Italian drugs testers say surprise finding shows CERA degrades more quickly in urine than blood

CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, has announced that a B sample taken from cyclocross rider Vania Rossi, who tested positive for third generation EPO CERA following her second-place finish in the Italian national cyclo-cross championships in January, has returned a “non-negative” result.

The surprise finding – it is the first time that the test of a B sample following a positive A sample for CERA has not returned a similar result at CONI’s laboratory in Rome – provides evidence that traces of CERA deteriorate more quickly in urine than they do in blood, according to the laboratory’s director, Francesco Botrè, and the case against Rossi remains open.

Rossi, who has maintained her innocence from the outset, is the former partner of former Saunier Duval-Prodir rider Riccardo Riccò, with whom she has a son. Riccò himself tested positive for CERA during the 2008 Tour de France and only last month returned from a 20-month suspension.

The pair broke up following Rossi’s positive test for the same substance, with Riccò saying that there could be no reconciliation between the couple until Rossi proved she was completely innocent of the charges leveled against her.

CONI’s head of antidoping, Ettore Torri, told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he intended to examine the case in the coming days before deciding how to proceed.

Botrè said that the World Antidoping Agency (WADA) had been immediately informed of the result of the B sample, given the scientific implications of his belief that the non-negative result demonstrates a quicker degradation of traces of CERA in urine compared to blood.

Referring to the testing of the B sample, which was carried out between 29 March and 2 April at the laboratory in Rome with the result, like that of the A sample, confirmed by the French national anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry, Botrè said that it didn’t mean “there was no CERA; only that [the level] wasn’t sufficient to satisfy WADA’s minimum levels.”

He added that a further test had been undertaken with the agreement of the athlete’s defence team, and that “in the relevant gel there was evidence, albeit weak, in the CERA zone. All of this indicates a process of degradation of CERA in urine which, being more rapid than in other positive samples for the same substance, reduces the signal’s intensity.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.