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Former world road champ Astarloa among 5 targeted by UCI

World road champ Igor Astarloa in 2003.

World road champ Igor Astarloa in 2003.

Photo: Graham Watson (file)

The Union Cycliste Internationale is seeking disciplinary measures against five riders based on results from its so-called “biological passport” program.

The five — 2003 world road champion Igor Astarloa, Pietro Caucchioli (Lampre-N.G.C.), Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni), Ruben Lobato Elvira and Ricardo Serrano (Fuji-Servetto) — are said to be in “apparent violation of the Anti-Doping Rules on the basis of the information provided by the blood profile in their biological passports,” the UCI charged in a press release Wednesday.

Milram sacked Astarloa in 2008 after a blood test that reportedly disclosed some irregularities. The 33-year-old now rides for Amica Chips-Knauf.

Lampre told the Reuters news agency Wednesday that the team had suspended Caucchioli, though the 33-year-old’s allegedly questionable values stemmed from an internal blood test taken when he rode for Credit Agricole. The Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni squad said likewise regarding the 27-year-old De Bonis, noting that his values drew suspicion when he rode for Gerolsteiner, according to Reuters.

Both Credit Agricole and Gerolsteiner — whose riders Stefan Schumacher, Bernhard Kohl and Davide Rebellin all tested positive for Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) — left cycling at the end of last season.

Neither Astarloa nor Caucchioli have won races this year, according to Agence France Presse. Serrano, 30, won the first stage of the Tour de Romandie in April.

The UCI said it was acting on the recommendations of the independent experts appointed when it launched the biological passport program, adding, “Each rider mentioned above shall be accorded the right to the presumption of innocence until a final decision has been made on this matter.”

“Following a meeting of experts in Geneva last week, the UCI has decided to start disciplinary actions against a certain number of riders on the basis of evidence taken from their biological passports,” said UCI chief Pat McQuaid last Wednesday.

“They will be informed early next week, we will inform their teams and national federations and then we will make a public statement, naming the riders. The process has already started.”

It is not the first time a cyclist will be punished without failing a dope test. Italian star Ivan Basso was banned just over two years ago based on evidence linking him to the ongoing Operación Puerto investigation in Spain.

But this will be the first time that athletes who have not tested positive will face doping charges purely on the basis of readings on their biological passports.

Although plagued by doping scandals, cycling has balanced that out by pioneering an anti-doping strategy that, gradually, some of the bigger sports are beginning to admire.

Over a decade ago cycling was the first sport to introduce pre-race and general blood testing in sport. Riders with elevated levels of hematocrit (volume of red blood cells in the blood), an indication – though not proof – of doping, were immediately suspended.

The UCI’s biological passport scheme has already been adopted by two other sports that have been plagued by doping, cross-country skiing and biathlon.

However, before proceeding with sanctions on athletes using proof from the biological passport, both winter sports are awaiting the publication of a crucial disciplinary guide from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Athletics’ word ruling body the IAAF has also expressed an interest in the UCI approach towards fighting doping and, in discrete fashion, has already begun to profile blood samples from elite athletes in order to proceed with more pertinent targeting.

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