Euskaltel’s Gorka Gonzalez has been barred from riding the Tour de France, which starts in Liège on Saturday, after a pre-race blood screening test on Thursday.
Gonzalez was the only rider among the 189 riders from 21 teams registered for the July 3-25 race to raise suspicion. The rest were declared fit to race.
Pre-race screening controls test the volume of red blood cells. If the hematocrit level is above the permitted threshold of 50, a rider is barred from racing for two weeks and will undergo further tests. The hematocrit test is merely an indicator of doping, though offers no definitive proof. As a result, riders exceeding the limit are declared “unfit,” to ride.
The hematocrit test was established in 1997 as an early means of controlling the use of recombinant erythropoietin (rEPO). The UCI and Tour de France have since also employed a urine test to detect the presence of rEPO and promise additional, more accurate, tests in this year’s race.
Jacques de Ceaurriz, head of the French National Doping Laboratory, said one of those tests, one designed to detect human growth hormone, (HGH) had not been given full World Anti Doping Agency approval.
De Ceaurriz, however, said that samples from the Tour may be stored and tested when that certification is eventually awarded. He added that he was confident the Athens laboratory would be able to test for both hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs) and growth hormones when the Summer Olympics start on August 13.
“It was previously difficult to detect foreign substances. Now we can modify our approach,” de Ceaurriz said.
There has been extensive research on HBOCs, available in veterinary form for several years, in Australia and France.
The three-week Tour de France starts in Liege, Belgium, on Saturday in the wake of several doping controversies.
Samples from riders could be frozen and, in the case of growth hormones, tested at a later date.
News of the tests for human growth hormone (HGH), which can help sprinters as well as endurance competitors, and haemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs), which aid stamina for long and middle-distance events, comes six weeks before the Athens Olympics.
HGH, used to help underdeveloped children, has been popular with drug cheats since the 1980s when it was used by athletes such as Ben Johnson, the disgraced Canadian sprinter.
HGH was originally taken from human bodies but 20 years ago began to be manufactured for clinical use. Competitors in a variety of sports began to use it instead of anabolic steroids, which are readily detectable.
Because HGH is produced by the body it had been difficult to prove whether it has been taken artificially.