By Andrew Hood
T-Mobile will introduce a new, groundbreaking blood test that officials say will allow the team determine if its riders have been blood doping.
The German ProTour team will conduct the test internally on its own riders within the coming weeks. T-Mobile is thought to be the first major cycling team to use the new detection method developed by Walter Schmidt, a professor at the University of Bayreuth.
“All riders will be required to undergo a newly developed test which will be able to determine whether the individual has transfused his own blood,” T-Mobile doctor Lothar Heinrich said on the team’s web page.
The test uses a new detection method by prompting athletes to inhale small amounts of carbon monoxide, about the same as smoking three cigarettes, Heinrich said. The carbon monoxide then bonds with the body’s hemoglobin.
Riders are then connected to a breathing apparatus and then blood samples taken from the ear lobe before and after a two-minute breathing phase are checked against each other, officials explained.
“This way we can determine the difference in the carbon monoxide levels in the blood,” Heinrich said. “Especially when we perform the test on a regular basis.”
The test is thought to be the first of its kind to test for autologous blood doping, the re-injection of a person’s own blood. There is currently no WADA-approved test to detect autologous injections.
There is already an approved test to detect homologous blood doping – the injection of blood from a suitable donor – the same test that caught Tyler Hamilton and Santi Pérez in 2004. Both riders denied blood doping, but failed to convince authorities otherwise and each are currently serving two-year bans.
The use of autologous blood doping is thought to be on the increase following the introduction of a urine EPO test and the homologous blood test.
The introduction of the new test is the latest effort by T-Mobile to bolster its image and clean house after the disastrous start of the 2006 Tour. Both 1997 Tour champ Jan Ullrich and Spanish climber Oscar Sevilla were kicked out of the Tour a day before the race started after links to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes were made public from the “Operación Puerto” doping investigation in Spain.
T-Mobile fired both riders along with sport director Rudy Pevenage. Last week, the team also fired team manager Olaf Ludwig and several team riders, such as Michael Rogers and Linus Gerdemann, were told to stop contact with high-profile trainers. Rogers has agreed to stop working with Michele Ferrari while Gerdemann has dropped Luigi Cecchini.
Petacchi return expected today
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) is expected to race today for the first time since breaking his kneecap in a spill in the third stage of the 2006 Giro d’Italia.
The Italian sprinter looks to have fully recovered from knee surgery following his May 6 crash and is expected to start today’s Trofeo Città di Castelfidardo in Italy. He is then penciled in to start the Regio Tour (Aug. 16-20) ahead of the Vuelta a España (Aug. 26-Sept. 17).
Savio to ‘switch’ nationalities
Gianni Savio – one of the most charismatic figures on the international scene – is swapping Colombia for Venezuela in his national coach duties.
According to a report in Tutto Bici, the Italian sport director of Selle Italia will end his coaching duties with Colombia, where he led the national team at international competition from 2001-05, and turn his attention to the Venezuelan national team.
The deal was reportedly hammered out during the Pan-American Games and Savio is expected to lead the Venezuelan team at the Salzburg world championships in September and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
A new Venezuelan title sponsor is expected to be revealed soon to take over Savio’s directed troops, the paper reported.
Savio’s designation as national coach of the Venezuelan team could create some sparks with star rider José Rujano, who was caught up in a bitter contract dispute between Savio’s Selle Italia team and Quick Step-Innergetic last winter.
Rujano was under contract to race for Savio through the 2006 Giro, but Rujano abandoned in the Alps and didn’t race again until the Tour de France with Quick Step. The pint-sized climber, third overall in the 2005 Giro, did not complete his Tour debut.
Dessel stays with Ag2r; Moreni with Cofidis
Cyril Dessel – the 31-year-old Frenchman who held the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour de France – will stay will current team Ag2r for two more years, the team reported. Dessel finished seventh and was the highest-place French GC rider in the 2006 Tour. He had already signed a two-year contract to stay with the team directed by Vicent Lavenu, but signed on for an additional year and will be with the outfit through 2009.
Italian veteran Cristian Moreni, 33, has penned a two-year contract extension to stay with Cofidis through the 2008 season. Moreni, the 2004 Italian champion, joined Cofidis last year after riding with Quick Step.