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A new doping tremor shook cycling on Wednesday when a commission of French senators released the names of athletes who tested positive for banned blood booster EPO in retroactive analysis from the 1998 and 1999 Tour de France. Among the names are Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini and American Kevin Livingston, along with the first- and second-placed riders Marco Pantini and Jan Ullrich.
A commission of the upper chamber of the French Senate has reviewed doping in cycling and other sports this year, examining rugby, tennis, and soccer. After two months of conversation, the commission on Wednesday released a 700-plus-page report on doping in sport. Agence France Presse reported that the following names were identified in the Senate investigation as having tested positive for EPO: Pantini and Ullrich; Frenchmen Laurent Jalabert, Jacky Durand and Laurent Desbiens; Germans Erik Zabel and Jens Heppner; Italians Cipollini, Andrea Tafi, Nicola Minali, and Fabio Sacchi; Spaniards Abraham Olano and his countrymen Marcos Serrano and Manuel Beltran; Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens; Denmark’s Bo Hamburger; and Livingston.
Hamburger and Livingston turned in positive tests for EPO at the 1999 Tour as well, according to AFP.
According to AFP, additional riders, including American Bobby Julich, Belgian Axel Merckx, and Australian Stuart O’Grady were identified as having supplied suspicious samples.
Olano, who abandoned the 1998 Tour to later win the Vuelta a Espana and the world time trial title that season, expressed his surprise.
“I am surprised to see my name on the list, because I never tested positive. I don’t know how this could come out now. They have to prove it,” Olano told the Spanish wire service EFE. “I was always under control and custody of the team and the medical unit. I do not feel in the least guilty. I never had the sensation I was doing anything illegal.”
The professional riders’ association, the CPA, spoke out last week against the commission’s plans to release the names. “Publication of a list amounts … to an accusation of doping without any means of defense,” the group, headed by Italian Gianni Bugno, said in a press release.
On Wednesday, the CPA responded to the report’s release by warning against tying riders to doping via the senate report.
“The CPA said that the findings can in no way claim for recognition of doping,” said the CPA in a press release. “The Inquiry itself points out in the annexes of its report that ‘no sanction can be taken on the basis of these elements, basically from a scientific study that got published 15 years after the facts.’ At the press conference the speaker pointed out that these elements did not constitute ‘a list of athletes’ and that it were better to be ‘extremely careful and cautious’ in the use of these elements.”
The commission questioned 84 witnesses under oath, from sportsmen and women to organizers and anti-doping experts, to “lift the lid” on and “break the code of silence” over the subject. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart was among those to testify.
The French senators claim that doping is “a persistent problem … throughout the history of sport, where the presence of a code of silence is a complex factor.” Among their proposals to combat drug taking are the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission, beefing up the power of the French anti-doping agency, handing over dope testing to national agencies rather than each sport’s international federation, and improved sharing of information between the different agencies involved in combating doping.
Wednesday’s findings were based on comparisons made of retrospective testing results from 2004 and a list of samples from the 1998 and 1999 Tours. The commission compared the results from the anonymous samples from 2004 to named samples taken from the two Tours under scrutiny.
Jalabert’s name emerged first in the commission’s investigation, after he testified that he couldn’t guarantee that doctors hadn’t given him banned substances during his racing career. The former green jersey and polka jersey at the Tour stepped down from his commentary position with French television in the wake of the testimony. Jalabert was among the most outspoken riders in the peloton when French police searched the rooms and vehicles of multiple teams during its investigation of what would be known as the Festina affaire.
Ullrich had previously confessed to having used performance-enhancing drugs during his careers. Pantani, who died from cocaine poisoning in 2004, was removed from the 1999 Giro d’Italia while leading the race, due to high hematocrit levels (the UCI’s detection method for oxygen-vector doping prior to development of the EPO test), but never tested positive for PED use. Pantani won the 1998 Tour de France.
It is unclear what, if any, action the World Anti-Doping Agency or the riders’ home-country federations and anti-doping agencies will take in light of the report.
The UCI said on Wednesday that it had been aware of the positive samples since 2005, but did not divulge the athletes’ names because the testing did not meet standards for establishing a doping positive.
“The retroactive testing of the 1998 Tour riders’ samples was carried out by the French laboratory as scientific research and not according to technical standards for anti-doping analyses,” the UCI said in a statement. “In addition, the principles of anonymity and prior consent from the riders for scientific analyses were not respected. The results therefore could not be accepted as valid proof in an anti-doping context — and the UCI could not open retrospective disciplinary proceedings.”
The senators are aiming to frame legislation on sport and put it before the senate for debate next year.
In his testimony before the commission, which the senate published on Wednesday, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said that the riders should not be the sole focus of anti-doping efforts.
“Some [managers] are great, but when it comes to others, I would say that the fish rots from the head. … We talk about a changing generation, but the problem is not the rider! If the managers and doctors will not be prosecuted, nothing progresses.”
Garmin-Sharp CEO Jonathan Vaughters, a staunch anti-doping advocate who publicly admitted his own PED use for the first time in 2012, dismissed the value of the list on Twitter on Monday night, writing: “Re ’98 tests:small percentage of guys were tested. Smaller% were still taking epo after police raids started. Names in report? Meaningless.”
Vaughters followed up by claiming that 100 percent of the peloton would have tested positive for EPO if tested three-to-four days before the start of the 1998 Tour.
Durand, now a commentator for Eurosport, published a response, in which he expressed his hope that today’s riders not be discredited over his generation’s doping, on the international broadcaster’s website.
“You have to take responsibility for your own actions. I have always said that for many years whether it was to young riders, journalists or my employers,” wrote Durrand.
“At the time we the riders could hear the alarm bells sounding. We all agreed that our samples could be retained for a time when there was enhanced research regarding the detection of EPO. In the late ’90s the peloton was a shooting gallery. Everybody was doping and nobody knew how to get out.”
Stuart O’Grady, a starter of every Tour since 1997, confessed on Wednesday to having used EPO, two days after announcing his retirement. After playing a key role for Bjarne Riis’ CSC team from 2006-2010, O’Grady rode his final Tour in service of Orica-GreenEdge, with whom he won the stage 4 team time trial and defended the yellow jersey for Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey.
O’Grady was listed in the French report as having submitted a suspicious sample.
“I made a decision,” O’Grady told News Corp. journalist and Adelaide-based biographer Reece Homfray. “I sourced it (EPO) myself, there was no else involved, it didn’t involve the team in any way.
“I just had to drive over the border and buy it at any pharmacy. The hardest part of all this is I did two weeks before the Tour de France.”
Andrea Tafi (ITA), Erik Zabel (GER), Nicola Minali (ITA), Mario Cipollini (ITA), Fabio Sacchi (ITA), Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA), Jacky Durand (FRA), Abraham Olano (ESP), Laurent Desbiens (FRA), Marco Pantani, Manuel Beltran (ESP), Bo Hamburger (DEN), Laurent Jalabert (FRA), Marcos Serrano (ESP), Jens Heppner (GER), Jeroen Blijlevens (NED), Jan Ullrich (GER), Kevin Livingston (USA)
Ermanno Brignoli (ITA), Alain Turicchia (ITA), Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA), Stephane Barthe (FRA), Stuart O’Grady (AUS), Axel Merckx (BEL), Pascal Chanteur (FRA), Frederic Moncassin (FRA), Bobby Julich (USA), Roland Meier (SUI), Giuseppe Calcaterra (ITA), Stefano Zanini (ITA)
Information from Agence France Presse was used in this report.