Spanish police arrest ten as they break up 'next generation superdrug' doping ring in Operacion Skype

Substances seized from ex-Xacobeo Galicia team doctor include AICAR, described by a former pro as "the new EPO"

by Simon_MacMichael   March 20, 2012  

Syringe

A sports doctor who has worked with leading Spanish cycling teams including Xacobeo-Galicia is among ten people who have been arrested in connection with a police investigation codenamed Operacion Skype targeting an international network supplying ‘next generation’ performance enhancing substances TB-500 and AICAR - described at the weekend by one anonymous ex-pro as "the new EPO."

While no cyclist has yet tested positive for either substance, their use in the peloton has been suspected since at least 2009, and news of the arrests suggests that the sport may have to brace itself for yet another doping scandal,

According to a statement issued yesterday by Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, six people were arrested in Catalonia and four in Madrid, with the doping ring said to have supplied products that resulted in failed drugs tests at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Vuelta a Espana in 2010, among other events.

Listing details of those who had been arrested, the statement referred to “Alberto B.N., 48 years of age,” adding that he is “Spanish of Colombian origin and with domicile in the Sultanate of Bahrain.” It stated that he is the presumed head of the organisation. He has subsequently been identified in the Spanish press as Alberto Beltrán Niño, the former Xacobeo-Galicia team doctor.

The Mossos d’Esquadra said that the suspect had been arrested on 5 March at Madrid’s Barajos aiport where he was attempting to board a flight to Colombia. Vials of AICAR and TB-500 were found in his luggage. A laptop and USB drives were also taken by police.

In 2009, Pierre Bordry, former chief of the French anti-doping agency, the AFLD, said that he believed that AICAR – in full, 5-Aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribotide – which acts on muscular tissue to burn body fat and boost circulation of the blood, had been used during that year’s Tour de France, saying he was shocked at how thin some riders appeared to be during the race.

Bordry said at the time that the AFLD planned to re-test samples, but as yet no cyclist has ever tested positive for AICAR, although as an article in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf today points out, under the current testing regime it is near impossible to trace.

The newspaper says that at least three World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratories, including DoCoLab at the University of Ghent, are working on a specific test for the banned substance, which De Telegraaf describes as an “untraceable superdrug.”

Professor Professor Peter Van Eenoo, the head of DoCoLab, told De Telegraaf that since, like testosterone, AICAR is a substance occuring naturally in the body, it differs from say, clenbuterol, which does not. Since some amount will therefore always be present in the body, a minimum threshold therefore needs to be established, adding, “we are close to the solution.”

He added that the test would then need to be refined to establish whether the detected substance originated from a pill, and the the WADA-accredited laboratory in Cologne is working on that issue.

On Saturday, De Telegraaf published quotes from an unindentified former professional cyclist who spoke about what he claimed was widespread use of AICAR in the peloton, who said: "there are riders who have been using this for two years now," and explained how small quantities could be ordered via the internet, adding: ."AICAR is the new EPO and it works!"

The newspaper also quoted a team manager, again not identified, who maintained that according to what he described as 'radio peloton' - gossip among the riders and others at the heart of the sport - AICAR has been used during the past couple of years by cyclists including "several top names."

TB-500, which promotes growth of muscle mass and is said by the Mossos d’Esquadra to be a veterinary drug used on horses, is the substance former Lotto-Predictor rider Wim Vansevenant was reported to have purchased online prior to last year’s Tour de France, where he had been due to drive the VIP bus for Omega Pharma-Lotto. The team swiftly distanced itself from Vansevenat, who claimed the product was for his own use, and cut all ties with him.

Others arrested by the Spanish authorities under Operacion Skype and from whom substances such as EPO, human growth hormione and anabolic agents were seized include former Café de Colombia professional cyclist Carlos Andrés Ibáñez Melchor, suspected of having distributed banned substances in Madrid, and the ex-trainer of former world steeplechase champion Marta Dominguez.

The latter was herself implicated in Operacion Puerto after the codename on a bag containing blood seized as part of that investigation was linked to her mobile phone number, and charged but subsequently acquitted in connection with Operacion Galgo, which broke in 2010.

Operacion Skype was jointly carried out by officers of the Policia Nacional and Mossos d’Esquadra who began co-operating on the investigation last year when they discovered that they were both working on separate doping enquiries that turned out to be connected.

It is reported by Spanish sports daily AS to have been based partly on evidence provided by David Garcia Dapena, the now retired former Xacobeo-Galicia rider who tested positive for EPO and hydroxyethyl starch during the 2010 Vuelta. His initial two-year ban was reduced by six months as a result of the assistance he provided.

His team mate at the defunct former UCI Professional Continental outfit, Ezequiel Mosquera, runner-up to Vincenzo Nibali in the 2010 Vuelta, also tested positive for hydroxyethyl starch from a sample taken during the race and is serving a two-year ban.

News of both his and Dapena’s positive tests broke the same day that it was revealed that Alberto Contador had tested positive for clenbuterol during that year’s Tour de France. 

 

10 user comments

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Hold on tight, it's going to be bumpy.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3476 posts]
20th March 2012 - 15:16

10 Likes

You'd think there was some kind of test thing for team doctors or at least some UCI guys looking through the doctors records to make sure he was actually there for the riders health not just for their dose of drugs

hi

posted by cool guy 999 [54 posts]
20th March 2012 - 16:16

7 Likes

I read elsewhere that David Garcia Dapena had his ban reduced to eighteen months after co-operating with the investigation, not six.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
20th March 2012 - 16:24

8 Likes

Thanks Cat1 - that should have been "by six months" - and now it is.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8519 posts]
20th March 2012 - 17:11

7 Likes

Much as I've enjoyed playing Fantasy Cycling and following the races, if it turns out lots of riders are still doping then cycling is just going to be a joke sport again, which would be a great pity as it can be great, but as it's primarily about fitness the temptation to cheat is great.

Hope the testers do catch people eventually but then the bans are going to have to be greater than 2 years if doping is going to be significantly cut down. 2 years is obviously not a sufficient deterrent. The ban should be 5 years minimum, maybe 10, and that should apply to anyone else connected to it; doctors, coaches, team managers etc. Only then is there a chance that nearly everyone is clean and it's a genuine sport.

posted by Alan Tullett [1468 posts]
21st March 2012 - 9:50

8 Likes

Alan Tullett wrote:
Much as I've enjoyed playing Fantasy Cycling and following the races, if it turns out lots of riders are still doping then cycling is just going to be a joke sport again, which would be a great pity as it can be great, but as it's primarily about fitness the temptation to cheat is great.

Hope the testers do catch people eventually but then the bans are going to have to be greater than 2 years if doping is going to be significantly cut down. 2 years is obviously not a sufficient deterrent. The ban should be 5 years minimum, maybe 10, and that should apply to anyone else connected to it; doctors, coaches, team managers etc. Only then is there a chance that nearly everyone is clean and it's a genuine sport.

Totally agree. The current sanction regime reminds me of the scene in Goodfellas where one of the mob gets arrested. He accepts that he'll be inside for a spell and his contemporaries just see it as his turn to take the punishment. To him prison was a home from home. Much in the same way (kind of), Valverde was training with Movistar during his ban. Contracts were already drafted up etc. Until teams seriously partake in the sanctions and ignore them completely, the cheats don't mind taking the risks.

Given that these 'operations' normally occur in Spain, and the lax manner in which RFEC handled the Contador case, there's a lot more to be done down in Iberia. Is it any coincidence that if you say RFEC with an Irish accent (Pad McQuaid style) it sounds exactly like how the UCI must feel?

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [566 posts]
21st March 2012 - 12:45

8 Likes

Attention all pro cyclists

This will put some of you out of work. It will be harder and harder for teams to persuade companies to sponsor your teams. You turned a blind eye for too long.

The job market is pretty tight at the moment, I'm not sure there's much call for people who can pedal a bicycle in the real world - maybe as a messenger/courier, Delhi rickshaw driver, paper boy...

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2063 posts]
21st March 2012 - 13:00

6 Likes

Even the paper boy market's looking a bit dodgy at the moment, Simon...

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=48968&c=1

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8519 posts]
21st March 2012 - 13:08

13 Likes

Excellent post, Simon E. This could indeed well signal the death knell for professional cycling as we know it. It was dying anyway if you consider that Highroad failed to pull in a sponsor last year after being the most successful and one of the highest profile teams for the past few seasons. This is what happens when the line between the gamekeepers and the poachers has been blurred for too long and too much money gets chucked around.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
22nd March 2012 - 11:39

7 Likes

Well I won't stop watching... they all doped you know Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Kelly, Indurain, Armstrong, Ulrich.
So I guess those same people think cycling has always been a joke sport??

If you feel that way maybe you should watch football instead folks? Its most probably dirtier than cycling... but FIFA protects/abuses(dependant on your view) the players. So you don't have to hear your hero's name dragged through the mud Yawn
Tennis works much the same way... & thats just the 2 sports I definately know about, I'd assume its the same in most sports at top level. Surprise

Paulo's picture

posted by Paulo [110 posts]
22nd March 2012 - 19:05

6 Likes