News for March 12, 1997

EPO tests - more sanguinary tales from Paris-Nice

More information has emerged on the anti-EPO blood tests carried out before Stage 1 and Stage 2 of Paris--Nice on Sunday and Monday. The procedure is as follows: if the first reading is close to but below 50% a second analysis of the sample is made. If the initial reading is above 50% the sample is analysed five times and an average of the readings taken. In order to allow for a margin of error, each final result is reduced by one percentage point, so effectively a reading of 51% would leave a rider in the clear.

In contrast to MG boss Giancarlo Ferretti's stong condemnation of his rider Mauro Santaromita's transgression of the limit (admittedly fully in character with Ferretti's hard-nosed attitude) La Francaise des Jeux diecteur sportif Marc Madiot has continued a moderately stated defence of Erwan Mentheour. Madiot disclosed to L'Equipe that the whole team had undergone unofficial tests at the Tour du Haut Var and that team doctor Testa (a member of the commission that had recommended the official tests) had warned Madiot that Mentheour was very close to 50%. Mentheour, Madiot said, had then taken another test which showed that his haemocrit level had fallen and there seemed no reason why he should not ride Paris--Nice. "He [Mentheour] told me ," said Madiot, "that his level was always naturally in that zone. For the moment I don't know why, or how, he exceeded the limit. It's up to him to explain the reasons. I'm not going to judge him before knowing the facts.

Mentheour was himself adamant that he had done nothing illicit that would induce high haemocrit levels. "I had already had several blood tests during February and the haemocrit level was not alarming. How could that all go wrong in one night? I had a bout of diarrhoea the night before the Prologue and I lost a lot of fluids. That can be the only concrete medical explanation that can be offered. I'm not a cheat."

On Monday afternoon at Vendome (the start town for Stage 2), supervised by a law court officer, Mme Sylvie Delorme (presumably because Mentheour is considering instituting a civil action), Mentheour underwent a series of new private tests and the results confirmed him in his intention not to let the matter rest. "The haemocrit level registered on Monday afternoon was 46.6%," he said. "The decision of the commissaires has been a heavy blow to my morale and reputation. Moreover on Sunday evening my level had fallen to under 48%. We tried to open a dialogue with the medical delegation -- we sent them a written communication. They replied that they refused to meet us. They haven't taken note of the fact that they have cast enormous discredit on my past performance, and, for the public at large, the Mentheour family appears to be deceitful. I can't let that pass."

The Monday morning blood tests that picked up Mauro Santaromita apparently again involved all the teams staying in one hotel -- this time Mapei-GB, GAN, Lotto and the unfortunate Santaromita's MG-Technogym. L'Equipe heard a rumour from an indiscreet member of the testing team ( a rumour I can't yet confirm) that tests would not be carried out this morning (Tuesday), the view being that they would now be moving to Italy for the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race starting tomorrow. That does not mean, though, that they will not be back later in the Paris--Nice race to cover teams that have not thus far been tested.

The delay on Sunday in forcing Mentheour and Luca Colombo out of the race was apparently the result of the president of the jury Celeste Granziera's unwillingness to take on the responsibility of imposing the ban without consulting UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The ironic conequence of this is that though both Mentheour and Colombo were allowed to ride Stage 1 and were officially classified, they've both been fined 1,000 Swiss francs (approx. US$680) for riding when not licensed to do so. Worse, each of their teams has been fined $10,000 Swiss francs. But you don't want me to prejudice your own own assessment of the UCI, do you?

the very speedy...Agnolutto

Sunday morning Pascal Richard concluded belatedly that he had not recovered sufficiently from the injury to his pelvis suffered in a crash in the Tour Mediterraneen to start Paris--Nice. By then his team mate Christophe Agnolutto was heading north up the autoroute for a kermesse in Belgium. Already over the border by the time he was summoned on his mobile phone to replace Richard, Agnolutto made a rapid U-turn and headed full speed back to Paris. So keen indeed was he to join the Race To The Sun that he was clocked through a police radar trap at an astonishing 208km per hour (128.98mph). Agnolutto wasn't quite as speedy in the time trial -- his time 1.03 down on Laurent Jalabert brought him in at a modest, but at least legal, 45.48kph. Assez vite, Christophe, assez vite.

Mario decks Kirsipuu

Mario Cipolinni hit Jaan Kirsipuu after the finish-line because mario had some problems with the sprint of Kirsipuu. Cipollini went to the last place in the day's results.

Tom Steels:

Born September 2, 1971 at Sint-Gillis-Waas, Belgium

Pro 1994 - Vlaanderen 2002 (1994--1995), Mapei-GB (1996-- )

17 pro victories, including Gent-Wevelgem 1996, Omloop Het Volk 1996, GP Van Steenbergen 1995, two stages Vuelta a Espana 1996, stage 2 Paris-Nice 1997, one stage Tour of the Netherlands 1995, one stage Tour Mediterraneen 1996, one stage Tour of Galicia 1996, on stage Tour de l'Avenir 1994

Gontchenkov gets sick

Through an official statement, the Roslotto-ZG Mobili has made known that Alexandr Gontchenkov will be resting because of doctor's orders because of a an acute gastroenteritis, which caused him tio retire from la Vuelta to Murcia. This year the Russian has won the final stage at Marsiglia for Tour of the Mediterraneo. In approach to Milano-San Remo, the Russian had set his program to include Tirreno-Adriatico, which he won't be able to dispute.

More blood test reporting

The first of the blood controls were done by the Commision of the UCI and it has already caused the temporary suspension of three riders for having a ematocrit level above 50. The Safety and Behavior Commision announced before the start of the second stage at Paris-Nice that riders 74 Erwan Menthour, 87 Mauro Santaromita and 104 Luca Colombo have been declared ineligible for the practice of sport. The announcement was brief and impersonal, destined to open a new era in our sport.

Menthour and Colombo's samples were taken at the Sunday morning control, with 18 other athletes. Santaromita was examined yesterday at 7:30 AM, together with other athletes from MG-Technogym (Baldato, Loda and Casagranda); four from Mapei-GB (Museeuw, Bomans, Peeters and Camenzind); four from Lotto (Willems, Madouas, Salmon and Farazijn); and four from Gan (Poli, Rue, O'Grady and Vogels). The three riders must not race for two weeks and will then have to travel to Laussane to repeat the test: if they are under the limit, they will be allowed to race again.