More dope tumbles out of Tour de France closet.
France's senate, after a five-month investigation focused on
sports doping, released a report yesterday that confirms what many have
long suspected: use of the banned substance EPO was rife in cycling in
the late 1990s, before there was a test for the drug. During the course
of the inquiry, it was found that 1998 Tour de France champion Marco
Pantani and runner-up Jan Ullrich used the banned blood-booster to fuel
their performances. Pantani was suspended in 1999 from the Giro after
failing a random blood test; ironically, he died in 2004 at the age of
34 of an accidental drug overdose. Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner, has
already admitted to blood doping and was last year stripped of his
third-place finish in the 2005 Tour. The senate heard from 138 athletes,
drug testers and officials from 18 sports, including rugby and soccer.
The report includes 60 proposals for improving anti-doping measures,
while also recommending taking away disciplinary power away from sports
federations and giving it to the French anti-doping body (AFLD). The
point is, is there anything surprising about this report? We all knew it
since long, didn't we? That the Tour de France cycling race and
doping have almost always been coexistent. The allegations have been
loud and strong since the race began more than 100 years back, in 1903.
In those days though, there was "official permission" to dope.
As there were no hi-tech performance-enhancing drugs available in the
market then, riders, it is said, used to consume alcohol in a bid to get
that extra boost. The trend continued till the late sixties, when the
first anti-doping tests were held during the 1966 Tour de France.
Gradually, as the anti-doping measures increased, riders began to device
new and innovative ways to combat the anti-doping officials. And when
most other drugs became detectable, riders began using Erythropoietin (better known as EPO) -- a drug to increase red-cell production. It was
difficult to detect because once injected, it becomes part of the
body's metabolism. After being released into the blood stream it
binds with receptors in the bone marrow, where it stimulates the
production of red blood cells (erythrocytes), while also increasing the
body's oxygen carrying capacity. It effectively gives the athlete
an "extra" unit of blood, which enables performance
improvements in endurance sports because of the extra oxygen carrying
capacity. American cyclist Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France for
seven straight years, between 1999 and 2005, but despite widespread
suspicion of drug use, was never caught. He continued to deny all
allegations until January 2013, claiming that he never had any positive
test in the approximately 600 drug tests he was subjected to during his
cycling career. His lies were finally nailed by the United States
Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which accused Armstrong of "running the
most sophisticated doping programme the sport has ever seen". He
has subsequently been banned for life from the sport and has been
stripped of all his Tour titles. The question here is, can we ever
expect a dope-free world? Celebrated British middle distance runner
Sebastian Coe, summed it up nicely during a chat with this paper
sometime back: "We have to be realistic. It's probably never
going to happen. But the positive side is that, things are improving --
the punishments are getting tougher, we are getting more sophisticated.
We have closed the gap, but we are also dealing with human nature here,
and the nature of human nature is such that there are always going to be
people who will opt for something beyond moral means. We have to keep
closing the gap and be permanently vigilant. We have to be very aware
that this is a battle we cannot lose..." That says it all.
Gulf Times Newspaper 2013
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