Riders to face beefed up drug testing for Tour of California

CARSON, Calif. -- Cyclists competing in next month's Amgen
Tour of California have been sent a message: Don't even think of
using a performance-enhancing substance.

"We want to ensure that it's clean and fair and that the best
rider wins," AEG Sports president Andrew Messick said Tuesday in
announcing a new testing protocol for the Feb. 17-24 race that
begins in Palo Alto, Calif., and ends in Pasadena. AEG is the
race's presenting sponsor.

Cycling has been tainted by doping violations and suspensions.

The Tour of California riders will face a more stringent,
comprehensive anti-doping program than the Tour de France, which
has been rocked by several doping scandals the past two years.

The tests will include extensive checking for the presence of
EPO, an oxygen-producing drug. Samples provided by the riders will
be stored so they can be checked for human growth hormone when that
test becomes available. A blood profile of each rider also will be
maintained from the samples.

Steve Johnson, CEO of USA Cycling, called the issue of doping in
sports a great challenge, adding, "And I didn't say sport, I said

"We want to make certain that young riders are not confronted
with a temptation to cheat," Johnson said.

In the beefed up testing program:

" Blood samples will be collected from every rider, and urine
samples from 30 percent of the riders, before the race. The samples
will be tested for banned substances such as steroids, hormones
including EPO and masking agents.

" The stage winner, the current leader of the general
classification and three other riders will have a full screen every
day for banned substances. There also will be random or targeted
full screen testing for three other riders during mornings and

" The participating teams will guarantee that all their members
of their teams, including coaches, trainers and support staff, are
not the subject of any open doping investigations.

Tour of California defending champion Levi Leipheimer could not
attend the news conference because of his training schedule, but
welcomed the new program.

"I'd like to say that, as a professional cyclist, I was
enthusiastic to know that AEG has made a further commitment to
ensure that this year's race is fair," Leipheimer, who finished
third in this year's Tour de France, said in a statement.

"It is the development and implementation of stronger
anti-doping programs such as this that will allow us as athletes to
be respected as champions and I think this is another step in the
right direction."

If any riders test positive for banned substances, they will be
expelled from the race and face future sanctions, but their team
can continue to compete in the race.