New blood tests are "90% certain" to be introduced at the Tour, making the pressure on cheats harderHours after revealing that the 2004 Tour de France is likely to be the first ever sporting event to use blood tests to catch drugs cheats, UCI head doctor Mario Zorzoli heralded the move as "no less important than the advent of a test for EPO in 2001". Speaking to procycling on Monday evening, Zorzoli said that he was "ninety per cent confident" that the new procedure would be introduced for the Tour, which begins in Lige, Belgium on Saturday. A decision regarding the frequency and modalities of the test should be taken later this week after further talks between the UCI, the Socit du Tour de France and the French Ministry for Sports and Youth. Zorzoli affirmed that the new tests could even be introduced during the Tour should their specifics not be defined earlier. "The method for detecting synthetic haemoglobin in the blood is ready and to our satisfaction, and we should also be able to catch anyone practising blood transfusions," Zorzoli explained. "Synthetic haemoglobin can't be detected long after its injection, but its effectiveness also dwindles very quickly: it's the sort of product which may be taken for a specific stage. As regards human growth hormone, as has been reported, the World Anti-Doping Agency is yet to approve a blood test. However, at the Tour we will have the option of freezing the samples and testing them as soon as a method becomes available." Asked whether the announcement of the new measures five days short of the Tour could provoke a wave of panic in the peloton, Zorzoli appeared doubtful: "In principle, the teams should be prepared for this," he said. "We warned them at the start of the season that we intended to start blood testing at races. Then, in the communiqu about anti-doping procedures that we send out before every major tour, we informed them of the likelihood of the blood tests at the Tour. That was about ten days ago. "To the question of how many riders are likely to be using synthetic haemoglobin, we can't respond," Zorzoli continued. "The 3000 or so blood tests we did last year simply don't give us precise indications." Zorzoli was also unable to give specific details about the number of blood tests which could be performed at the Tour. According to existing protocol, urine tests are carried out daily on stage winners, the top three riders on general classification, plus seven riders selected at random. Synthetic haemogloblin was, incidentally, the subject of an e-mail sent to Zorzoli and his UCI colleagues by Lance Armstrong in June 2003. In the message the five-time Tour champion apparently expressed his fears that the "instant blood-booster" had made its entry into the peloton and could be abused during that year's Tour de France.