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MTB world’s: The medical monitoring mess

In the aftermath of the incident that saw American cross-country racers Todd Wells and Adam Craig ruled ineligible to race here in Lugano, Switzerland, at the 2003 world mountain bike championships, the finger-pointing has begun. Each of the four parties involved — the riders, the UCI, the trade teams and USA Cycling — are all looking elsewhere when asked who was at fault. But it’s more likely that all four bear at least a portion of the blame. So what caused the information disconnect that resulted in Craig and Wells making a wasted trip to Europe? Settle in, it’s complicated. The

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

In the aftermath of the incident that saw American cross-country racers Todd Wells and Adam Craig ruled ineligible to race here in Lugano, Switzerland, at the 2003 world mountain bike championships, the finger-pointing has begun. Each of the four parties involved — the riders, the UCI, the trade teams and USA Cycling — are all looking elsewhere when asked who was at fault. But it’s more likely that all four bear at least a portion of the blame.

So what caused the information disconnect that resulted in Craig and Wells making a wasted trip to Europe? Settle in, it’s complicated.

The medical-monitoring program actually began in 1999 on the road when the UCI announced that all trade-team pros — about 1200 riders — would be required to undergo examinations four times a year. The purpose was to look for signs of medical problems and the use of certain medications, including forbidden substances, according to Mario Zorzoli the UCI doctor here in Lugano.

Two years later, at the 2001 world championships in Vail, Colorado, the UCI announced that it would be instituting the same program for mountain biking starting the following year.

“At first we said that only riders on UCI-registered trade teams would be required to complete the tests,” Zorzoli continued. “But then we realized that about half the top riders were not on registered trade teams, so we changed it to the top 100 [UCI-ranked] men and top 20 women, and all riders on registered trade teams. We also cut the number of tests to twice a year because we realized that the means in the two sports is not the same.”

Zorzoli also admitted that in the rule’s first year, the UCI was less than stringent about enforcement.

“At the world championship in Kaprun we probably had about 50 riders going to the doctor to get tests done right before the races,” he said. “And we let it go if the rider missed the first testing period. But now it is the second year and we cannot allow exceptions. If we did, then it would just be the same next year.”

So this year, the first testing period, which both Wells and Craig missed, ran from March 1 to April 30. The second period ran from July 1 to August 31. Missing either one made you ineligible to race in the world championships — no questions asked.

“In our opinion every rider should be doing these kind of tests,” explained Zorzoli. “They are nothing more than a standard medical check-up. Anyone can do it. Federations should have a medical file for every athlete that rides for them.”

The problem is that many national federations don’t have medical files on all their riders, and many of those riders were not aware of the testing required. Why they didn’t know is at the core of this dispute.

Many teams, especially those based in the United States, opt not to register with the UCI because of the cost (according to the UCI web site there are 24 registered trade teams). But while not registering may save money, it cuts those teams’ riders off from at least one of the communication channels between themselves and the UCI.

“We were registered in 2002, but we didn’t do it this year,” said Mike King, team director for the U.S.-based Haro-Lee Dungarees squad. “It costs about $1200, and for what you get out of it we just didn’t think it was worth it.”

King says the perks of membership include tech-space discounts and special-access passes. But in the case of Haro, which doesn’t have a team truck in Europe, and thus could not take advantage of some of the discounts, spending the money just didn’t make sense.

But that is not a sentiment shared by all. Trek-Volkswagen team boss Eric Wallace sees value in being registered, and says the UCI did a good job keeping his squad informed about the medical-monitoring requirements.

“All the information we needed was in the packet they sent out at the beginning of the year,” Wallace said. “They also followed up with us when it got close to the deadline date and not all our riders had submitted their test results yet. It’s actually one of the few things they’ve done well.”

In the case of the two DQ’d Americans, Wells’ Mongoose-Hyundai team was a registered team this year, while Craig’s Giant-Pearl Izumi squad was not.

But according to one Mongoose team staffer, their squad — unlike Trek-Volkswagen — was never informed about the monitoring requirements. And Wells said that he had been operating under the impression that his team was not UCI-registered anyway.

Either way, the fact that Wells ended the 2002 season ranked 54th automatically meant that he would have to fulfill the testing requirement, trade team member or not. Craig was also in the top 100, finishing last season in 96th. Fellow American Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who also missed the spring testing window, closed out 2002 ranked a fortunate 101st.

As for USA Cycling’s role, it’s pointing the finger at the UCI and the riders themselves, saying that they were never notified by the UCI that there were American riders in jeopardy of missing the spring testing window.

“It’s typical UCI. It was their responsibility to notify us,” said USAC spokesman Andy Lee. “But we also feel that in the end it is the individual riders’ responsibility, too.”

Meanwhile, the UCI’s Zorzoli said that while he did not notify anyone personally, he found it hard to believe that no information had been communicated to anyone at American cycling’s governing body.

And Wells, too, seemed to think that his own federation had failed him. “They received a fax from the UCI this winter [explaining the testing rules],” he wrote in a journal entry on his personal web site, though he did not explain how he knew that. “USA Cycling sent this information out to affected riders two weeks before Durango [the final race of the NORBA NCS, which was contested in mid-August].”

Wells did admit that the medical-monitoring information was on the UCI Web site, though it wasn’t easy to find.

“The third way [beside finding out from your trade team or national federation is] to find out that you need to have the test done is to happen upon the health section of the UCI web page,” he said, “and read through a bunch of crap…”

Wherever the blame lies, Wells and Craig were not alone here in Switzerland. Zorzoli said that the UCI sent letters to between 30 and 40 athletes who had not sent in results of their spring tests, telling them that they should not even bother coming to Lugano. Another 15-20 riders were given the bad news on site. The UCI doctor would not reveal the names of those riders, citing medical confidentiality reasons.

And just like those names, who was at fault in the Lugano medical monitoring mess is unlikely to ever be completely revealed.

Thursday qualifying
Results from a day’s worth of qualifying revealed at least one thing that came as little surprise. Frenchwoman Anne-Caroline Chausson and her fellow downhilling compatriots are fast. Chausson led a top-four sweep by the French women, posting a 5:28.16. Celine Gros was 6.44 back in second, with Sabrina Jonnier, Nolvenn LeCaer and Swiss rider Amelie Thevoz in fifth.

Kathy Pruitt was the top American, sixth at 15.63. Qualifying results from other pre-race podium favorites included Tracy Moseley, eighth at 17.89, and Fionn Griffiths, 15th at 37.79.

Over on the men’s DH side, another French rider, Mickael Pascal topped the results sheet, posting a faster-than-expected 4:46.90. In the run up to the race there was talk of 5:30 being a good men’s mark. Spain’s David Vasquez (at 1.68), South African Gregg Minnaar (at 4.82), Spain’s Oscar Saiz (at 5.74) and German Marcus Klausmann (at 5.79) rounded out the top five.

Rich Houseman was the top American in seventh at 8.47. Qualifying results from other pre-race podium favorites included Cedric Gracia (sixth at 6.44), Chris Kovarik (14th at 12.83) and Steve Peat (31st at 21.72).

In the junior downhill Great Britain’s George Atherton was the fastest man, with a 4:49.59. Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot was the quickest junior woman, with a 5:46.06

Meanwhile in the four-cross, it was again Chausson who looked like the rider to beat. The Commencal rider was 0.38 second quicker than second-placed qualifier Katrina Miller of Australia. American Jill Kintner was third, followed by Tara Llanes (USA) and Sabrina Jonnier of France. American’s Pruitt and Marla Streb skipped the 4X qualifying, deciding instead to focus all their energy on Saturday’s downhill.

Over on the men’s side, Czech rider Michal Prokop made a surprising run to the top of the preliminary round, besting American Eric Carter by 0.62 second. France’s Mickael Deldycke, Britain’s Scott Beaumont and Aussie Wade Bootes completed the top five.

American Brian Lopes, in his first race back since breaking his ankle at the Fort William World Cup, was sixth, while fellow U.S. rider Mike King had a rough go, crashing and ending up 52nd. Among the big names on the men’s side that opted out of the four-cross were Chris Kovarik and Steve Peat.

The slate is wiped clean Friday night at 9, though, and under the lights on the long, wide Lugano track there should be plenty of opportunity for passing. Check back later to VeloNews.com for a full report.