Testing Results Suspicious for EPO Doping

The results of the retroactive EPO (Erythropoietin) testing of 50 cyclists from events in 2012 indicate that there continues to be doping activity in South African cycling, with the doping control samples of some cyclists being classified as ‘suspicious’ but not conclusive to elicit doping charges.

This is according to Institute for Drug-free Sport (SAIDS) CEO Khalid Galant, who says that the tests, which were done using samples taken from athletes who competed in major mountain and road races in 2012 and stored in the WADA accredited laboratory in Bloemfontein, were sent to the SAIDS peer lab in Austria for confirmation analyses. The confirmation analyses were inconclusive.

The doping control samples analysed were from the MTN Series  #7, 23 September; Crater Cruise, 13 October 2012; Amashovashova, 14 October 2012; Momentum 94,7fm Race, 18 November 2012; National Track Champs, 25 November 2012; MTN Qubekha Track Competition, 01 December 2012; and the Die Burger Cycle Race, 04 December 2012.

“In light of these results we will be changing up our strategy so that cyclists are aware that we are very serious about cleaning up sport,” he says. “Our aggressive testing strategy will hopefully serve as a deterrent to those that have been engaging in doping practices and to those who believe they can still beat the doping control system.”

He continues: “More cyclists will be included in the Athlete Biological Passport programme that involves the monitoring and interpretation of selected biological parameters over time that may reveal the effects of doping, rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself.”

He says that the window for detecting EPO is very small (4 to 6 hours).  “The lesson learnt from the Armstrong affair is that cyclists who micro-dose with EPO are often able to beat the anti-doping authorities,” he adds. “It is however much more difficult to beat the system when blood samples are analysed over a series of tests.”

Galant says that until recently the cyclists drug of choice was steroids, which add strength and reduce recovery time. “However, blood boosting EPO has become popular with elite cyclists around the world as it has been said to add between 5% and 20% to endurance levels by enabling the body to produce more oxygen carrying red blood cells,” he explains.

“For an elite athlete, this can mean the difference between first place and middle of the pack. This is why it is imperative that we nip EPO doping in the bud in SA by closing the gap on the dopers to ensure a dope-free, level playing field where riding skills and fitness ensure a win rather than the amount of drugs you pump into your system.”

Galant points out that the intent of the SAIDS anti-doping testing strategy is not only to catch athletes, but for it to serve as a deterrent to cyclists who are considering doping.

“We won’t let up on our testing strategy,” he says. “As we have learnt from the David George and Lance Armstrong scandals, we have to constantly innovate our testing strategy to combat doping and doping trends like the relatively recent shift to blood and increasing its oxygen-carrying capacity.”

“We need to clean up cycling and we will continue to be vigorous in our testing in cycling and other endurance sports like triathlon, running and canoeing,” he adds.