Tests of SA cyclists 'suspicious'
Retroactive EPO (Erythropoietin) testing of 50 cyclists from events in 2012 indicate continued doping in South African cycling, the SA Institute for Drug-free Sport (Saids) said on Monday.
The doping control samples of some cyclists were classified as "suspicious" but not conclusive to elicit doping charges.
"In light of these results we will be changing up our strategy so that cyclists are aware that we are very serious about cleaning up sport," Saids CEO Khalid Galant said in a statement.
"Our aggressive testing strategy will hopefully serve as a deterrent to those that have been engaging in doping practices and to those who believe they can still beat the doping control system."
The samples, taken from athletes who competed in major mountain and road races in 2012 and stored in a laboratory in Bloemfontein, were sent to the Saids peer lab in Austria for confirmation analyses. The analyses were inconclusive.
"More cyclists will be included in the Athlete Biological Passport programme that involves the monitoring and interpretation of selected biological parametres over time that may reveal the effects of doping, rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself," Galant said.
The window for detecting EPO was between four and six hours.
"The lesson learnt from the Armstrong affair is that cyclists who micro-dose with EPO are often able to beat the anti-doping authorities," he said.
"It is, however, much more difficult to beat the system when blood samples are analysed over a series of tests."
South African cycling champion David George received a two-year ban in 2012 for a doping offence. George tested positive in an out-of-competition test conducted by the Saids on August 29, 2012.
Galant said, until recently the cyclists' drug of choice was steroids, which added strength and reduced recovery time.
"However, blood boosting EPO has become popular with elite cyclists around the world as it has been said to add between five and 20 percent to endurance levels by enabling the body to produce more oxygen carrying red blood cells.
"For an elite athlete, this can mean the difference between first place and middle of the pack.
"This is why it is imperative that we nip EPO doping in the bud in SA by closing the gap on the dopers to ensure a dope-free, level playing field where riding skills and fitness ensure a win, rather than the amount of drugs you pump into your system."
Galant pointed out that the intent of the Saids anti-doping testing strategy was not only to catch athletes, but for it to serve as a deterrent to those who considered doping.
"We won't let up on our testing strategy," he said.
"As we have learnt from the David George and Lance Armstrong scandals, we have to constantly innovate our testing strategy to combat doping and doping trends like the relatively recent shift to blood and increasing its oxygen-carrying capacity.
"We need to clean up cycling and we will continue to be vigorous in our testing in cycling and other endurance sports like triathlon, running, and canoeing."