SAINT-LÔ, France (VN) — Cheaters beware, that’s the message ahead of the Tour de France. Cycling authorities are taking “motor doping” head on and breaking new ground in the battle against “old-school” doping as well.
Along with a battery of new technologies designed to nip motorized cheating in the bud, anti-doping authorities are promising to conduct nighttime testing for the first time in this year’s Tour de France that could help close the door on “overnight” doping. UCI president Brian Cookson told VeloNews the enhanced controls send a strong message to both cheaters and fans.
“The clear message is, as it is with the mechanical fraud, if you’re thinking of cheating, it’s going to be very difficult, and there is a very strong chance you will be caught and sanctioned,” Cookson said in an interview. “If you are caught, whoever you are, whatever team or nationality, you will be sanctioned.”
The UCI has created new controls to tackle the threat of motor-assisted bicycles — including the use of thermal cameras — and promises to conduct upward of 3,000 tests for cheating, compared to a few dozen in last year’s Tour.
Officials are also hoping to shut the door on “overnight doping,” a practice where riders take small doses of banned recovery drugs and EPO hours after the stage, which are later flushed out of their systems before the next morning. Authorities promise to implement nighttime testing, something not popular with everyone in the peloton.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) said he welcomed the introduction of additional testing.
“I think it is a good idea,” Bardet told VeloNews. “We know it is now on the books in French law, but if they come to you at night, they must have a good reason. We hope they do not come just for the pleasure of waking us up. If they test someone at night, it is because they are already suspicious. It is the next step in this war against doping.”
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The French daily L’Equipe also reported Friday that the WADA-approved lab at Chatenay-Malabry is working on new methods to detect so-called “micro-dosing” of even smaller traces. Last year, 656 controls were carried out during the 2015 Tour, including 482 blood tests and 174 urine tests, The Associated Press reported.
Cookson also said it’s important that the UCI is working in unison with the French authorities, Tour de France officials, as well as WADA to stay on top of the doping issue.
“Three years ago, we were all in dispute with those agencies, and now we’ve introduced truly independent processes for doping control,” Cookson said. “We are in a strong position now. There will always be people who try cheat, but we have better science, better protocols, better controls, and a truly independent body with no outside interference. I think we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been in with cycling.”
Cookson also expressed a bit of exasperation against a very vocal chorus of critics who continue to insist that despite increased vigilance and improved doping controls, cycling remains dirty at its core.
“It’s impossible to prove a negative, that’s the problem. I don’t know what else we can do to convince the doubters,” Cookson said.
“We have to keep testing, and we will do anything that’s necessary to defend the integrity of our sport. No rider, no team, and no nationality is protected.
“All I read now is that X-rider or Z-team is protected, but they are not,” he continued. “The science is there, the testing is there, the processes are there, so unless you think the entire system is corrupt, which some people seem to think, then I don’t know what else we can do.”
Waiting on Puerto
Cookson also celebrated the recent decision by a Spanish appeals court to allow access to hundreds of blood bags linked to the decade-old Operación Puerto doping scandal. Cookson said lawyers and authorities are studying if it’s possible to gain access to the bags and possibly impose racing bans, but he cautioned that there might not be much more to be discovered about the doping ring.
“I am not sure that we will learn much more from that,” Cookson said. “Our sport has probably done as much as it can on the Puerto stuff. If something new comes up, of course, we will investigate and take action. It’s more important to look to the future. … In terms of the past, I am not sure there is too much ‘new’ to find out that we don’t already know. We are in a much better place.
“Does that mean people will not try to cheat? Of course not, but I know that we have lowered the radar hugely,” he said. “It makes it more difficult for those who might be inclined to cheat, and it makes it better for those athletes who want to compete honestly and cleanly. My view is that there is more of the latter than there is of the former, and I want to keep it that way.
“The clear message, as it is with the mechanical fraud, if you’re thinking of cheating, it’s going to be very difficult, and there is a very strong chance you will be caught and sanctioned. If you are caught, whoever you are, whatever team or nationality, you will be sanctioned. No one is too big to fall. If they’ve cheated, we’ll take action against them if we have the evidence.”