More buzz on blood doping in cycling

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Maybe I should start the weekly blood doping report. Nah. There has been a spate of news in the past 24 hours or so regarding blood doping issues, especially involving Lance Armstrong, but it all adds more heat than light to the issue.

UCI begins another Armstrong probe

The Union Cycliste International, the Swiss-based group that oversees cycling, says it has hired a lawyer to look into newspaper reports that a blood-boosting chemical was found in Lance Armstrong's urine leftover in a vial from 1999.

“The UCI has entrusted Mr Vrijman (the lawyer) and his law firm the task to undertake a comprehensive investigation regarding all issues concerning the testing conducted by the French laboratory of urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France,” according to its press release.

At first it sounds like a big deal, but I it really isn't. The UCI had already said it would launch a probe, and then it concluded no more evidence was available to prove Armstrong's guilt or innocense. Then it questioned whether the World Anti-Doping Association played a part in the release of certain information to the French newspaper, L'Equipe, that should have been confidential. (WADA later said the UCI itself was duped into releasing that information.)

In any case, the present investigation won't be able to do anything to prove or disprove the allegations against Armstrong, unless it can turn up some more urine from 1999.

Former US Postal doc alleges widespread doping

Meanwhile, the L'Equipe newspaper quotes a former US Postal Service team doctor that he has second-hand information that the peloton has developed ways to boost oxygen in blood without being detected.

“I've been told by a well-informed source from within a team on the 2005 Tour de France how they do it,” Prentice Steffen is quoted at VeloNews.

Basically, blood is boosted with EPO during training camps, removed and saved, then readministered on race days after the UCI officials have drawn blood for testing in the morning. During the race, Steffen's source tells him, the blood carries a red blood cell count of 55 to 58, more than the 50 that UCI allows.

“After the stage, doctors will take out some blood again to make it safe to sleep, but above all to make sure they don't get caught in any random checks in the morning.”

That sounds like about 40 transfusions during a stage race like the Tour de France. And wouldn't the blood in the body still have the same level of red blood cells as the blood that's been removed; can they remove just the red blood cells?

Steffen was team doc for Postal until he says he was fired in 1996 for refusing to dose up certain riders. He says Armstrong has threatened him not to go public. Dan Osipow, a spokesman for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team, dismisses Steffen as a disgruntled former employee.

Months until Hamilton case resolved

I've been checking frequently to see if there's been a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tyler Hamilton's appeal of his 2-year suspension from professional cycling.

Now the CAS says it could be the end of the year or early 2006 before all the evidence is in and they can make a decision.

The Olympic gold medalist and Tour de France contender was banned for 2 years after it was determined he boosted his blood with a transfusion from another person. Hamilton has disputed that claim and called the blood-testing methods into question.

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