By Agence France Presse
Organizers of the Tour de France plan to use the same test for illicit blood transfusions first employed at last year’s summer Olympics in Athens, the French national drug screening laboratory (LNDD) announced on Thursday.
The test, approved for use last summer, is at the center of two appeals being brought before the international Court of Arbitration for Sport by American Tyler Hamilton and his former Phonak teammate Santiago Perez after both were found to be positive for so-called homologous blood doping.
Blood doping is a means of enhancing endurance by increasing the amount of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, using one’s own blood or that of a donor of the same blood group. Both practices are prohibited under UCI rules and the World Anti-Doping Code, but the test developed in Australia is only capable of detecting foreign blood cells and not those that an individual might extract, store and reinject.
Hamilton tested positive at the Vuelta a España last September for an illicit transfusion of what testers said were donor blood cells. The Vuelta test was ordered after a sample Hamilton submitted at the Olympics was deemed positive by a review panel, but could not be confirmed by a B-sample that had already been destroyed.
Hamilton was then sacked by his professional team, Phonak, and given a two-year ban by the United States Anti Doping Agency.
Perez, also a member of Phonak, was found positive in a test after the Vuelta. He, too, was suspended for two years by the Spanish Cycling Federation. The two remain the only athletes to ever have tested positive using the method developed in Australia.
“It’s this detection technique that caught Tyler Hamilton out,” said the laboratory’s director, Jacques de Ceaurriz.
Hamilton and Perez have adamantly proclaimed their innocence and have appealed their suspensions to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Other doping tests on the Tour will mirror last year’s, with some 150 blood and/or urine tests, and around 100 tests for EPO (Erythropoietin), the banned red-blood-cell booster, de Ceaurriz said.
However the doctor added that the LNDD still did not have the means to be able to detect growth hormones. “The technique already exists,” he added. “But we can’t yet apply it because it requires a large amount of anti-bodies which we just don’t have at our disposal yet.”