Amgen Tour, USA Cycling, USADA team up for rigorous drug-testing regimen

The 2008 Amgen Tour of California will boast the most comprehensive anti-doping protocol in competitive cycling, organizers proclaimed on Tuesday. The announcement comes one year after the premier U.S. stage race drew criticism for pursuing a relaxed testing campaign. “We believe that an aggressive approach to having a clean and fair race is essential to restore the credibility of top-tier bicycle racing,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, during a press conference at the ADT Event Center velodrome in Carson, California.

By Fred Dreier

From left, Amgen's George Morrow; USA Cycling's Sean Petty and Steve Johnson; and AEG's Andrew Messick

From left, Amgen’s George Morrow; USA Cycling’s Sean Petty and Steve Johnson; and AEG’s Andrew Messick

Photo: Fred Dreier

The 2008 Amgen Tour of California will boast the most comprehensive anti-doping protocol in competitive cycling, organizers proclaimed on Tuesday.

The announcement comes one year after the premier U.S. stage race drew criticism for pursuing a relaxed testing campaign.

“We believe that an aggressive approach to having a clean and fair race is essential to restore the credibility of top-tier bicycle racing,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, during a press conference at the ADT Event Center velodrome in Carson, California.

Joining Messick in the announcement were Steve Johnson and Sean Petty of USA Cycling; Bob Stapleton, owner of Team High Road, Mari Holden, former world time-trial gold medalist; and Anthony Butch, director of UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Laboratory.

AEG has invested more than $100,000 in the plan, whose first test comes before anyone clips in for the February 17-25 race — race management will bar any rider involved in an active doping investigation from taking the start line.

All 17 teams must guarantee that their riders, trainers, support staff and doctors are clear of any such inquiries. To ensure that this is the case, AEG will pass the riders’ names to USA Cycling and thence to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which will in turn tell the governing body whether any are under investigation. Should a rider be thus targeted, USA Cycling will notify his team so it can alter its roster. This is a departure from previous practice — traditionally, USADA has refused to release information about open investigations.

On the eve of the race, blood samples will be taken from every rider and tested for steroids, hormones, masking agents and EPO. The results will be incorporated into the UCI’s so-called “biological passport” program. In addition, urine samples will be taken pre-race from 30 percent of the riders.

As the race progresses, testers will perform post-stage controls on stage winners, the race leader and three random riders. Testers also will perform random or targeted full screenings each day on three additional riders during evenings and mornings.

Should a rider test positive during the tour, Messick said, race management will not eject his entire team, as occurred during the 2007 Tour de France when riders from Astana and Cofidis failed doping controls.

“The tests are independent of AEG — they will be administered by the UCI,” Messick said. “The penalties and sanctions are those determined by the relevant governing bodies.”

The plan drew praise from team owners, USA Cycling and riders alike.

“This shows unity of purpose — all stakeholders have come together to make a unique and progressive protocol that makes the sport better,” said Stapleton.

Added Johnson: “This partnership means we are coming together to ensure that the Tour of California is clean. The greater the risks and the lower the benefits, the less likely an individual will choose to cheat.”

And CSC’s Jason McCartney, who finished third overall at the 2007 Tour of California, said he was “psyched” by the proposal.

“In the grand tours they come and test us twice or three times out of competition, so I’m all for [the new testing protocol],” he said. “Hopefully this will mean more sponsorship for the sport. I think fans will be excited because they will know that the guys racing in front of them are doing it clean.”