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Wednesday’s EuroFile: Vermaut dies; Tour riders face new dope tests; Armstrong ruling by Friday

Former U.S. Postal rider Stive Vermaut died early Wednesday morning in Roeselaere, Belgium. Vermaut suffered a heart attack on the morning of June 13, while out on a training ride. The heart attack deprived Vermaut's brain of oxygen and his death Wednesday was the result of the effects of the resulting damage. Doctors had initially expressed hope of an eventual recovery and kept the 28-year-old Belgian on life support in an artificial coma, but Vermaut's condition deteriorated over the past three days and he died on Wednesday. Vermaut suffered from a congenital heart defect, first detected

By VeloNews Interactive, With wire services

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Former U.S. Postal rider Stive Vermaut died early Wednesday morning in Roeselaere, Belgium.

Vermaut suffered a heart attack on the morning of June 13, while out on a training ride. The heart attack deprived Vermaut’s brain of oxygen and his death Wednesday was the result of the effects of the resulting damage. Doctors had initially expressed hope of an eventual recovery and kept the 28-year-old Belgian on life support in an artificial coma, but Vermaut’s condition deteriorated over the past three days and he died on Wednesday.

Vermaut suffered from a congenital heart defect, first detected in 2001. He began his career in 1998 with the Vlaanderen 2002 team, moved to U.S. Postal for one season in 2000, before joining Lotto-Domo in 2001.

Lotto, however, opted to cancel his contract as evidence of the severity of his heart condition emerged. Vermaut tried to continue his career the following season and signed a contract with Palmans-Collstrop in 2002 before deciding to retire permanently. His one professional victory came in 1999 in a stage at the Circuit des Mine.

UCI and Tour promise rigorous testing
Riders on this year’s Tour de France could become the first in any sport to undergo new blood tests which will target the use of banned synthetic blood boosters and growth hormones.

The three-week Tour starts in Liege, Belgium, on Saturday in the wake of several doping controversies.

However, UCI medical director Mario Zorzoli says new tests have been developed for synthetic blood plasma products and previously undetectable growth hormones.

“It would be a first in any sport if we introduced these tests,” he said. “French law already allows any kind of biological sample to be taken from riders with a view to testing them for banned drugs. We are very confident we can introduce them on the Tour de France.”

The new tests could be carried out both in the morning prior to racing at riders’ hotels, or in the doping control near the finish line of each stage.

The UCI, which has been battling doping claims and controversies involving some of the sport’s top names this year, including Britain’s David Millar and American five-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, has sent letters to all Tour riders warning them of recent advances in detecting synthetic hemoglobin (blood plasma), blood transfusions and growth hormones.

Samples from riders could be frozen and, in the case of growth hormones, tested at a later date, according to the UCI.

Zorzoli said they had also made significant progress in detecting illegal blood transfusions which some riders claim has made a return to the sport.

However the UCI doctor said no samples taken so far this season showed any use of synthetic hemoglobin – a product which can boost performance by increasing the oxygen in the blood.

The current EPO screening involves both testing for hematocrit levels which indicate the volume of red blood cells and a urine test designed to distinguish the isoforms – proteins produced by different genes – present in synthetic EPO from the natural form of erythropoietin which is produced in the human body.

Synthetic – or recombinant – erythropoietin is derived from the cells of hamster ovaries and the resulting isoforms produce a measurably different electrical charge than do the isoforms produced by human erythropoietin. Nonetheless, both tests have limits and, according to medical experts, are actually easy to beat.

The new tests, said Zorzoli, may offer more assurances of accuracy and are less likely to be defeated by riders able to employ relatively sophisticated means to beat them.

French court promises Armstrong ruling by Friday
A Paris court said it will make a decision on Friday on Lance Armstrong’s appeal against a ruling denying him the right to insert a denial against accusations of doping published in a book released last week.

The five-time Tour de France winner’s lawyer Christian Charriere-Bournazel has taken action over the book “L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong” by award-winning Sunday Times journalist David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, a cycling specialist formerly with French sports daily L’Equipe, which alleges he used banned drugs.

The book focuses on statements attributed to Emma O’Reilly, a soigneur who worked with Armstrong from 1998-2000. O’Reilly claims Armstrong used the banned blood booster EPO.

Armstrong, who starts his bid for a sixth successive Tour de France victory on Saturday, has never tested positive for banned substances and has always strenuously denied taking any such products.