As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, a professional cyclist will flout the anti-doping rules ahead of the opening stage of the Tour de France, now just one week away. He will most likely be joined by his team mates, while a little way down the road another team will quietly be doing the same thing.

So a question: is the above a flimsy conspiracy theory, or a reasonable assessment of how the struggle for victory is managed in cycling in 2007? It’s no secret that doping and performance enhancing drugs have ruined cycling’s reputation. Some have suggested the sport won’t survive its current addiction to drugs and cheating. If that’s what’s at stake, are cyclists staying off the juice?

Not if news filtering out of Europe is accurate. With le Tour looming, teams have gone into training camps in the Alps and Pyrenees under the pretense of reconnoitering the route and crucial climbs. They call it “preparation”, which, in cycling, is a euphemism for doping.

The method of choice since the advent of the EPO test is autologous blood doping, which is the withdrawal of one’s own blood for re-transfusion prior to crucial stages of racing.

The aim is to build an unnaturally high level of red cell volume, which is the oxygen delivery system. Blood tapping occurs in the off-season, and after the lead-up races. Microdoses of EPO, undetectable in tests, will accelerate growth of the blood volume to normal levels. If blood volumes are adequate for intensity training, recovery drugs like insulin, human growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin growth factor one, are used. There are only ratified WADA tests for the hormone testosterone and EPO, whilst the rest are untraceable, and the testosterone threshold easily deceived. (To read of the pharmacopeia present at the 2004 Tour, click here.)

If this all sounds a bit cloak and dagger, it is. The International Cycling Union’s (UCI) chief anti-doping officer, Anne Gripper, has revealed that “out-of-competition tests have produced initial ‘non-negative’ results and the B samples are being tested.” Further, The Guardian reports:

Some of the [Tour riders] group have been nicknamed the “men in black” because they apparently train in kit without sponsors’ logos to avoid identification.

“We have been informed that they are training in strange places in funny kit,” Gripper said. Two of them were recently intercepted in an unusual training location and tested.

The UCI tested one rider five times. They have also stated that there has been more than one non-negative result in pursuit of the favourites.

“This drug-drenched sport has been so dirty for so long that the question is no longer, Who will win the Tour?” Austin Murphy wrote on Wednesday in Sports Illustrated. “It is, Can anyone win it clean?”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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