Cycling’s world governing body announced on Friday that an Australian-pioneered test to detect illicit blood transfusions will be used for the first time this season.
The Union Cycliste Internationale’s move comes in the wake of a new doping scandal in France that has already led to the arrest of several current and former members of the Cofidis team, whose soigneur Bogdan Madejak is still being held by police in connection with distributing banned substances.
In tapped telephone conversations French police also claim to have heard Madejak suggesting to Polish rider Marek Rutkiewicz that he use blood transfusions.
UCI president Hein Verbruggen said the test to be used from this season will be able to detect whether a rider had used blood from another rider of the same blood group, as well as self-transfusions.
“There is an Australian test which can determine, with more or less 100 percent certainty, whether any manipulation has taken place,” Verbruggen told AFP Friday.
Blood doping, first employed as a means of cheating in the 1970’s, adds red blood cells to the blood, thus carrying more oxygen to the muscles and allowing them to work for longer and to recover quicker.
Verbruggen added: “In 999 cases out of 1,000, we will be able to tell if there has been manipulation. But we cannot rely on that alone to sanction (the athlete), so we will do as we do for haematocrit.”
An abnormally elevated haematocrit level in the blood is an indication, although not proof, that some kind of manipulation – whether through blood-boosting substances, or blood doping – has taken place. Currently, if a cyclist returns a haematocrit reading of 50 or above, he is banned from racing for 15 days.
Verbruggen, who maintains that the current affair is limited to “isolated cases” within and around the Cofidis team, denied that blood doping had come back to haunt the sport but admitted there was a problem.
“We know that in endurance sports, and not just cycling, that blood doping is a problem,” added Verbruggen. “There are cheats who want to do it. But now, we have a way to prevent it.”
Museeuw negative, yet questions persist
Belgian cycling great Johan Museeuw has been given the all-clear after analysis of blood and urine samples – following the discovery of suspect substances at his home – proved negative on Friday.
Still, Museeuw was questioned by Belgian police on Friday about a prescription drug found when they raided his house last September, according to the rider’s lawyer, Jozef Lievens.
“Johan Museeuw has been interviewed very briefly by the police this morning,” Lievens told the Reuters news agency.
Lievens said the 38-year-old Quick Step-Davitamon rider had not been charged and was not the subject of a formal police inquiry.
“Johan is not a suspect or an indicted person…he hasn’t been accused of anything. We hope that everything is finished now and that the page can be turned.”
Lievens said the police raid only found the anti-inflammatory prescription drug dexametasone in addition to standard household medicines.
“The local use of that drug is explicitly permitted by the decree of the Flemish government regarding doping in sport. Our view is that the use of this drug is totally legal, and medically highly necessary,” he said.
Lievens said doctors prescribed the drug after Museeuw suffered an accident in 1998.
Local prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, Museeuw, who is in his farewell season, says he now wants to concentrate on claiming his 12th career victory in the World Cup classics.
“I’m happy these results turned out to be completely negative. Now I can concentrate fully on my main aim, which is to win a 12th World Cup race,” Museeuw told a press conference.
The analysis of Museeuw’s samples was ordered by a Belgian court in September last year after Herman Versele admitted to police he had provided a number of professional riders with banned substances.
Police then carried out searches at the homes of Museeuw and Belgian compatriots Jo Planckaert, Chris Peers and Mario De Clercq, taking away a number of suspect substances.
Although Museeuw has been cleared for the time being, the former world champion and World Cup winner could be targeted once the results of analyses on the suspect substances are released.
Starting his career in 1988, Museeuw – nicknamed “the Lion of Flanders” – has won 11 World Cup races, including Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, each of which he has won twice.
He announced in October last year that he would bring the curtain down on his career at the GP de l’Escaut in mid-April. –Copyright 2003/AFP