By VeloNews Interactive
On Friday the UCI became the first sports federation to announce the employment of a test for EPO, to be introduced on April 1. The test has been developed primarily as a response to revelations of widespread EPO use in professional cycling. Former French Cycling Federation president Daniel Baal called the validation of a test for the endurance stimulant EPO “historic” and said that it will change the face of drug abuse in cycling.
“Everything we’ve gone through the past few years would not have happened if, technically, this method of testing had been available,” Baal told AFP shortly after the announcement was made. “Nowadays the quantity of tests carried out may still be limited, but the essential thing is that the dissuasive nature (of drug tests) has been reinforced. “We will now have a guarantee that the winners of the big races will not have used EPO, and there is the chance that other riders will be caught through random testing,” added Baal, an advocate for the fight against drugs in cycling. The new test will be used after races, but riders could also be tested twice in one day if the results of their morning blood test show a suspect hematocrit (red blood cell) count, or a suspect level for lesser-developed blood cells. Athletes determined to have used EPO will now face a ban of six months to a year.
The development signals a major step for the UCI, previously unable to sanction any riders suspected of using EPO. Until now, riders who exceeded the hematocrit threshold of 50 were given a 15-day “warning” to resolve the problem of the elevated hematocrit level. Now, the UCI has a major weapon at hand in the fight against EPO abuse. But for the tests to be fully effective, they will have to be randomly carried out, according to Michael Gros, sports director at the Jean Delatour French team.
“I’m 300 percent behind the decision. It’s great news which can only improve the current situation,” said Gros. “But for them (tests) to be effective they will have to be carried out randomly. With all past dope tests all those caught were done so due to their own mistakes. But the threat of random testing is like having a policeman watching over your shoulder at every moment.” Neither the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nor the other major international sports federations have yet agreed to validate the test.