News and Analysis for September 24

Will the UCI issue a report on doping?

By Tomas Nillson, correspondent

What is the 'normal' haematocrit level in the peloton? What is it compared to regular, healthy humans, which is said to be around 39? Despite countless tests since last year, the UCI is unwilling to reveal any reports or statistics right now. "We have the information but are only issuing statements about riders with too-high levels," said UCI official Enrico Carpani.

"It would not be appropriate to reveal any other information now," he said, but added as an answer to a direct question from that the UCI might issue some sort of report after the season.

The issue of doping was thrown back into the headlines with Belgian ITT champion Marc Streel's suspension at the Grand Prix des Nations, and then his subsequent selection as a reserve rider for Belgium in the upcoming World Road Racing Championships while still under suspension. Streel was suspended from racing for two weeks by the UCI because he registered a haematocrit level of 52. This suspension followed a period where he was in excellent form, winning both the Belgian individual time trial championship and a Cat 1.5 race where he finished alone, one and half minutes in front of three chasing riders.

Also, Italian magistrate Raffaele Guariniello is investigating the case of Marco Pantani, as he has hospital records from 1995 for the winner of Giro and Tour de France in 1998 which show hematocrit levels of 60. The magistrate's angle will be that if the rider was shown to have won the races while using a banned product, he committed fraud.

Risking a "lawyer's playground" in sports

"There is no point in suspending someone with a high haematocrit level for a couple of weeks, and even less point in firing him. There is a risk that sports will be another lawyer's playground," according to Arne Ljungqvist, IOC member, member of IOC medical commission, vice president in the IAAF, the international athletics federation, and chairman of its medical committee and also chairman of the Swedish Sports Confederation.

"We should wait for methods that can show use of EPO. They are coming, and when they do, we can deal with EPO as we handle other sorts of doping," he said to Ljungqvist has for many years worked against doping in the IAAF and later in the IOC. Athletics, his own sport, is number one in testing.

Of the 70,000 tests taken annually, some 16,000 are taken in athletics and around 9000-10,000 in cycling. Soccer comes somewhere between, but considering the position of soccer in the sports world that's far too little, said Ljungqvist. He is more satisfied with the number of tests in cycling, compared to soccer. He'd rather put the sport of swimming with it's 5000 tests as a better example.

"But 29 out of 35 Olympic sports do less than 1500 tests a year," he pointed out. He is also disappointed with the attitude from cycling as well as soccer when it comes to suspension. "Those that argue that people shouldn't be stopped from doing their job for too long doesn't have a point any more. Today athletics is as professional as cycling or soccer and we have a two year ban that everybody in the sport has to accept."

One part of the cycling problem is the tradition, he said. Cycling was for many years more or less the only individual professional sport. But it's time to get rid of that tradition now when other athletes are as professional as cyclists and face longer suspensions if they are caught with unpermitted drug use. "I would also like to say that security in handling tests is as high as possible. Samples are coded and the IOC-accredited laboratories are independent. Samples are more thoroughly checked than on the ordinary health system," he said.

Ljungqvist also has high hopes for an international independent but IOC-sponsored anti doping agency. So far most research has been conducted on a national level on more or less personal initiatives, he said.

In the meantime, Dr Patric Nedelec, in charge of doping controls in the Tour de France for 12 years and then team doctor of GAN, is under inquiry by French magistrates. Under his time with the team, Laurent Desbiens and Philippe Gaumont were banned for steroid use. Gaumont by the way is back riding for Cofidis since the investigation in the "Dr Mabuse" affair showed no grounds for a case against him.