Leblanc attacks 'malaise of doping'
Jean-Marie Leblanc and the UCI declared their latest war on doping in LiŠge. Procycling analyses the
The UCI and the Socit du Tour de France unveiled their latest moves to stem the tide of doping scandals this morning – although some critics will be unconvinced that they are not just another finger in the dyke. After the announcement earlier in the week that the 2004 would be the first major sporting event to feature anti-doping blood tests, Tour vice-director Christian Prudhomme said today that these would account for only 30 of the 210 tests performed over the next three weeks. The tests, capable of detecting synthetic haemoglobin and blood injected by transfusion, will be applied randomly and according to criteria which UCI doctor Mario Zorzoli preferred not reveal. In the press conference chaired by Leblanc, Zorzoli, Prudhomme, the president of race organisers A.S.O, Patrick Clerc, and French Anti-Doping Laboratory tsar Roland Jouvent, cycling’s leading powers put up a united front against what Leblanc called “the malaise of doping”. Patrick Clerc confessed that the Tour was “very worried” by the recent wave of drugs controversies, but “equally as determined to continue this war.” The 2004 Tour will be the best protected by anti-doping measures in the Tour’s 100-year history. Continuing a positive trend which dates from 2001, the total number of urine tests will increase again this year to 180. In addition, as well as the added safeguard of the much-trumpeted, eagerly-awaited anti-doping tests, the effectiveness of the new Phase 2 measure in pre-race health tests has already been proved by the exclusion of Gorka Gonzalez of Euskatel on Thursday. The news regarding a familiar foe, EPO, is also good: 100 EPO-specific tests alone will be carried out at the 2004 Tour, as compared with the 359 performed in the whole of 2003 by the UCI. NESP was once coveted as EPO’s more potent younger brother. It is now almost extinct according to Mario Zorzoli. The effects of Nesp on a rider’s haematocrit, Zorzoli said this morning, are too difficult to control, its traces too easy to detect. Why are more EPO and NESP tests not scheduled? The capacity of the World Anti-Doping Agency-recognised (WADA) laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry, near Paris, is just 100… Jean-Marie Leblanc preferred to concentrate on the Socit du Tour’s proven record of pro-activism. The names of Festina, Virenque, Simoni and Rumsas were all alluded to, before Leblanc moved onto current affairs. Danilo di Luca, Leblanc said, was implicated in a legal inquiry, while Cdric Vasseur has been formally placed under investigation: according Socit du Tour policy both had to be barred from the race. The Cofidis team had not been excluded, unlike Kelme, because the “two affairs seemed very different.” “With Kelme, we didn’t have a moment’s hesitation,” Leblanc said. To those listening there were many sources of reassurance but almost as many of frustration. Leblanc’s failure to adequately differentiate Kelme and Cofidis was one of the latter. It will no doubt provide ammunition for those who have accused the Tour boss of jingoism in the past. The reasoning may have been sound, its explanation was not. UCI head doctor Zorzoli, too, instilled optimism but not total confidence. The announcement that, of 5,206 dope tests carried out last year, only 1.5% were failed, appears comforting. The fact that just 359 EPO/NESP urine tests (2.22% positive) and 242 (0.41%) out-of-competition tests were performed was much less so. Furthermore, as reported on procycling earlier this week, early hints that human growth hormone will be detectable in the new generation of blood tests were premature. Zorzoli confirmed that an HGH test still isn’t available, but that blood samples taken during the Tour can be retrospectively tested when it is. Blood samples cam be retained for up to five years. More solace is promised by the soon-to-be enforced WADA code, according to which riders must in future give written notice of their whereabouts every day for out-of-competition testing. Should a rider fail to fulfil this condition three times in the space of 18 months he will be charged with a doping infringement. Over the next three weeks keeping tabs on the 189 riders who will begin their Tour campaign in Lige this afternoon will be rather easier. Let’s hope that the net remains tightly strung in every sense.or that those 189 courageous men ensure that it doesn’t have to be.