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Night moves: Anti-doping authorities seek expanded testing hours

The UCI says evidence in the CIRC report suggests that it should begin nighttime tests to catch dopers, but pros say this is unreasonable

In the fight against doping, what is the definition of a proportional response?

The CIRC report, released late Sunday by the UCI, proposes an increase in overnight testing for riders, utilizing a new exception within the UCI’s 2015 Anti-Doping Rules. The proposal, if acted upon, could see riders roused at any hour of the night to provide samples to anti-doping officials.

The report contends that the current rule against testing riders between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. allows micro-dosing of products, such as EPO, without being caught, providing a window long enough for doping products, taken in small quantities, to leave the system by morning. It recommends that the UCI and Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation take advantage of an exception contained in the UCI’s new-for-2015 Anti-Doping Rules that allows for overnight testing when there is “serious suspicion that the rider may be engaged in doping.”

Riders dislike the idea. The UCI is keeping all its options open.

One active professional contacted by VeloNews, who requested anonymity on the subject, sees a lose-lose situation.

“I think both sides are pretty obvious. Sucks either way. I hate dopers, but also I hate being woken up at 3 a.m., sitting for 20 minutes, then having a needle jammed in my arm,” the rider said.

The UCI’s whereabouts system allows riders to be tested any day of the year between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., and riders must provide a 60-minute window each day in which they are available in a specific location. Failure to be at that location at the specific hour results in a missed test — three missed tests result in a ban.

CIRC believes that this is not enough, and that an increase in overnight testing falls within the limits of a proportional response, specifically because it addresses an identifiable problem: micro-dosing. “The CIRC is conscious of the principle of proportionality, but the absence of nighttime testing is a weakness of the current system and needs to be addressed,” the report states.

UCI president Brian Cookson hasn’t taken increased overnight testing off the table.

“If there is a loophole that people are getting through, then we need to close that. No rider should be surprised in the next few months if there is a knock on the door in the middle of the night. We really don’t want to go down that road, but if there is an opportunity to do it, we will,” Cookson said.

David Millar, who was convicted of EPO use in 2004 and spent the remainder of his career as an outspoken anti-doping advocate, sees little room for debate.

“It’s preposterous to recommend allowing random out-of-competition controls between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. as the CIRC report does,” Millar wrote in an editorial in The Guardian.

The cleaner state of modern cycling is an argument against overnight testing. The response, in other words, would not be proportional to the problem.

“To propose increasing that to night-testing shows zero empathy for the current state of cycling,” Millar wrote.

To Adriano Malori (Movistar), winner of Wednesday’s Tirreno-Adriatico time trial, overnight testing would be an unnecessary incursion.

“We’ve been tested at 5 to 6 a.m., and we can be tested until 11 p.m., so if one day I race for 6 hours in a row, then another 5 hours, I don’t know if it’s fair to be woken up at three in the morning to be tested again — there is a difference between anti-doping controls, and respecting the riders,” Malori said. “If you want to look at something, go ask the footballers [soccer players] if they are being tested at that hour of the night.”

The issue, as it is with many anti-doping efforts, is proportionality. Do the ends justify the means? That hinges on a number of factors — the pervasiveness of the problem, the effectiveness of any new method, the burden it puts on riders, and, in particular, the burden it puts on the innocent.

Clean riders have a right to race in a clean peloton. But they, too, could be woken in the middle of the night to provide a sample, just as the dopers could. At what point do anti-doping measures become undue punishment for crimes that have not yet, and hopefully never will be, committed? When does the right to a level playing field outweigh the rights of an individual?

The UCI and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) will have to wrestle with these problems over the coming weeks.