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UCI doping chief says passport program shows vast majority of riders are clean

The UCI’s anti-doping chief Anne Gripper said the vast majority of the elite peloton appears to be riding clean after months-long analysis of tell-tale blood parameters. Gripper was speaking at a press conference in Paris Wednesday where it was announced the pioneering 'biological passport' scheme launched by the UCI had snared five riders.Recent coverage of the UCI biological passport:

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By Agence France Presse

The UCI’s anti-doping chief Anne Gripper said the vast majority of the elite peloton appears to be riding clean after months-long analysis of tell-tale blood parameters.

Gripper was speaking at a press conference in Paris Wednesday where it was announced the pioneering ‘biological passport’ scheme launched by the UCI had snared five riders.

Former world road race champion Igor Astarloa of Spain is among three Spaniards and two Italians who will now facing doping charges due to irregularities from blood samples on their respective passports.

The UCI said in a statement the five had “violated the anti-doping rules on the basis of information from blood profiles on their biological passport.”

When asked to say if more new doping cases were on the way, Gripper said several profiles are both in the “early and late stages of the review process with the experts.”

In short, more riders could soon be snared.

For the first time in the history of the sport, irregularities from blood samples on the biological passport will be used to decide doping sanctions. Hours after the news was announced Italians Pietro Caucchioli and Francesco De Bonis were suspended by their teams, Lampre and Diquiogiovanni respectively.

Teams are now under huge pressure to weed out cheats, and snared riders have often come to admit their guilt.

Although not the final step in the battle, the UCI’s latest weapon in the fight against doping appears to be working.

Spaniard Anton Colom was revealed to have tested positive for EPO last week after UCI officials said suspicious results from the medical monitoring that is the core of the biological passport program prompted them to order follow-up testing.

Although it is a long and “difficult” process, Gripper believes that after the recent analysis of 840 of those passports prospective cheats in the peloton are now beginning to think twice.

“When I look on the 840 riders which are in this program, the vast majority of this peloton have very normal blood values,” said Gripper. “And you can have only normal values if you don’t do anything with your blood. I am really confident that we have a higher number of riders who are riding clean and fairer than we have in the past.”

In the past the authorities have often been duped by street-savvy riders, and those who help them administer doping substances, when it comes to the tests that are supposed to snare them.

That is where an extensive monitoring program can prove useful. Banned substances can often alter blood parameters, and since samples are taken on a regular as well as a random basis, the UCI is able to keep the peloton under close surveillance.

“It is a much better way, but it is hard. It is more difficult to do,” added Gripper as she compared the passport scheme to traditional anti-doping tests. “We have to be patient, to make sure we collect a lot more evidence (than just a paper sheet). But I think it is a much, much better way of detecting riders who would not be detected in another way.

“For the future, it worth investing in this approach.”

One blip on the anti-doping landscape is autologous blood doping – when athlete’s take out, then reinject, their own blood to enhance their performance. There is no definitive test for autologous blood doping, but Gripper and UCI president Pat McQuaid have said that the monitoring under the passport program can prove valuable in that effort.

“With the biological passport we can see evidence of that type of behavior,” McQuaid said last week, “and it’s pretty solid evidence.”