Spaniard Margarita Fullana and Austrian Michael Weiss have been declared "unfit to compete" in the 2007 UCI World mountain-bike championships in Fort William, Scotland, after failing pre-race medical blood screenings. Both cross-country racers are slated to leave the event after their national teams learned of the results. Weiss, a 26-year-old on the Team Bikin’ Cyprus professional mountain-bike team, recorded a high red blood cell count during a test carried on Thursday, September 6. The UCI tested teams from Austria, Belgium, South Africa, Denmark and Sweden, and Weiss was the only rider

By Fred Dreier

Spaniard Margarita Fullana and Austrian Michael Weiss have been declared “unfit to compete” in the 2007 UCI World mountain-bike championships in Fort William, Scotland, after failing pre-race medical blood screenings.

Both cross-country racers are slated to leave the event after their national teams learned of the results.

Weiss, a 26-year-old on the Team Bikin’ Cyprus professional mountain-bike team, recorded a high red blood cell count during a test carried on Thursday, September 6. The UCI tested teams from Austria, Belgium, South Africa, Denmark and Sweden, and Weiss was the only rider deemed to be “unfit.” He is now unable to compete in Saturday’s world cross-country championship, and cannot race for a total of 15 days.

The hematocrit standard was established in 1997 by the UCI as a crude measure to indicate possible manipulation of a rider’s blood. While it is not proof of such manipulation – either through the use of EPO or the reinjection of stored or donated red blood cells – the UCI deems riders with higher than acceptable red blood cell counts to be unfit for competition.

Because the test provides no actual proof of doping, the rider is suspended for ‘health reasons’ for 15 days. Were a subsequent blood or urine test to provide proof of manipulation, the rider could face a two-year suspension.

In a statement, Bikin’ Cyprus Team Manager Michalis Hadjioannou said a high hematocrit level does not automatically mean that one has used banned substances. “I know, Michi usually has a high hematocrit level, and in the first instance we trust him”, Hadjioannou said. “Before making further comments on the case we will await the results of the samples the inspectors took.”

Weiss said he was “very disappointed” by the test result.

“I have done nothing wrong,” Weiss said. “The urine control will show that. But I still have to manage it mentally.”

While a urine test could show signs of EPO use, it is ineffective when it comes to efforts to detect autologous (the injection of a rider’s own red blood cells) or homologous (the injection of donated red blood cells) blood doping. Riders with abnormally high hematocrit levels do have the option of applying for a waiver upon presentation of medical evidence that the level is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Fullana won the world cross-country championships in 1999 and 2000, and was a favorite to battle for the win in 2007. The Spaniard won the June 9 round of the UCI World Cup in Champéry, Switzerland, and owns a bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Fullana was deemed unfit to compete after a similar round of tests carried out on the morning of Friday, September 7. Along with samples provided by the Spanish squad, blood samples from the British, Argentinian, Dutch and Swiss teams were tested. Fullana was the only rider whose sample showed a red blood cell count higher than acceptable levels.
(VeloNews.com editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this story)