this year's Tour before he was kicked off after testing positive for EPO (erythropoietin).
Revealing the now high-tech nature of the fight against drugs in sport, World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey said his organisation worked with drugs giant Roche on the newest version of EPO (erythropoietin). He said Roche had included a molecule in the third generation of EPO, called Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CARA), that acted as a flag in drug tests showing when an athlete was using the substance.
"In the development of that particular substance, close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was taken," Fahey told public radio in his native country Australia.
Until this year's Tour, the CARA EPO, which is released into the body more slowly than its predecessors, had been thought to be virtually undetectable by drug testers.
Fahey said such cooperation with drug companies was the way forward in fighting drug cheats. "There's more and more of this occurring," he said. "The more cooperation the scientists can have with the drug companies in the detection of performance-enhancing drugs the greater the likelihood is they will be detected when tests are undertaken."
Riccò is one of three riders to test positive for EPO at this year's tour, tarring the race once again with a drugs controversy. He has denied using the substance, which was developed to boost oxygen levels in the blood of people with anaemia who also have kidney disease. It has been banned in sports as it gives athletes an unfair advantage over their rivals.
French anti-doping agency says threat of being caught is working
The threat of being caught cheating at this year's Tour de France has proved a major deterrent, according to the chief of France's national anti-doping agency (AFLD) on Tuesday.
AFLD chief Pierre Bordry said prior to the race's 16th stage from Cuneo, Italy that he had no further positive cases to report in the wake of three positive tests for EPO. His claims come in the wake of a newspaper report in which disgraced Italian climber Riccardo Riccò re-affirms that he did not use banned substances. Riccò is one of three riders to have been forced off the race after testing positive for the banned blood booster EPO (erythroipoietin).
His Saunier Duval Scott team, who have since sacked him, pulled out the day his positive test, from the fourth stage time trial, was revealed. Riccò denied ever taking banned substances last week in an interview with Italian media.
He is reported in Le Monde newspaper to have told French police while in custody: "I did not take EPO. All the products that I've used were prescribed to me either by the Spanish doctor who works with my team, although I don't know his name. I maintain, as I have said before, that I did not take any banned substances."
Riccò faced charges of possession and use of banned substances, which is against French law, when he appeared in a French court last week. He has since returned to his native Italy.
According to a recent Reuters news report, Riccò tried to avoid the doping test that revealed traces of EPO, Bordry said on Tuesday.
"When he saw that he was to be tested, he escaped," Bordry told reporters before the 16th stage, a 157-km mountain ride to Jausiers. "But he was caught by the stewards between two cars. We then told him that as he had tried to avoid the test, he would be tested every day."
Bordry had warned before the first stage that the AFLD would be specifically targeting riders with suspect blood profiles - samples were taken from all 180 riders before the start. And he said that after all were analysed, he believed that "most of the samples we've dealt look normal ... It appears that efforts are being made, and that the pressure we've applied has had an effect."
Bordry said however he did not yet have the results of further analyses on samples from Italian Leonardo Piepoli, who was also sacked by Saunier Duval for suspected doping, despite not testing positive.
"I still don't have the results of his tests. Right now I have no positive doping cases to report."
Saunier Duval set for German Tour chop
The Saunier Duval cycling team look set to be excluded from the Tour of Germany because of doping, race organisers revealed on Tuesday.
The elite team withdrew from the Tour de France last week after Italian rider Riccardo Riccò failed a dope test - they subsequently sacked both him and compatriot Leonardo Piepoli, who had won the prestigious stage on July 14. But that move has failed to placate the Tour of Germany chiefs, whose race runs from August 29 to September 6.
"There is absolutely no question of having Saunier Duval on the starting line," race director Kai Rapp told Suddeutsche Zeitung in an interview to appear on Wednesday.
According to Rapp he is totally within his rights as the team have sullied the image of the sport, which under the International Cycling Union (UCI) charter entitles a team to have their licence withdrawn.
"In Saunier Duval's case I think they (Saunier Duval) fill that criteria 100 percent," said Rapp.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008