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Without a Doubt - CSC Anti-Doping Program
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 12/24/2006
Without a Doubt - CSC Anti-Doping Program
 

Without a Doubt - CSC Anti-Doping Program
“Everything that can be done for the sport is important, right now, and everybody who can do something about it should do so... it is their duty to do something. The only way forward is to clean up the sport.” Bjarne Riis

By Michael Akinde

Team CSC: Beating New Paths in the Fight Against Doping.
Without a doubt, 2006 was the year in which Team CSC established itself conclusively as one of the leading, if not the leading team in Professional Cycling. More than 50 victories, including victory in Paris-Roubaix, stage wins in each of the Major Tours, victory in the Giro d’Italia, and not least – the successful defense of the ProTour team title - demonstrated once again that the outfit of Bjarne Riis is a force to be reckoned with in any and all races.

But it has also been a year of doubt and misgivings, as Operation Puerto embroiled Cycling in its worst scandal ever, with Ivan Basso, the star of Team CSC, alleged to have been doping during his years at Team CSC. Similar allegations against former Team CSC rider Tyler Hamilton added fuel to the fire, landing Bjarne Riis in a devastating dilemma. Riis had a reputation for being close to his riders; was it really possible for Team CSC’s star riders to engage in extensive doping without him realizing it?

Despite the zero-tolerance policy toward doping displayed during his time as manager of Team CSC, Bjarne Riis and his team have always suffered at the hands of the press. His past as a rider during the infected 90s, and not least his time on the Gewiss-Ballan team, have always haunted him, and damaged his credibility among large sections of the public. Operation Puerto was a devastating blow not only to the credibility of Cycling in general, but even more so to that of Bjarne Riis as a person and Team CSC as a team. The media were merciless; one Danish newspaper going so far as running a front page with the picture of Bjarne Riis and the word “Liar” in big print across it.

Riis has made Team CSC a success because he has never been afraid of stepping off the beaten path and trying new things; and he has brought the same attitude to the problem of fighting the doping in the sport.

Over the past couple of years, Rasmus Damsgaard has been one of the most outspoken and notable Danish critics of doping in Cycling. Unlike many other so-called experts, however, Damsgaard has the credentials; in addition to a career within Anti-Doping Denmark, having also worked with developing the anti-doping programme of FIS (International Skiing Federation) and participated in the work to develop reliable testing for autologous blood doping (in November 2005, he blasted WADA for shutting down funds to research projects for developing new tests against doping). His outspokenness and expertise made Damsgaard the most high profile media critic of Team CSC in Denmark.

Going on prime-time TV in late August after being incommunicado after the Tour for almost a month, Riis made a bold offer to Damsgaard, Put up or Shut up.

Riis did little to hide his intentions. Directly questioned about whether he was trying to buy one of his most prominent critics, Riis answered: “Yes, a little bit.”

Despite doubts in the media that he was selling his integrity, Rasmus Damsgaard accepted the offer. ”…everything I have said in the media would sound extremely hollow if I do not take this opportunity. I have said that there are many ways to tackle this problem, and I think it is my duty to work with a very good cycling team who is facing a major problem. I owe it to the cyclists.”

Riis wants to prove that Team CSC is clean. Rasmus Damsgaard is the man who can perhaps help him make that possible.

Tough Measures against Doping
It is not as easy to be convicted wrongfully of doping as the lawyers of many doping-convicted athletes would have us believe. In fact, as was demonstrated by Operation Puerto, it almost always requires hard scientific evidence (in the form of two positive doping controls); a fact that makes the chances of a conviction low to begin with.

Team CSC’s anti-doping plan will be much more finely tuned. From now on until September next year, each Team CSC rider will be doping-tested a minimum of 26 times, with the results catalogued and compared against previous tests. The program makes use of the full battery of tests and methods in use today, but diverges from the anti-doping system in practice today on two major points.

The first is that the majority of the additional tests on the Team CSC riders will occur out of competition, with a strong focus on the pre-season build up (as some of the material from Operation Puerto has confirmed, this is where a majority of the massive doping occurs).

The second is that indications of doping, based on longitudinal profiles will be sufficient to lead the team to internal sanctions. From the test results of the riders, Damsgaard will put together detailed medical profiles which will allow him to determine whether the athlete is manipulating his body with forbidden products.

“The whole point of the program is that we look at indications over time,” Rasmus Damsgaard explains. He notes that the program will occur in full compliance with the international regulations of WADA as regards scientific method and testing, but “…our program goes one step further. One can detect whether manipulation is going on from certain parameters in the blood, but that does not necessarily lead to a case in the judicial system of the sport. That [i.e., doping cases] requires proof that the riders has used a specific doping product.

“In our system, indications of doping misuse will lead to internal sanctions.”

No backing from the Official System
One of the issues that has occupied Damsgaard and Riis has been to get official backing for the project. At the time of writing, however, these attempts appear to have failed.

“Judicial and economic reasons make it impossible for us to participate,” the Chief Secretary of Anti-Doping Denmark Finn Mikkelsen explains. “Making it possible for riders to be sanctioned on indications (i.e., essentially suspicion) of doping would undermine our credibility with the riders….The athletes that we test must feel confident that we are conducting our work on a secure judicial foundation. We don’t have that possibility within the framework of the project.

“The biggest problem was that we do not have jurisdiction to test the foreign riders on the team.” Despite their refusal to support the project meaningfully, Anti-Doping Denmark’s official stance to the project is nevertheless positive.

A similar attitude seems to be the approach from the UCI. “Each cycling team has their own anti-doping program and all of them want the UCI as a partner,” McQuaid is quoted as saying. “There are often problems when private companies perform anti-doping tests, since they occur outside of the established anti-doping system.”

The UCI is still evaluating the proposal for cooperation from Team CSC.
Without the support of authorization from an official anti-doping instance, the judicial value of the tests conducted by Damsgaard will be weakened.

“Our part of the project, with testing and analysis will be done by the book, and we will be able to stand 100 percent behind the validity of the tests,” Bo Belhage, leader of the project at Department Z of Bispebjerg Hospital explains. “But in principle, without authorization, the tests can not be used in the judiciary system of the sport.”

This could lead to a situation where a rider could continue his career on another team without hindrance, despite Team CSC having clear evidence of doping against that rider in the form of positive doping tests.

Lack of authorization will, however, not prevent the anti-doping program from going ahead. Even if the official system is unable to react, Team CSC will move ahead on its own. "We will have internal sanctions, and of course we will do something about it if we have some suspicious, very suspicious or positive tests. Between him [Rasmus Damsgaard] and us, we have very specific rules about the course of action. But I don't want to comment on it in precise detail now because it is an internal thing, of course,” Bjarne Riis is quoted as saying.

Independence of the Testing Program
Already before Rasmus Damsgaard had accepted the offer from Team CSC, the media was speculating that the renowned anti-doping researcher was compromising his credibility in the fight against doping. Damsgaard laughs at the accusations. “I am still working at Bispebjerg Hospital; the work I will be doing for Team CSC is on a consultant basis.” Despite working with Team CSC, Rasmus Damsgaard will not be an employee of Bjarne Riis.

The deal that Team CSC has initiated, is directly tied to the Anti-Doping foundation in Department Z at Bispebjerg Hospital. The Anti-Doping Foundation funds the research work on anti-doping methods and techniques that takes place at the Hospital. Bjarne Riis will be paying the foundation somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 Euro a year, and will thereafter in principle have no say in how and for what the money is used.

The deal allows the board of the hospital to pull the plug on the project at any time, if they are dissatisfied with the results shown by the project, explains Bo Belhage. As a result, Rasmus Damsgaard and his four colleagues from Department Z that are expected to participate in the project will have the greatest degree of independence from Team CSC that is possible.

The Sport must Clean Itself
“We would never have introduced the testing program if we did not trust our riders,” Team CSC PR officer Brian Nygaard tells Reuters. Referring to the credibility of the Sport, Nygaard continues. “We wish to give them the opportunity to show that the Sport itself can take steps to recover what has been lost during the past couple of years.

“We hope that our project will create precedence. One of the things Operation Puerto taught us is that conventional testing is not sufficient to catch those who cheat.”

All the riders of the team have accepted the tough measures imposed by the new anti-doping regime, including the stipulation that indications of doping can be grounds for the termination of their contract.

Reigning Danish Champion, Allan Johansen, is pleased with his teams aggressive anti-doping attitude. “Of course it is irritating that it has come so far that one has to prove oneself clean.”

As a relatively anonymous rider compared to the big stars of the Sport, his experiences with the anti-doping system have always been relatively innocuous. He is thus not on the list of selected athletes in Denmark who have to inform ADD about their whereabouts at all times. Damsgaard’s program introduces this requirement for all Team CSC riders; one aspect of the programme that will have significant effects on Johansen’s private life.

“But it is worth it. We don’t have doping at CSC, and with this project there should no longer be any doubt about that.”

Unchanged Expectations
Despite the doubts and misgivings of the media and the public, this month’s training camp in South Africa saw the start of Damsgaard’s project. It now remains to be seen whether it will be successful, and not least, what effects the program will have on Team CSC.

“Hiring Damsgaard will boomerang on Riis,” one noted critic of the cooperation commented early on, stating that either Damsgaard would keep Team CSC under such strict surveillance that the riders would fail to get any results in competition, or Riis would have to restrict Damsgaard so much that Damsgaard would abandon the project, further damaging the team’s reputation.

It remains to be seen whether either of these situations will play out.

"We have a very strong team, I think we have shown that this year and we have been able to perform during the whole year. That is what we want to do again,” Bjarne Riis comments.

Retaining the ProTour team title remains a priority of the team and Riis is not short of goals for his squad. From Classics, to podiums at the Big Tours, and the Individual ProTour ranking, Riis’s ambitions for his team remain high, despite having lost his best hope for a Tour de France triumph in the short term.

Riis hopes that his team will not only continue to prove that it has what it takes to be a leader of the Sport, but also lead the way in the fight against doping. “Everything that can be done for the sport is important, right now, and everybody who can do something about it should do so... it is their duty to do something. The only way forward is to clean up the sport.”

Fact Box: The Team CSC Anti-Doping Program
All the doping controls in Team CSC’s anti-doping project will be carried out by the internationally acknowledged Swedish firm IDTM (International Doping Test Management), which is used by both UCI, IOC, and a number of other Sports associations for both the Olympics and World Championships. The tests will be analyzed at independent laboratories before the test results are received by Damsgaard and the team.

The time planning for tests is as follows:
Urine Tests
• December-January: 1 steroid-test og 1 epo-test
• February: 1 steroid-test og 1 epo-test
• March: 1 steroid-test og 1 epo-test
• April-September: 1 steroid-test og 1 epo-test

Blood Profiling:
• December-January: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• February: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• March: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• April: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• May: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• June: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• July: Minimum of 2 blood tests
• September: Minimum of 2 blood tests

Growth Hormones:
• December-September: Minimum of two tests

Blood Doping:
• December-September: Tests carried out in cases of suspected manipulation.

These tests come on top of the tests carried out by the UCI (in competition) and the national anti-doping agencies of the rider’s nationality. Each rider is thus guaranteed to be tested a minimum of 26 times over the year.

Results of the testing procedure will be available to the UCI and WADA upon request, and a summary report of the project results – with the riders anonymized – will be published at the end of the year.

Rasmus Damsgaard will also provide a 24-hour anti-doping hotline for the riders and staff of Team CSC. The project has a significant informational component, to help demystify the anti-doping efforts, safeguard the health of the riders, and ensure that the riders have all the expertise required to ride clean.
 

 
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