PARIS (AFP) — Evidence of reduced doping due to a pioneering blood passport programm can be seen in racing and not through the number of cyclists sanctioned in the past four years, world cycling chief Pat McQuaid said Friday in a press conference.
Cycling’s reputation as one of the most drugs-ravaged sports has improved in recent years thanks, it is claimed by some experts, to the introduction of the blood passport program in 2008.
The program allows for the testing of riders on a regular basis and the analysis of samples over time, thus allowing comparison of key parameters that can indicate doping offenses.
Some critics have questioned the program’s efficiency because there have been no new directly linked doping cases for two years.
In all, the biological passport has snared only eight riders, the most famous being Italian Franco Pellizotti, formerly of the Liquigas team.
The program, however, allows the International Cycling Union (UCI), through the analysis of samples, to target potential suspects, an approach that has led to positive tests and subsequent sanctions for 30 riders.
While McQuaid, the UCI president, says the passport scheme does not claim to totally eradicate doping, he feels it has helped change cyclists’ and teams’ approach to the sport.
“For me, the evidence of the success of the passport seems on the road, in the race itself,” said McQuaid. “I am not going to say that cycling has been winning the war against doping, but I will say that we have turned a corner on doping, and that the peloton is cleaner than it used to be.”
It is widely believed that illegal performance-enhancing drugs, such as the blood booster EPO (erythropoietin), were prevalent in cycling from the early 1990s until fairly recently — a period in which spectacular performances were commonplace.
“In the big mountain stages, you never see the (team) leader surrounded by three or four domestiques. He usually finishes the climb on his own. That wasn’t the case during the big period of EPO,” said McQuaid.
The Irishman believes the reliance on such wonder drugs has now been replaced by the emergence of more professional teams who are keen to fully exploit the advantages offered by sports science.
He added: “Some teams are taking a much more scientific, physiologically correct training approach, which was in the past not quite necessary because of the EPO.
“The evidence is there that the code is changing, that the culture is changing.”