Tour de France riders suspected of doping may face more intrusive testing from next year that could include night-time checks, independent observers for the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) said on Thursday. The International Cycling Union (UCI), accused last year of incompetence and favoritism by the French Anti-doping Agency (AFLD), had invited WADA to make checks for itself during last July’s race as it faced up to its critics.
A team of six independent observers (IO) found that the anti-doping measures on the 2010 Tour were of “good quality” overall, adding that “there are very few anti-doping programs delivered by international federations that come close to matching that of the UCI.” Nonetheless, while not detecting any major gaps in the UCI’s anti-doping strategy, the observers suggested there was still a need for “a more varied, targeted and aggressive approach to catching cheating riders. “This should include… increasing the number of anti-doping tests” and “testing in less acceptable hours with a greater chance of detecting substances and/or methods with short detection windows and significantly limiting the use of a random draw,” the IO said in a WADA-commissioned report.
The report suggested the time had come to “seriously consider removing the informal knowledge and comfort that all riders have in knowing that they will not be tested in the middle of the night”. During the Tour, the observers found, “a number of riders demonstrating suspicious profiles and/or showing significantly impressive performances at the Tour were tested on surprisingly few occasions”. Also, according to the observers, teams are too easily able to get wind of impending checks.
“It was clear to the IO Team that it was well known to the teams that the arrival of the UCI Team could be observed by checking the hotel car park,” they wrote. “On two occasions, the IO Team could clearly see two persons watching the parking from their room windows half hidden behind the curtain as well as a team member seated in front of the hotel, who immediately used his mobile phone when he saw the UCI Team. There could have been an innocent explanation for this but it was evident that for unannounced testing to be effective the need for a speedy and discrete entry to the hotel was of paramount importance, due to the potential for samples to be manipulated over a short space of time.”
The writers of the report went on to observe that, given the difficulty of the doping fight, “the lack of cooperation and trust evident between the UCI and the AFLD for the Tour was extremely disappointing to observe”. Without apportioning blame the IO added it hoped both would sit down for urgent talks “to agree how a more efficient and effective program can be implemented for the 2011 Tour”. The report did not deal with the positive test for trace amounts of the banned substance clenbuterol produced by race winner Alberto Contador, who remains under investigation and provisional suspension. The Spaniard has threatened to quit the sport if he is handed a definitive ban and blamed the positive test on contaminated meat.