At least one top cyclist is to face doping charges after thousands of blood samples were analysed as part of the International Cycling Union's blood passport programme, the UCI said Friday.
The UCI did not reveal the identity of the cyclist concerned, but said he is one of 23 riders who "warranted further scrutiny" following 2172 tests on blood samples as part of their far-reaching passport scheme.
Introduced as the UCI's new weapon in the fight against doping, the aim of the scheme is to catch cheats, and ultimately deter doping by relying on previously recorded data from athletes' blood samples. The UCI believes that because of the comparative increase in the number of tests and the introduction of individually tailored, and more effective, profiles, most riders are now thinking twice about doping.
Proof of that may not be seen until the end of this year's Tour de France, where the lure of international fame and glory has traditionally tempted many riders to cheat.
The UCI said Friday that of the 2172 tests carried out to April 30, only 23 had warranted further scrutiny by anti-doping experts. And it reassured organisers of the Giro d'Italia by adding that "all riders set to compete in the Giro have adhered to the blood passport scheme".
As well as the one professional road rider whose abnormal sample is expected to lead to doping sanctions, the UCI said that four other riders from cycling's various disciplines were in the same situation.
In the wake of numerous doping scandals which have brought the sport to its knees, the UCI appears to have cranked up the fight against the drugs cheats.
Several scandals at last year's Tour, and the doping speculation surrounding Denmark's race leader Michael Rasmussen - who it was revealed missed a series of doping tests - have also forced race organisers to act. Tour chiefs have this year banned the Astana team of reigning champion Alberto Contador due to their involvement in doping affairs at last year's race. The Spaniard was not part of Astana in 2007.
The UCI also hopes it can play its part in keeping scandals to a minimum.
Ahead of the Giro, the first big three-week Tour of the season, the UCI said it had carried out an average of four tests on each rider of a Pro Tour team, and two tests on each rider belonging to teams ranked below Pro Tour.
The UCI said that two teams initially not part of the blood passport scheme, LPR - the team of Giro champion Danilo Di Luca - and NGC, have been integrated into it.
The UCI qualify the passport scheme as an "efficient deterrent", but admitted they would not be naive when it came to potential drugs cheats at the Giro d'Italia.
"We can never be 100 percent sure that a rider isn't doping. We can't control the decisions taken by riders before and during a race," the UCI said. "But we can certainly influence their decisions by conducting an effective anti-doping programme. Riders will be completely deterred from doping when they feel that the risks of being detected and banned exceed the potential benefits of using doping methods and substances."
On Friday the UCI announced that nine top anti-doping experts, hailing from Australia, Italy, Germany, France and Sweden, would be given the job of analysing all the blood profiles submitted by hundreds of professional riders.
Five of those experts are part of the World Anti-Doping Agency's working group on blood parameters. Ironically WADA withdrew their support of the passport scheme following a dispute which escalated last month.
© AFP 2008