The World Anti-Doping Agency said Wednesday Italian rider Riccardo Riccò tested positive at the Tour de France after a secret molecule was planted in the blood booster EPO during its manufacture.
Riccò, 24, upset the big names of the sport to win two stages of this year’s Tour before he was kicked off after testing positive for EPO (erythropoietin).
Revealing the now high-tech nature of the fight against drugs in sport, WADA chief John Fahey said his organization worked with drugs giant Roche on the newest version of EPO (erythropoietin).
He said Roche had included a molecule in the third generation of EPO, called Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) that acted as a marker in drug tests.
“In the development of that particular substance, close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was taken,” Fahey told public radio in his native Australia.
Until this year’s Tour, CERA, which is released into the body more slowly than its predecessors, had been thought to be undetectable by drug testers.
Fahey said such cooperation with drug companies was the way forward in fighting drug cheats.
“There’s more and more of this occurring,” he said. “The more cooperation the scientists can have with the drug companies in the detection of performance-enhancing drugs the greater the likelihood is they will be detected when tests are undertaken.”
Riccò is one of three riders to test positive for EPO at this year’s tour, tarring the race once again with a drugs controversy. He has denied using the substance, originally designed to boost red blood cell production in cancer and kidney patients suffering from anemia.
A spokesperson for California-based Affymax told VeloNews last week that the company, too, was cooperating with WADA in developing a test for its new drug, Hematide.
“Clearly we want to be ahead of the situation and help develop a test,” said Affymax’s Sylvia Wheeler, adding that the synthetic peptide-based erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) is in its final phase of clinical trials and could reach the market in 2010.