News for January 14, 2001

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"Positive" news on the doping front: French in better health

There are fewer 'anomalies' in French riders' health than there were two years ago. That is the conclusion of the latest medical assessment of the French peloton. After the first round of tests was made at the end of 1998, it was found that a significant group of riders had anomalous electrocardiograms, believed to be caused by doping. However, in the latest medical follow up there are significantly fewer abnormalities, a promising result that should be treated with some caution.

In a report in French sports newspaper, L'Equipe, Dr Gilbert Peres (who is in charge of the suivi longitudinal médical contrôlé (SMLC)) gave his assessment of the third followup. "In 2000, the results are even more encouraging," he declared. "I believe that a good deal of effort has been made to stop some doping practices. In parallel, I also believe that a great effort has been made to conceal the detestable ones."

On the subject of health versus performance, Dr Peres offered the following: "One cannot safeguard health at the expense of performance. One cannot have performance at the expense of health. There is a subtle equilibrium involving many factors so that someone can maximise their performance while protecting health."

"It is necessary to think of the speed of the races. According to the law for protection of health and anti-doping of March 29, 1999: the federations are responsible for the sporting calendars. We (physiologists and doctors) know the rates of recovery of high level sportsmen. We know that certain races are not compatible with these physiological rates."

"For example, to ride at 50 km/h for 4-5 hours, it takes a certain amount of muscle glycogen. However, when this store is exhausted it takes 24 hours, even 36 hours, to reconstitute it naturally. If the recovery time is limited to 12 hours, or even 20 hours, the rider will therefore only have partially recovered his initial glycogen level. But there are artificial means (prohibited) that make it possible to recover quickly and do not leave traces."

Dr Peres was not talking about 1000 mg of vitamin C, 500 IU of E and a sports drink here. He puts the onus on the race organisers, the media, the UCI and the national federations for supporting these types of events. "If the intensity of these races was removed, there would be no need for doping control," he said.

Dr Peres also provided insight into French riders versus foreign, comparing results from foreign riders in French teams to those of French riders. "It was evident that the few anomalous cases observed this year were mainly from foreign riders."

Is this because French riders are cleaning up their acts, or are they just learning how to 'beat the system'? A comment for Dr Peres: "We are also astonished by the way that certain French riders improve when they are abroad. Also, the propensity that certain teams have to improve in hot countries in winter, returning in exceptional states of form...not only due to the heat. The aim is of course to remove themselves from the controls carried out in France, or elsewhere."

"We need the UCI to be strong willed," he added, saying that an effective solution would be to have anti-doping squads flown around in order to follow certain teams. "But do they really want to stop doping or simply to present a favourable front, and continue to make small deals behind?"

When longitudinal testing started two years ago, 60% of all riders showed biological disturbances, in particular the iron metabolism (e.g. high ferritin levels). High levels of this iron storage substance can cause cardiac disease, and liver and pancreas cancer. These riders were treated in 1999, according to Dr Peres, "in order to lower their blood iron levels and reduce the stress on the liver and the heart...we will observe these cyclists in the coming decades in order to detect liver disease as soon as possible."

High blood iron levels are generally only obtained by injecting or ingesting iron, a popular supplement amongst athletes. Low iron levels can lead to anemia, the bane of endurance athletes. Although high iron levels can prevent this, they lead to several other problems mentioned above. Having a high iron level is not indicative of EPO use, but EPO users typically have iron injections. Nowadays, the French riders show much lower levels of ferritin.

While the SMLC tests can in some cases easily determine if a rider has doped, they are not a substitute for anti-doping controls. "Anti-doping controls are necessary by law," said Dr Peres. "They make it possible to evaluate the effects of the SMLC. But the SMLC and biological followups are prevention measures. I think that it is necessary to prevent before sanctioning."

No sanctions can be applied as a result of the SMLC followup, even if someone exhibited a 65% hematocrit for example. They would be told that they were not in good health, but their results might come under scrutiny from the media and their employers.

The SMLC is one of several measures designed to reduce riders' risk in competition, and is one of the most important things introduced by the FFC in response to the doping crisis. While the French team doctors are "playing the game still finds soigneurs in certain professional teams who practise an illegal type of medicine. The French (and foreign) teams should employ State graduates and not soigneurs, whose role it is to transport food and prepare drinks, who do not have anything to do with science."

The most logical time period to practise the medical followup is at the end of each year, at the same time that licences are renewed and the racing pressure is zero. However, Dr Peres exhibits a degree of cynicism "One can imagine that the riders are prepared." He believes that another SMLC test in May or June "would be very interesting". [Although teams do have to have three medical checkups per year, the SMLC type tests are only carried out annually, and some teams do not follow the regulations.]

The advantage of the SMLC is that it is part of the French Health Ministry meaning that it is largely publicly funded (although cycling teams cover part of the expenses). Testing large numbers of cyclists is by no means cheap, but in the long run will probably save the French (or any other country) money with less strain on the public health system. Unhealthy people cost a lot to keep alive.

Giro 2002 a week earlier

As part of the UCI calendar reorganisation that was announced recently, the Giro d'Italia will have its starting date moved forward one week in order to give riders more rest in between it and the Tour de France. The result would be a five week gap between two of the major stage races ion the calendar. It is also highly likely that the Tour of Romandy will be moved forward by a similar amount, as this normally precedes the Giro.

Australian Championships: Sunderland out

Scott Sunderland has been forced to pull out of the Australian Open Championships in Portarlington today. He is reportedly too sick to start and is headed home. He will not be able to start in the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under that starts next Tuesday. Last year, Sunderland finished third in the race (second Australian) won by British rider Jeremy Hunt.

Weather update: Although it was predicted to be 43 degrees in Portarlington today, the weather has turned out to be quite mild - a pleasant 25 according to several reports.

Mottet appointed World's technical delegate

Former French professional and race organiser, Charly Mottet, has been appointed the technical delegate for the World Road Championships by the UCI. Mottet was one of France's better known professionals, and won the Tour of Lombardy, three Grands Prix des Nations, and a stage in the Tour de France. Since his retirement, he has acted as an assistant director of the Criterium Dauphiné Liberé, as well as directing the French national team. As World's technical delegate, he will assess the various countries' bids to hold the championships, as well as overseeing the organisation.

Whistler triple MTB World Cup cancelled

Canada will only host one round of the MTB World Cup next year, after the triple World Cup in Whistler has just been cancelled. Scheduled for July 7-8, 2001, the Whistler World Cup included men's and women's cross country, downhill and dual competitions. It was also to be the major component of the third annual Summer Session Sports and Entertainment Festival in the resort, which runs from June 29-July 8.

However, the recently formed "W3" comprised of Whistler/Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler informed organiser TEAM Management that the "financial risk was simply too high...This leaves us in the unfortunate position of having no alternative except to withdraw our intention to hold a World Cup Mountain Bike event in Whistler for the coming year."

Although the event was given the green light by the UCI last year, the international governing body instituted a new policy whereby first time Triple World Cup organizers were required to have their contract with the UCI signed by the venue for the first year only. TEAM Management therefore proposed to partner with the W3, but this was declined. Subsequent negotiations between W3 and TEAM broke down also, with the cancellation of the event on December 13, 2000.

The triple World Cup event grew out of the Whistler International Classic, won last year by Canadian Olympians Alison Sydor and Roland Green. Although various attempts had been made over the past decade to gain a World Cup for Whistler, TEAM Management's was the first to succeed. It was estimated that 15-20,000 spectators would visit the resort, and 400 professional athletes from 40 countries would be attracted.

However, with the cancellation of the World Cup and Summer Session, TEAM Management Inc. will cease operation. As TEAM had also been awarded the rights to organize the Canada Cup Finals (cross-country and downhill) scheduled for Whistler, August 11 - 12, 2001, the event will likely be relocated to another venue.

The outcome of the cancellation of the Whistler World Cup and the relocation of the Whistler date on the UCI calendar is presently being reviewed by the UCI at the annual Mountain Bike Commission meetings in Switzerland.

Norwegian nationals go pro

The Norwegian National Women's team will be transformed into a pro team for next season. Norway's first lady of cycling, Monica Valen, has put a lot of effort into the plans and now the sponsoring company, Sponsor Service will put 6 million kroner (more than $US 500,000) into the project. In November, the Norwegian Cycling Federation was already prepared to cover 400,000 kroner.

The line up is the same as the National Team for the last couple of seasons, combined with MTB star Gunn-Rita Dahle who has been doubling on the road. Former national coach Atle Kvålsvoll will act as coordinator and advisor until a sports director is hired.

The name of the team is still undecided as Sponsor Service hasn't finalized sponsor contracts yet. The amount so far can be considered a guarantee sum. The squad might also be expanded with some more Norwegian or foreign riders. The team members have 445 points between them which puts the team in ninth place in the UCI rankings of Oct 22, 2000, behind Timex (529 pts) and well ahead of Vlaanderen 2002 (291 pts).

Team roster

Solrun Flatås (129 pts)
Monica Valen (116)
Ingunn Bollerud (88)
Jorunn Kvalø (64)
Wenche Stensvold (42)
Ragnhild Kostøl (6)
Gunn Rita Dahle (0)

Courtesy of Georg Reidarsen, Syklingens Verden

Three Bolivians positive

Bolivian cyclists Genaro Agostopa, Juan Carlos Torrico and Marcos Torrico have returned positive drug tests after the sixth edition of the Doble Copacabana, held in November last year. According to the Bolivian Cycling Federation, stage two winner Genaro Agostopa showed traces of Lidocaine in his urine, while the two Torrico brothers tested positive for the anabolic steroid, 19-norandrostenediol. The three have all been given a provisional suspension by the UCI.

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