News that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is teaming up with Life Time to test riders at Unbound Gravel and several other events within the Life Time Grand Prix has been met with open arms.
Yet the lack of depth in the testing measures leaves plenty of room for improvements in testing protocol as the booming gravel scene looks to ensure clean sport.
Anti-doping testing within U.S. gravel racing has never taken place, so even a small amount of doping controls should be seen as an encouraging sign.
This weekend, only athletes who are part of the Life Time Grand Prix series, the six-race points-based series that debuted this year, will be tested.
The agreement between USADA and Life Time stipulates that only three random men and three random women will be selected for testing after the 200-mile race on Saturday.
Also read: USADA will be at Unbound Gravel
As good as that seems, that still leaves huge holes in the testing program.
Those athletes will not face any drug testing, no matter of their result or performance. It’s also been made clear that the random testing will not automatically include the winners or the podium placers in any of the events.
Tests will only take place at three of the six events in the Life Time Grand Prix, with no testing carried out at the first event that took place in April..
Similarly, there will be no pre-race testing, and USADA has not been clear in terms of whether blood, urine, or both sets of samples will be taken from the six competitors after the completion of their races on Saturday.
Anyone with knowledge of doping will know that most products can be washed out of an athlete’s system if they know when a test will take place, and that the main benefits to doping are the increased training levels an athlete can reach in the weeks and months before an event.
VeloNews reached out to Travis Tygart, the head of USADA but he did not respond to calls or messages ahead of publication.
Despite the gaps, Life Time should still be applauded for their efforts. Anti-doping doesn’t come cheap and any form of deterrent is still better than no deterrent at all.
What’s also encouraging is that it’s the athletes who have called for testing, and what’s more the organizers have listened.
“I have to applaud the fact that they’re putting money into this but as you, I, and many people know you’re not really going to accomplish a whole lot, especially testing at races is basically an IQ test and rarely catches any serious offenders,” said mountain biker and gravel racer Geoff Kabush, when contacted by VeloNews.
Kabush is a veteran racer and his vocal sentiments on clean sport have been well publicized. He will not be participating at Unbound.
Kabush has also been critical of Life Time in the past, but he recognizes that the organizers have a difficult task on their hands as gravel expands on an annual basis and the temptations to cheat increase in parallel to the growing incentives on offer.
“They’re stuck in a hard place because they want to do something but they’re reliant on riders being tested in other disciplines or being part of the UCI testing pool, which is super limited in itself. It’s a challenge if they want to bring credibility and clean sport,” he said.
One of the main challenges facing clean sport is its ability to keep up with doping and cheats.
The greater the incentives, the more sophisticated lengths some athletes and their entourages will go in order to break the rules and gain an advantage.
With the growth of gravel and the resulting improvements made by the men’s and women’s field, Life Time is making the right moves but in order to ensure clean sport the efforts need consistency and additional support to match gravel’s expansion.
“This is a concern as the discipline grows. There are contracts being signed, money being made and there’s prestige and incentives. Gravel is in a bit of a no-man’s land but it would maybe be better to do more random testing with the winners, rather than just randoms in the Grand Prix,” Kabush said.
“There are riders who will be going top-five or top-10 and they’re outside that testing pool, and they know that they’re outside of that testing pool. I don’t know about the methods of doping but I hear it’s pretty simple if you know when you’re going to be tested.”