By Charles Pelkey and Andrew Hood
Austrian climbing sensation Bernhard Kohl is the latest rider to test positive for CERA during this year’s Tour de France, according to France’s national anti-doping agency (AFLD).
Kohl, who rode away with the best climber’s jersey and finished third overall, is the fourth rider to be caught up in the net cast by the French anti-doping authorities.
French officials, who ran an unprecedented number of anti-doping controls at this year’s Tour, are vigorously back-testing blood samples taken during July’s Tour with a new testing method to detect the third-generation blood booster.
An AFLD statement issued Monday said that Kohl had been notified of the result.
“The AFLD confirms that it’s laboratory at Châtenay-Malabry has found two abnormal samples showing the presence of EPO CERA in blood samples taken on July 3 and 15, before and during the Tour de France, on Austrian cyclist Bernard Kohl,” the statement said. “The official notification to the athlete was done through the Austrian Anti-doping Agency (NADA Austria). This means disciplinary proceedings can be taken against the athlete by the French and Austrian national disciplinary authorities, as the 2008 Tour de France was not included in the UCI (world cycling’s governing body) calendar.”
Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli (both ex-Saunier Duval) were both singled out along with Kohl’s teammate, Stefan Schumacher, of the soon-to-be-defunct Gerolsteiner team that is closing shop at the end of this season.
The use of the drug in professional cycling first came to the attention of anti-doping authorities Riccò tested positive for the substance during this summer’s Tour de France.
Riccò was caught using a urine test, but authorities said several other riders’ urine samples produced “inconclusive” results and Tour organizers and the AFLD promised to examine blood samples from suspected riders as a follow-up.
Last week, Schumacher, the surprise winner of both time trials at this year’s Tour, learned that his blood samples had tested positive. Piepoli was also found to be positive for CERA last week, be he had already been fired from the team in July.
Kohl, the first Austrian rider to finish on the Tour de France podium in nearly half a century, had been recruited by the Belgian Silence-Lotto team and had hoped to ride in support of Cadel Evans in next year’s Tour.
Geert Coeman, the director of the Lotto-Silence team, told the Austrian agency APA on Monday however that Kohl’s contract would be annulled if this positive test was confirmed.
“We have not yet been able to talk to Bernard,” Coeman said. “But if the test is confirmed, we will take the necessary action. His contract with us would be made null and void.”
The latest CERA cases account for four stage victories (one each for Riccò and Piepoli and two time trials for Schumacher) as well as third place and the best climber’s jersey for Kohl.
Like EPO, CERA was developed to as a treatment for the anemia that results from chronic kidney disease. Unlike single injections of rEPO, CERA interacts with erythropoietin receptors and has a longer-lasting effect. Patients who were normally required to inject rEPO three times a week were able to achieve the same results with only one or two injections per month.
The drug was thought to be undetectable, but recent developments indicate that is not the case.
That’s just fine with Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who says he’d like to keep dopers guessing.
“It’s very good. It allows us to confound the cheaters,” Christian Prudhomme said. “What’s being done at the Tour de France has never existed in the world of sport, in no competition.”
Prudhomme said riders will probably be stripped of their stage wins and final positions on GC.
“It’s clear that those who have cheated, we’re not going to consider that they won,” he said. “We are not the ones who do the rankings, but I can’t see how they can stay.”