A number of WorldTour teams are committed to introducing blood tests just before the start and immediately after the finish. They will urge the international cycling union UCI and the anti-doping agency WADA to increase the approach to doping in this way.
Various team managers, including Iwan Spekenbrink of Team DSM, have CyclingFlash It was pointed out during the Criterium du Dauphiné and in this Tour de France that some teams will make every effort to introduce these extra blood checks in cycling in the short term.
Richard Plugge, general manager of Jumbo-Visma, has no problems with the arrival of these blood tests. “In the past we have been checked just before the start in the Tour. In 2019, the team was checked again 40 minutes before the start on the bus. We are open to that.”
With these checks, the teams want to rule out the possibility of cheating with blood doping. Last year during the doping criminal case ‘Operation Aderlass’ involving the German ‘doping doctor’ Mark S., this method was emphatically brought to light. The way in which athletes received blood was so simple and efficient that various cycling teams were shocked and now want to make a case for these extra checks.
“Aderlass indeed indicated that just before and after the competition, athletes inject blood through an IV and drain it later. The images of cross-country skier Max Hauke were clear proof,” confirms professor Peter van Eennoo of the DoCuLab Ghent.
In the winter, usually just before a holiday where the chance of an out-of-competition check is small, an athlete drains an amount of blood. In important competitions, this blood is added in the hotel after the regular doping controls in the morning and it is then collected again the same day after the stage, on arrival in or on the way to the hotel. More blood in the body during the competition means extra red blood cells, which make oxygen absorption easier and ensure better endurance.
The advantage of smaller amounts of blood is that the body does not really need an adaptation time as with larger amounts, so you immediately benefit from it that day. That is why it is also used in specific, important competitions. In cycling it would mainly be mountain stages in the big rounds.
This method takes little time. The addition of blood in the morning and the removal after the stage in the hotel is done on the same day, so that the current blood checks in the early morning (before adding the extra blood) and in the evening at the hotel (after the removing the blood again) few differences in the blood values are observable and no suspicion is aroused in the biological passport.
An employee of ‘doping doctor’ Mark S. told in the Munich court during the doping criminal case Aderlass how childishly simple the administration is. She once had to drive very slowly down a certain street. An athlete would jump out of the bushes, get into the car and lie down in the back seat. There he got his blood, which had been taken earlier, back through an IV.
Cross-country skier Hauke later told the media that he had undergone more than fifty doping tests, but never had a problem. Key figure Mark S. told his athletes that the moment the blood was put back, they had to drink a certain amount of water with salt, so that their blood would not have abnormal values in the biological passport. If this is true, you can question the reliability of the biological passport.
Van Eennoo confirms that this method of adding blood is known. However, he sees some problems in the checks proposed by some teams just before the start and immediately after the finish.
Van Eennoo: “Two hours after a competition, no blood can be taken that can be used for the biological passport because the blood values are ‘affected’ by the effort (plasma volume shifts). Placing a chaperone with the athlete can then be a useful possibility to absorb this. Taking blood just before a competition is also difficult because it disrupts the concentration of the athlete.”
The Aderlass criminal case involved cyclists Danilo Hondo, Georg Preidler, Pirmin Lang, Borut Bozic and Stefan Denifl. The name of Milan Erzen, the boss of the Bahrain-Victorious team, was also mentioned. However, his lawyer emphasized that Erzen has never worked with Mark S. and that there is no personal or business relationship.
Richard Plugge confirms to CyclingFlash that anti-doping is high on the teams’ agenda. As chairman of the AIGCP (teams’ association), he has now made an agreement with the 18 WorldTour teams to increase the anti-doping contribution per team by 80,000 euros to 220,000 euros per year. With this, the WorldTour teams contribute almost four million euros per year to the doping approach. An initiative that came from the teams.
Plugge: “Investments must not only be made in controls, but also in Intelligence & Investigation teams. The intelligence and investigation team plays a vital role in protecting the clean sport. They collect insights, intelligence and information, and follow a rigorous research approach. This approach often works even more efficiently than just the checks.”
The Intelligence & Investigation Service operates independently within WADA to ensure confidentiality. It is a team of professionals with years of experience in law enforcement, investigation and sports. Part of their job is to investigate allegations made by informants and confidential sources (sometimes called whistleblowers).
In the Aderlass trial, the product H7379 Hemoglobin Human also emerged as a new doping agent. Van Eennoo considers it unlikely that this product will actually be used these days. “It’s dangerous to experiment with this,” he warns. “This is not intended for human use. In addition, detecting suspicious samples is quite easy since this hemoglobin is free (not in the red blood cells but in the plasma). This causes the plasma to turn red.”
Iwan Spekenbrink said in an interview with CyclingFlash: “I think it is very positive that we indicate from the teams that we want to remain the forerunner in anti-doping with cycling. It’s about protecting honest athletes. That you get real winners.”