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News for June 8, 2000
EPO test details revealed
The methods of one of the most sought after drug tests for cycling has at last made it into the scientific literature. Erythropoetin, widely known as EPO can now be detected in urine and via blood analysis after French and Australian (in collaboration with other laboratories) studies have found the way.
The drug has up till now been undetectable by conventional drug testing methods, as it is a natural substance produced by the body to grow red blood cells. EPO has therefore been abused by cyclists and other endurance sports to boost performance without risk of being caught. In basic terms, more red cells = more oxygen available to the blood and muscles. A faster ride for the same effort.
EPO is unfortunately not by any means a new drug - it was first used in the late 80's by cyclists, and was the subject of the biggest drug scandal in cycling history during the 1998 Tour de France. Over the years, various scientists have said that they've found the solution, but nothing eventuated. In an attempt to stop riders dying, the UCI capped a persons hematocrit (percent of red cells in the blood) to 50%. An arbitrary rule which may have helped save a few lives but caused a lot of problems in its enforcement. If a person is naturally close to 50%, then they have to be extra careful, especially as the test has a not insignificant margin of error
Clearly, a better solution was needed. A large study was undertaken by researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport in 1998 to assess, firstly, the performance benefits of EPO (bottom line: it works). They worked in collaboration with several other labs to develop a blood test for EPO which measures five parameters, to assess their relative normality. A mathematical model is used to determine which, if any, are out of the ordinary, and the results have been promising. As part of their study, they tested 27 athletes (not allowed to compete in the Olympics!) who had been given EPO. They were able to detect if the drug had been taken up to three weeks prior with 99.5% accuracy.
They have now had this work published in the journal "Haematologica" and are in the process of calibrating the test using 1200 athletes from around the world. They intend to have the results of this ready to give to the International Olympic committee by August 1 this year.
The second EPO test is a urine based one, which it is hoped will be used for the Tour de France this year. Developed in a French laboratory in Paris, the study has been published in "Nature" and uses a pH based method to detect EPO. pH is a measure of the acidity in a solution and changes can occur if another substance (with different acidity) is introduced. Natural and artificial EPO have different (not greatly) electrical charges and are able to be distinguished by means of isoelectric focussing on the pH scale.
So far, tests carried out on urine samples obtained from the 1998 Tour de France have been interesting. Of 102 samples tested, 28 were outside the normal range and 14 of these had pH levels indicative of artificial EPO. 220 further samples will be tested an analysed in a double blind study before the urine based EPO test is given the go ahead to be used in the Tour de France. French scientists are confident that these tests will be carried out by the June 20 deadline.
Armstrong and Hamilton hone their performance
Although Lance Armstrong came into the Dauphiné Libére with the intent of using it as "preparation" for the Tour, it seems as though he has a few more ambitions. After placing second in the uphill prologue time trial, he spent time in the points and mountains jersey (by default, as Lopez de Munain had them) before winning today's 35.7 kilometre time trial from Saint-Etienne to Saint-Chamond. He is now in the overall lead, with teammate Tyler Hamilton in third place, but is sticking to the game plan of not pushing himself too much.
Hamilton and Armstrong both rode the TT course in the morning which helped their confidence, said Hamilton. According to the Postal squad, the aim was for Armstrong to go for it in the two time trials, as well as certain other races leading up to the Tour. For the Dauphiné, they would like to win it, but see Tyler Hamilton in yellow rather than Lance. With tomorrow's stage ending at the top of Mont Ventoux, the race will sort itself out and the Posties will assess their position.
"With Ventoux tomorrow, we will see how it goes," said team director Johan Bruyneel. "We will try and control the race if it does not explode the team. It is a very hard climb and I think that we are good enough to be up there. Once you are on the Ventoux, it will be everybody for themselves. However, I don't believe there are 10 other riders who can give us trouble, maybe one or two. We can be confident."
Second overall, Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) is a real danger as he can climb quite well, and his team are performing very strongly. Zülle is lurking back in 6th, and Olano and Jalabert (ONCE) and Bobby Julich (CA) are all in the top 10.
Museeuw ends in 2001
After next season, Belgian legend Johan Museeuw (34) will finish his cycling career, according to an interview in the Gazet van Antwerpen. He aims to do something in public relations afterwards. Within the next few days, he will decide whether to end with Mapei or another team.
By the end of this week, a decision will be announced about the future of the Spanish team Vitalicio who have riders such as Jan Hruska, the Galdeano brothers and Victor Hugo Pena in their ranks. Spanish newspaper AS announced that the sport director of Vitalicio, Jaiver Mínguez, is having talks with the sponsor this coming Friday. If Vitalicio stops as a sponsor after 3 years,Jaiver will start looking for a new sponsor in July.
Teun Van Vliet stops
Farm Frites team manager, Teun Van Vliet has been fired according to an official announcement by team spokesman, Ardie den Hoed today. The team management, headed now by Jacques Hanegraaf said that they will make an official announcement after stage one of the Tour of Luxembourg, starting today. "We want to arrange some things before the Tour de France," said den Hoed.
The irony is that Hanegraaf was asked by Van Vliet to join at the beginning of the year after Cees Priem left. He had problems with his co-leaders, Hendrik Redant and Egon van Kessel from the outset, and reportedly didn't have a good relationship with the riders. For example, he didn't allow them to drink a glass of wine with their dinner, despite the fact that he was well known for his "high living" during his own career. "Cycling is business, big business. So we have to be serious, and the riders too."
Samaranch mediates in Danish dope conflict
By Tomas Nilsson, cyclingnews.com correspondent
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch will mediate in the conflict between the Danish Sports Federation (DIF) and the UCI. Last fall, the UCI threatened to exclude the Danes unless Denmark lowers the quarantine for doping from two years to twelve or six months. The Danes answered they are just following an IOC decision taken from an international IOC conference on doping.
Samaranch said Wednesday that IOC can not take action in the conflict but Samaranch has offered to sit in at the table when the two parties meet again. Kai Holm, chairman of the Danish Sports Federation, was content after the meeting. "We have won respect for our point of view but we must also understand the political reality - that it will take a long time before so many different international sports federations can come to a common policy," he told sportal-dk.
The feud began last year when TVM's Claus Michael Möller got a two year quarantine from the DIF even though the UCI rules accept a shorter term. The organisations came to a Solomon-like compromise. Möller was banned from racing in Denmark, or represent Denmark's national team for two years , while UCI allowed him to race abroad after one year. Right now he is one of the Portuguese teams. He is also allowed to compete in Danish races on the international calendar.
Russians OK for Sydney
Pavel Tonkov, Dmitri Konyshev, Evgeni Berzin and the other top Russian riders will be able to start in Sydney. Andre Zakarov, chairman of the Russian Federation, said that his union has paid the last US$50,000 owing to the UCI. The UCI was still waiting for US$150,000 at the beginning of this year. Most of the money had to be paid because of the end of the Roslotto team.