Blood-boosting drug a threat to cycling's Olympic future

An ex-teammate of Lance Armstrong predicts the decision to retest doping samples from the Olympics will be the death knell for his sport at the Games.

A former teammate of Lance Armstrong predicts the IOC’s decision to retest doping samples from the Summer Olympics will be the death knell for his sport at the Games.

"This, of course, would be the end to cycling in the Olympics," says Frankie Andreu. "They are dying to kick the sport out...."

The one-time professional cyclist was reacting to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to order the retesting of doping samples taken during the Beijing Games.

IOC officials are looking for CERA, a synthetic blood-boosting hormone that was detected among a handful of riders during and after this summer’s Tour de France.

Andreu, now an advocate for cleaning up the sport, doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing if riders in Beijing are caught in the retests. In fact, he expects some will be snagged.

"If the IOC tests all the men’s road race samples, that would be great," he said in an e-mail to the CBC. "There is a good chance they would find some positives...."

Official suggests 'pause' for cycling

The news comes just a day after IOC vice-president Thomas Bach suggested the road race be removed from the Olympic program if the International Cycling Federation can't fix its drug problem.

Bach said "you have to consider giving men's road cycling a pause" for future Games.

Andreu spent 12 years riding in Europe, five of those with Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team. Armstrong recently announced his decision to return to professional cycling and compete in next year’s Tour.

In 1999, while riding with Armstrong, Andreu briefly experimented with erythropoetin or EPO, the natural hormone from which CERA is derived. Andreu’s public admission to his dalliance doping several years later brought scorn and praise both inside and outside the sport.

Another more infamous voice is surprised that cyclists would even use CERA. Victor Conte was at the centre of the Balco scandal, which helped bring down sprint star Marion Jones.

Conte, who has joined the fight against drugs in sport, thinks the cyclists got bad advice.

"CERA takes about five days to clear," Conte told the CBC.

"Maybe these athletes tried to cut it too close and it was still detectable. CERA has a longer half-life and lower clearance rate than EPO, so it would not be advisable for an athlete attempting to circumvent doping tests to use CERA.

"Athletes knew that their urine samples were going to be saved for possible retesting."

Blood tests needed

Reports indicate that the 4,770 doping samples taken in China are on their way to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. About a quarter of those, 969, are blood samples and anti-doping officials say the test for CERA is based on blood.

The IOC has not yet decided how many samples will be retested and from which sports, but the World Anti-Doping Agency said Olympic officials can be selective.

WADA’s director general David Howman told the CBC that the IOC can target test samples.

"They will have bar codes numbered with the sport," said Howman.

He added that the IOC will be responsible for the testing under its agreement with the Beijing Organizing Committee, but WADA will monitor the process.

The retesting of drug samples is not unprecedented.

In 2003, American scientists discovered a new designer steroid called THG. The IOC ordered a second look at every blood and urine test after the 2002 Salt Lake City Games to see if athletes were using the drug, which had been undetectable before.

No positives were found.