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
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
“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
“In our system, indications of doping misuse will lead to internal
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
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
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.”
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
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:
• 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
• 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
• December-September: Minimum of two tests
• December-September: Tests carried out in cases of suspected
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