Tour Down Under increases doping scrutiny

Armstrong finalising deal with Don Catlin

American Lance Armstrong will be among some of cycling's most high profile riders facing heightened doping scrutiny ahead of the 2009 Tour Down Under.

The first stage race of the season begins Tuesday with most eyes on the seven-time Tour de France winner as he makes his professional comeback at the south Australian event after a three-year hiatus.

At the six-stage race in Adelaide, the 37-year-old is likely to be one of many riders targeted by Australian anti-doping authorities as the International Cycling Union (UCI) and local organisers ramp up the fight against potential drugs cheats.

Ahead of the race each rider in the 187-strong peloton will face blood profiling as part of the UCI's 'blood passport' programme, and targeted blood and urine testing, said UCI anti-doping chief Anne Gripper.

The banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) and its variant CERA are particular targets, she said.

Human growth hormone will also be in the firing line, while blood and urine samples will be stored in deep freeze for a period of eight years at the Australian Anti Doping Authority to allow further testing in the future when technology allows, said Gripper.

Race chief Mike Turtur said he fully supported the UCI's proposals, made late last year, for a maximum ban of two to four years for first time offenders.

"I support any new measures to make it tough on drugs cheats," said Turtur, an Olympic track cycling gold medallist from 1984.

In its 11-year history the Tour Down Under has experienced no positive tests.

Armstrong has said he faced "12 out-of-competition controlled tests since September 1".

The cyclist throughout his career has been forced to battle many unfounded doping allegations, notably that he used EPO during his maiden Tour victory in 1999 - claims made by French sports paper L'Equipe days after his seventh victory in 2005.

However after announcing his comeback in September 2008, and in spite of the UCI's newest policies on doping, Armstrong rejected proposals by the French anti-doping authorities to re-test samples they had retained from his riding days.

Where's Don Catlin and the published results?

Armstrong will publicise the results of the drug tests he has undergone since coming out of retirement last year, he said in Adelaide Saturday.

The seven-time Tour de France winner will publicise his recent test results with the support and endorsement of anti-doping scientist Don Catlin, Armstrong said.

Armstrong has said that he doubts whether any fellow professionals have faced as much doping scrutiny in the past year as he has in the past five months since he announced the end of his retirement.

While likely to be one of many riders targeted by Australian anti-doping authorities and the UCI here, Armstrong said his own bid to show transparency - through Catlin's plan - could not be matched.

"It's formalised, it's under way and it's the most comprehensive anti-doping plan in the history of sport. I'm proud of it," Armstrong said. Armstrong did not confirm when the results would be published.

Catlin was brought on board by Armstrong shortly after the American announced his imminent return to cycling in September last year.

Once named 'Athlete of the Year' by the Chicago Tribune newspaper for his work in the anti-doping field, Catlin is a highly respected scientist who has designed reliable tests for many previously undetectable performance-enhancing drugs, such as designer steroid THG.

Now Armstrong, who throughout his cycling career has battled allegations of drug use, believes Catlin's endorsement -- and an unrivalled number of 12 anti-doping controls by various anti-doping authorities -- can appease the doubters.

"I respect Don, I know he's the toughest out there. If anyone has any questions about any performance-related issues, hopefully he'll answer some of those questions.

"We're underway, it's been slightly complicated because a lot of people involved, and obviously a lot of other agencies involved outside of Don Catlin. I've had 12 other anti-doping controls out of competition. I would challenge anybody else to show me 12 anti-doping controls in the past 12 months."

© BikeRadar & AFP 2009

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