UCI and WADA deny disagreement over biological passport

Cycling governing body and anti-doping agency play down reports of conflict

by Martin Thomas   August 19, 2010  

UCI logo on white

The UCI and WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, are playing down reports that they disagree over how to manage the biological passport programme to catch pro cycling drug cheats.

According to an Associated Press report, the UCI said WADA is "very satisfied" with its handling of the project, which costs $6.2 million annually and has led directly to disciplinary cases against eight riders since its launch in 2008.

And a statement from WADA said it "has never expressed any particular concerns on this subject and has taken no measures against the UCI."

WADA director general David Howman told AP, "We don't have any difficulties with UCI at the moment. I don't see any current tension."

The comments follow a Wall Street Journal report on 7 August that said WADA was concerned that some cases against racers under suspicion had been dropped.

In May, the UCI identified three riders who faced charges even though they never failed a drug test after analysis of their blood profiles suggested they had used banned substances or doping methods. They included Franco Pellizotti, King of the Mountains in the 2009 Tour de France, who has now been banned for two years by Italian authorities.

The newspaper reported that five other cases were dropped by the UCI, and WADA wanted to inspect those riders' biological passport results.

Howman said it was working with the UCI to "ensure the process is working."

"It's not a situation we are reacting to. It's one we are doing as part of our day-to-day work," he said.

The UCI responded that it examined three cases, not five, and has been monitoring those riders. One racer, who it did not name, has since been banned after testing positive for doping.

The UCI said the time to build a disciplinary case was "sometimes longer than one would like."

"That is mainly because the biological passport is an avant-garde, sophisticated tool, which the UCI is the first federation to have introduced," it said.

About 850 professional racers have given blood samples for their passport, which is analyzed by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Suspicious profiles are presented to a UCI-appointed independent panel of nine experts that advises if the results and the riders’ explanations can be justified medically or scientifically.

Ultimately, the anti-doping and legal departments of the UCI decide whether to take on a doping case. The UCI can issue the provisional suspension and request national federations to prosecute the case.

"I think the panel, when it was initially comprised, felt that they were the body — or potentially the body — that was going to decide whether it was a doping case or not," Howman said. "That's just not the situation."

In a somewhat prickly statement, the UCI said, “The article in the Wall Street Journal implies that WADA decided to take measures against the UCI, as it did not have confidence in the management of the biological passport programme. This is totally false. WADA has never expressed any particular concerns on this subject and has taken no measures against the UCI. WADA has received the full collaboration of the UCI each time it has requested information on specific cases (which it has the right to do and which is part of its mission). In fact, WADA is very satisfied with the work accomplished by the UCI, pioneer of the biological passport for which WADA has publicly congratulated the UCI on several occasions.

“The [UCI] wonders what reasons pushed the journal to such unfair attack against the UCI and its management of the biological passport, when WADA itself is entirely satisfied, and given that the blood passport represents the most advanced tool in the fight against doping.”

The Wall Street Journal and the UCI have a rocky relationship. It was the WSJ that first published Floyd Landis’ allegations that the UCI covered up positive doping results by Lance Armstrong, triggering the ongoing Landisgate scandal.