The landmark ruling in favour of the biological passport bodes well for the future of the sport, but Anthony Tan says there’s plenty of work still to do.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

On Tuesday last week, 8 March, when Switzerland's Court of Arbitration
for Sport (CAS) ruled against Franco Pellizotti and Pietro Caucchioli
and banned them for two years, Friday arvo drinky-poos at the UCI
probably got brought forward for what many are regarding as a landmark
decision in favour of the biological passport program.

They
might've even gone bonkers in Aigle and opened a few cans of cocktail
frankfurts to accompany the champagne, Nestlé chocolate and Swiss
cheese. (For those weak of stomach, don't try this at home.)

CAS
found "strict application of such a program could be considered as a
reliable means of detecting indirect doping methods". UCI spokesman
Enrico Carpani told the New York Times that, "We were always
convinced that our program was good" and "We are proud of what we have
accomplished"; David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping
Agency (WADA), said the CAS ruling "has proven [the biological passport
program] can withstand legal and scientific challenges"; and Slipstream
Sports' CEO and team manager of Garmin-Cervélo, Jonathan Vaughters, was
perhaps most effusive in his praise, saying it was "monumental for our
sport".

I would agree the decision is significant and praise
should be given to the UCI for their efforts. But as far as I'm
concerned, the biological passport program, still three years young,
does not warrant complete vindication.

"I don't think we're at
the point where anybody is throwing up their hands and saying, 'Oh no,
we can't possibly do this [use EPO by micro-dosing] anymore'," doctor
Prentice Steffen, Garmin-Cervélo's team physician, told me in a phone
interview last week while at the Paris-Nice cycling race.

You can still get away with it?

Floyd
Landis, who now goes by the familiar moniker of "Disgraced champion of
the 2006 Tour de France", has said on a number of occasions since May
2010, when he finally admitted to PED use throughout his professional
cycling career, that micro-dosing of EPO and careful timing of
reinjecting stored blood, otherwise known as an autologous blood
transfusion (as opposed to using someone else's, or homologous blood
doping), is still an avenue by which to avoid detection.

As VeloNews' Charles Pelkey noted in one of his terrific 'Explainer' columns (story here),
the urine test used to detect recombinant erythropoietin, first used at
the Sydney Olympics and now more than 10 years old, can only pick up
synthetic EPO within a 72-hour timeframe; after that and it's over to
the blood tests and the biological passport to pick out above or below
average variations in haematocrit (percentage of red blood cells) and/or
reticulocytes (new red blood cells). Furthermore, injecting EPO
intravenously, as opposed to the more common subcutaneous method, is
said to shut the 72-hour window down to a mere few hours.

Still,
as Dr Steffen, a fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine,
says, the "opportunity", for want of a better word, to dope without
detection is narrowing, which, logically speaking, should therefore
reduce the propensity to cheat. "I think the power of deterrence is just
a bit stronger, and I think it's going to weed out a few of the people.
And I think some of the people that are going to continue are going to
get caught, because the margin of error is again that much narrower," he
said.

But with such a long culture of tackling up to the
eyeballs and getting away with it, "When you are trained to get away
with things on the field, it must spill over into conduct off the
field," wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Paul Sheehan, this
week. He was referring to the perennial week-in, week-out indiscretions
of rugby league players, or to use his headline, "mongrel-headed
gladiators" – though his sentiments apply across all sporting codes.

When doping is in your DNA

Which brings me to Riccardo Riccò.

If
you believe Frenchman Jérôme Pineau, Tricky Ricky had been doping for
half his life: "I have some Italian friends who, when they raced with
him at 15 years old, told me he boasted that he doped and even showed
them how he did it," said the Quick Step rider in his blog for Vélo Magazine, days after Riccò was busted for EPO-CERA at the 2008 Tour de France.

How
do you change someone like that? Doping is part of his DNA. It's who he
is. A poor excuse for a biker racer, and a worse excuse as a human
being.

"Anyone who's doing a lot of the things – and even if you
listen and believe only half of what Landis is saying – people succumb
to pressure," Scott Sunderland, a former sport director with Team CSC
(now Saxo Bank) and Team Sky, told me. "It's just chemically in
these people's minds that they have to do this; they want the success,
and they're willing to take the risk and pay the price if they're
caught.

"Particularly if they're been making good money till then
and they can support themselves," said Sunderland. "Teams pick them up
within 12 months, like your [Ivan] Bassos and that. These guys have got a
lot of ability and they're dedicated to the training they do. So they're going to be back."

When did Riccò get back on the program?

But
what I want to know is this: After his suspension in 2008, when did
Riccò start doping again? Because Vancansoleil, had they known he was a
rotten egg with a mindset polluted as the Ganges river, could certainly
have done without the publicity, which almost cost them a start at the
Giro d'Italia. And the estimated A$1.5 million salary they agreed to pay
Riccò could have easily bought them two or three very good riders
instead.

I asked the UCI whether he was tested during his
20-month break where he seemed to learn nothing about repentance, to
which Carpani replied by e-mail: "Riccardo Riccò has always been part of
our protocol of monitoring along the 20 months of its suspension (as
well as it is the case currently with Valverde). "All 'major' riders are
submitted to the same treatment: in other cases we restart following
and checking them during the last 6-12 months."

I then asked him:
By following UCI anti-doping protocol, was both urine and blood testing
conducted on Riccò during this time? And how many times was Riccò
tested during his 20-month suspension? "Yes both urine and blood were
tested, but I can't tell you how many times," replied Carpani.

So signore
Riccò was a 'major' rider, and was tested according to the protocols
and spectrum of tests required by the biological passport program – but
at no time during his suspension was his new team notified of any
anomalies. And according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, two days
prior to being admitted to hospital for an alleged botched blood
transfusion, he underwent – and passed – a mass-haemoglobin test as part
of an independent screening programme his former trainer, the late Aldo
Sassi, demanded he undertake as part of the deal to work with him.

So
who's to say, had he stored his blood at the right temperature and the
transfusion went smoothly, Riccò would have been caught?

"Once an idiot, always an idiot"

While sending him to the moon, or being a prison beyotch,
as is Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish's respective wont for the
Cocky Cobra, is not the answer, there is no place in the peloton for
Riccò – who, now that he's recovered, still has the audacity to say he
didn't dope on 6 February; the day he was rushed to hospital with his
life in the balance. His place is in the psychiatric ward of Modena
hospital.

"We are faced with a young guy who is sick inside,
intoxicated by false messages, those of fame and success at any cost and
by any means – who has lost all sense of the reality of life," Renato
Di Rocco, Italian cycling federation president, told La Gazzetta.

Said Cancellara to L'Equipe: "Once an idiot, always an idiot."

It's
why I was delighted to see Vancansoleil, whose only crime is their
blind faith in Riccò, duly receive their invite to the Giro, and the
team, in particular stage winner and yellow jersey wearer Thomas De
Gendt, perform so admirably in the Paris-Nice just past, and ride with
equal verve at Tirreno-Adriatico.

To the UCI, keep working on
refining the bio passport and augmenting its scope and reliability. We
haven't won yet. It's not the time for complacency. It's time to ramp it
right up.