A new type of blood doping, undetectable by current testing methods, is reportedly being used in the peloton according to Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Called ozone therapy, although it also goes under the name autohaemotherapy, the technique involves the extraction of a small amount of blood, which is then subject to oxygen enrichment before being reinserted into the body.
Since blood count levels are unaffected, the use of Ozone therapy cannot be detected by tests designed to identify unusual haemocrit or haemoglobin levels associated with EPO or CERA.
The technique has been linked to Dr Enrico Lazzaro, who has a long history of involvement with the administration of blood doping techniques, and who has now been served with a court order barring him from visiting his clinic for three months while investigations continue.
The current equiry began in May 2008 when police stopped a car belonging to the father of then Gerolsteiner rider Andrea Moletta and found a syringe diguised in a tube of toothpaste, which Moletta’s father said came from Dr Lazzaro.
That prompted an investigation that has involved phone-tapping and other surveillance techniques which reportedly includes video evidence of Dr Lazzaro administering ozone therapy, which is banned in private clinics in Italy, to a 15-year-old swimmer with her parents – now also under investigation - present.
According to investigators, Dr Lazzaro has used a system of code names and symbols, similar to that employed by the Spanish Dr Eufemanio Fuentes of Operacion Puerto notoriety, to record dates of treatment and the names of his clients, meaning that it may be impossible to ascertain the identity of everyone involved.
The paper also reported that anti-doping authorities in Padua are re-testing samples taken from 80 riders during the 2008 Giro d’Italia to look for traces of CERA, the third-generation EPO blood-boosting agent.
Positive results from riders including Stefan Schumacher and Riccardo Riccò following the 2008 Tour de France prove that CERA, believed to be undetectable at the time, was being used in the peloton.
Furthermore, Emanuele Sella, who won the mountains jersey in the 2008 Giro, subsequently tested positive for CERA in an out-of-competition test, prompting officials to open the current investigation. A number of samples taken at the 2008 Giro are said to be the subject of suspicion, with seven pro cyclists said to be among the 30 people being investigated.
Meanwhile the Spanish magazine Interviu has revealed the extent to which Spanish doctors have allegedly moved to plug the gap left after the break-up of the doping ring that was the subject of Operacion Puerto.
Reporting on a police investigation into the activities of Dr Jesús Losa, an enquiry that has since been suspended by a court in Valladolid through lack of evidence, Interviu cited a number of text messages that had reportedly passed between the doctor and several riders as being highly indicative of doping activity.
The juiciest of those is reported to have come from a rider, who allegedly texted Losa in 2008 expressing relief that they had declined to use the doctor’s services in that year’s edition of the race, that relief presumably stemming from the fact that had he done so, the rider in question believes he would have been caught.
It is not known whether officials will now decide to reopen the investigation, although Madrid missing out to Rio de Janeiro in the bid to win the 2016 Olympics may result in the Spanish authorities bringing their enquiries back out into the open rather than keeping the issue of doping out of the limelight and away from the scrutiny of IOC members.
Finally, across the Pyrenees in France, that country’s anti-doping agency, the AFLD, has come under fire from world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, in a report that the latter has sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The report highlights what the UCI sees as an imbalance between the extent of testing it undertook prior to this year’s Tour de France, and the number of tests performed by the AFLD.
According to the UCI, by the time the Tour began in Monaco, it carried out 190 out-of-competition tests on riders scheduled to appear in the race, while the AFLD had conducted just 13, and six of those on French cyclists to whom the AFLD had year-round access.
Crucially, the UCI added, the AFLD had breached protocol by sending five samples from riders in a particular French team to the laboratory with the identity and details of the cyclists concerned shown on the samples, which it said breached standard anonymous chain of custody conditions.
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