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More sensitive EPO test raises possibility of uncovering micro-dosing

New tests allow use of performance-enhancing drugs to be detected for much longer than before, or in lower doses. The International Olympic Committee plans to use this new scientific knowledge to retest hundreds of doping samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to a report from the AP.

That could mean athletes being stripped of their medals seven years after they won them — or even ten years after the extension of the statute of limitations on doping tests in the most recent WADA code.

IOC medical director Richard Budgett said last week that some retests have already been carried out on stored samples from Beijing, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 London Olympics.

"Even if it's five or 10 years later, it's really an important thing to do," Budgett said. "It's not ideal. You want to do it as close as possible to the time, but if you've got no option but to do it later, then that's what you have to do."

Time's run out for the Athens 2004 samples the IOC has in its lab at Lausanne, but it can retest Beijing samples until 2018 and London samples until 2022.

In fact, the IOC intends to wait until the last moment to retest most samples. A small number of Beijing samples have been retested, though there have been no positive results so far, Budgett said. And a "significant number" will be retested in teh next few months from athletes who might take part in the 2016 Ro games.

But to take maximum advantage of the march of science, the rest will be tested later.

"Another significant number will be done before the samples expire in 2018," Budgett said. "It will be in the hundreds. Who knows what tests are going to be developed over the next two years? It makes a lot of sense to wait another couple of years for the majority."

Retests of samples from the 2004, and 2008 games has already turned up positives for blood booster CERA and steroids.

An improved test that's more sensitive to CERA's big brother, EPO, will be used on the 2008 samples, and a "long-term metabolite" method will be used that can detect steroids several months after their use.

"You can look back at something that you couldn't report as positive in the past and say, under the new rules, we can report that as positive," Budgett said.

While Budgett did not say whether any cycling athletes were being targeted, an improved EPO test opens the possibility of detecting users who had been micro-dosing with EPO in the belief that the existing test could only find evidence of very recent, large doses.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.