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Biological Passports

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 19, 2008

With the recent doping positives at the Tour, renewed attention has been given as to how to combat drugs in professional cycling. One solution which has shown a lot of promise is biological passports. In short, a biological passport is an ongoing record of an athlete's metabolic parameters such as heamatocrit and testosterone levels. At periodic intervals throughout the year, a rider is tested and his results are compared against those in his passport. Any abnormal fluctuations might indicate some form of doping.


While the idea is simple, the implementation is not. First off, there is the problem of collection. Giving urine is pretty easy and it is simple to store and transport. Blood is a different matter. Trained personnel are necessary for drawing blood and if it is not stored and transported correctly it may spoil and either give incorrect results or no results at all. Once the samples are taken, they must be analyzed by a laboratory which is accredited to do such testing. All this costs a lot of money. Teams like Garmin-Chipotle, who are currently carrying out their own personal biological testing, spend about $400,000/year to monitor about 25 riders.


This brings up an interesting point. Who should pay for the biological passports? Should individual teams pay for the testing. Garmin-Chipotle, Columbia and CSC Saxo Bank are doing just that. But, will the other teams follow suit. The big teams have a budget of around $8-10,000,000. Can they afford to spend upwards of $500,000 for testing?


Should the sanctioning organization, that would currently be the UCI, pay for the testing. Currently, the UCI makes the races pay for the cost of the testing at a race. They really don't have anyway to raise sufficient funds so they would just pass the responsibility onto the teams by increasing fees. Should the World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) pay for the testing. Again, they really don't have much of a way to raise funds and would probably just pass the buck down to the sanctioning organization which would then hit up the teams.


So, it appears that the teams should pay for the testing. After all, it is their riders who are performing and they stand to benefit the most by having a clean squad. This is clearly a hardship for the smaller teams with smaller budgets, but the crisis in the sport is critical enough that a way must be found to make this testing affordable. Dr. Paul Strauss of the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE) which is responsible for doing the biological testing for Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia, acknowledges that economies of scale could bring down the prices.


Which brings us to the current squabble between the UCI and ASO and the recent death of the UCI's Pro Tour. The UCI has stated that without the ProTour it does not have the resources to pursue biological passports. This seems to me to be more spite than fact as the UCI was never going to foot the bill out of it's own coffers and would have passed the cost onto the teams.


Here is what I think should happen. The WADA should be responsible for determining what biological parameters should be included in the biological passport. The WADA should also produce a list of laboratories and testing organizations, like ACE, which are accredited to do the testing and/or subsequent analysis. Next, regardless if the sanctioning organization is the UCI or ASO, they should require a valid, current biological passport for every rider participating in an event they sanction. Lastly, the teams bear the cost of maintaining a valid, current biological passport for each of its riders.


Everybody from WADA, UCI, ASO and the teams need to work together to help solve the problem of doping in cycling.




Race Notes


The day after Cadel Evans took the yellow jersey over Frank Schleck by a scant one second, l'Equipe ran a cartoon of Evans heading up to the podium with Schleck right behind him. Cadel was turning around saying to Schleck, "wait one second!"


It appears that the Saunier Duval saga is not over as the title sponsor, which makes airc onditioning units has announced that they will most likely leave the sport at the end of the season.


It has been a long hot drag across the southern France. On today's stage Will Frischkorn was suffering from cramps and had to stop to work out the kinks. He rejoined the peloton.


Yet another day of French riders going up the road. We have seen more attacking by the French in the 2008 Tour de France than in all of World War II.


Word has also reached us that the title sponsor for Team Barloworld will not be returning next year either.


Time for more positive images from the Tour. I shot this photo at the sign-in one day. It is nice to see the family aspect to the sport.

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