WADA report chronicles UCI and French anti-doping turf war at Tour

Independent observers not welcomed by some teams

by Mark Appleton   October 29, 2010  

Syringe

A team of independent observers representing the World Anti Doping Authority  encountered hostility from some teams competing at this year's Tour de France.

That's just one of the findings chronicled in an official report by the WADA Independent Observer’s (IO) group which states: “It would be easy to say that the IO Team was well received by everyone on the Tour. However, initially this was not universally the case… it was clear from the start that there was a certain unease about the IO Team’s presence, particularly from a limited number of teams.”

Among the reports recommendations are that the UCI rather than national federations should be the sanctioning body for any riders failing tests at an event as high profile as the Tour de France, the independent observers suggest this would "This would ensure greater consistency in decision making and facilitate the speedy resolution of such results."

The report also notes that the code of conduct signed by the ProTour teams and the UCI is currently observed by neither and calls on the UCI to "reinvigorate discussions regarding a Code of Conduct for ProTeams with the intention of establishing a mutually agreement Code before the next season of Grand Tours."

As well as some difficulties with individual teams the observers also appear to have been taken aback by the relationship between the UCI and the French anti-doping authority (AFLD). According to the report the parties are locked in a bizarre, anti-doping turf war. Neither organisation has bothered to hide the apparent disdain in which it holds the methods, procedures and indeed personnel of the other over the past couple of years. The outgoing head of the AFLD, Pierre Bordry, has been a consistent critic of what he perceives to be failings in the UCI's approach to testing riders at the Tour.

Commenting on the situation they found on the ground between the two organisations at this year's Tour the report says:

“The fight against doping is hard enough at the best of times and, without apportioning blame to either party, the lack of cooperation and trust evident between the UCI and the AFLD for the Tour was extremely disappointing to observe.”

The report goes on to recommend “mediation” talks between the parties, suggesting: “If either party is unwilling to engage in such talks then WADA should intervene and act as a facilitator to attempt to resolve such an impasse.”

Perhaps less surprising, given the nature of the Tour and the pressures is places on riders, was the reaction the observers noted of some competitors to being woken up for testing.

“While one can understand that a rider is upset to be woken up early in the morning, it is not acceptable that they insult anti-doping officials,” says the report.

The observers also questioned the timing of anti-doping controls, suggesting that a less predictable approach to testing should be the way forward, particularly in respect of detecting a rider’s attempts to maintain the profiles of their blood values.

“The best time to detect EPO based on the assumed habits of doping riders would be very late in the evening, early in the morning or if current thinking is correct in Post-Finish testing on the basis that exercise stimulates analytical peaks in EPO use,” the report suggests.

Indeed the current testing procedures appear to have become so predictable that there is a near-Pavlovian reaction by riders to the probability of their selection for testing. As the report puts it:

“One example of this was the arrival of a rider at the [doping control]  Station at the conclusion of a stage who assumed that because of his position in the race he would be required for testing, whereas in fact the UCI had not identified him for testing."

The report makes a total of 57 recommendations and although the reports authors were at pains to point out that "the number of recommendations should not be viewed in any way as detracting from the IO’s conclusion that the anti-doping programme at the 2010 Tour was of a good quality" the overall impression gained from reading it is that there is a great deal of scope for improving the Tour de France’s anti-doping programme at both the strategic and the operational levels.

More on this to follow.