Officials: We’ll Make Sure Cycling’s Clean This Time

Aug 27, 2013

Early in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, Aspen Public Radio spent some time with the official drug tester for the International Cycling Union.  You can hear that story here. New testing procedures are in effect in an effort to show the sport is trying to clean up after years of doping scandals.  In the second report, we take a look at the competing agencies tasked with making sure the athletes are clean. [Note: see above for photos of drug testing chaperones during the 2013 USA Pro Challenge.]

During the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, doping control officer David Miller tagged certain athletes for urine tests. He finds riders immediately after a race finishes and follows them around and into the testing site. 

“Once you get inside, there’ll be a doctor with me, and they’ll be like a secondary person that just see what’s going on.”

Miller works for the Switzerland-based International Cycling Union known as the UCI. The group keeps official records of what’s called an athlete’s biological passport. The idea is to have baseline data on how an athlete performs—so rather than looking just at substances, officials are also looking at whether a cyclist’s normal performance.  A sudden upward spike could be a sign they’re doping.  If this emphasis on testing is meant to assure the sport is clean...there appears to be more work to do.  

Critics say the UCI isn’t doing a good enough job. The critics ask...If they didn’t catch the pervasive doping in years past, including the big catch, Lance Armstrong... how are they going to catch cheaters now?  Some of this criticism is coming from a rival anti-doping agency here in the US.  

“Welcome to USADA, and Athlete Express. If you are an athlete with whereabouts or testing questions, press one.”

Pro riders go through what’s called out-of-competition testing... in addition to the urine tests during the Pro Challenge. These tests are run by anti-doping officials from a cyclists home country… in the states, its the US Anti Doping Agency - USADA -based in Colorado Springs.  USADA is perhaps best known for its lengthy report on Lance Armstrong release last fall…

News report by KXAN, NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas: “A two hundred two page report outlining its case against against the well known Austen-ite. it includes sworn testimony from twenty six people, including nearly a dozen former teammates, financial statements…”

The report was part of a domino effect that ultimately led Armstrong to confess.

USADA explains its testing this way, in a training video.

“Athletes can be tested at any time, and any location.”

USADA is among the voices criticizing the international governing body, UCI, for being too lax.  This skirmish was in the background during the Pro Challenge. For administrative reasons the UCI chose to carry out the anti-doping testing... instead of having USADA do it.

In a statement to Aspen Public Radio, USADA said that decision was quote, “…yet another unfortunate example of the UCI wanting to control who is tested, when and how they are tested, what they are tested for and what happens to the results.”

In response, the UCI defended testing during the 2013 Amgen Tour of California, saying the blood and urine are analyzed at internationally approved anti-doping labs. 

One hopeful sign might be in the most recent report on dope tests during the Tour de France. UCI announced earlier this month that no positive tests were found… but that they intend to continue to analyzing tests from this year’s Tour.