UCI to hand out biological passports in effort to curb doping

AIGLE, Switzerland -- The UCI will issue doping passports to 854 professional cyclists who are providing blood and urine samples to build individual profiles.

Cycling's world governing body teamed up with the World Anti-Doping Agency to create the $8 million pilot project funded by race organizers, teams and riders. It requires each athlete to provide a series of blood and urine samples that make up an individual blood and steroid profile.

"We are seeing a major change at the top level of the sport," International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said Friday at a news conference. "We all are aware that cycling has a doping problem and for 40 years has been dealing with a doping problem.

"We needed to go at it with a huge campaign in which we bombarded athletes with tests, and the biological passport program gave us that opportunity."

So far, about 2,100 tests have been collected. Five were positive and 23 registered levels slightly higher or lower than expected, McQuaid said.

When the biological profiles are completed, suspected doping offenses will be spotted in the fluctuations from the athlete's known levels, rather than testing for and identifying illegal substances.

Officials hope the program will soon become a model for other sports, revolutionizing the way top athletes are tested for banned substances. The passports are crucial to a sport seeking to restore credibility after two successive Tour de France races were tainted by drug scandals.

Original 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his title, last year's pre-race favorite Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion and 2007 leader Michael Rasmussen was fired by his team midway through the race for allegedly lying about his whereabouts after missing doping tests.

"We are in a position after the difficult years of 2006 and 2007 that the stakeholders in the sport were in a position to accept and invest in the biological passport," McQuaid said.

Results from a testing laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, are supplied to one of nine doping experts on a UCI panel who can recommend sanctions within a week.

An athlete faces a two-year ban for a first doping offense, in line with the WADA code.

The passport program also requires athletes to provide regular updates of their training whereabouts for out-of-competition tests. Three missed tests in 18 months counts as a doping violation.

"Last year, we completed just over 9,000 tests," UCI anti-doping manager Anne Gripper told The Associated Press. "This year we will be doing just over 18,500.

"This is the peak year of testing. Once we have strong profiles, we won't need the same volume of testing. Establishing that baseline is important. Given the enormity of what we are doing, it has been going well. We are getting the full support of the riders and teams."

Gripper said all riders lining up for the May 10-June 1 Giro d'Italia stage race will have been tested as part of the passport program.

The UCI executive committee meets next month in Copenhagen, Denmark, to finalize its rules for operating the passport program. McQuaid said the program results are available to WADA despite a split between the two organizations.

WADA pulled out of the partnership in March after UCI launched a court action in Switzerland against Dick Pound, the agency's former president, based on comments about cycling's doping problems.

"The UCI has absolutely no problem with the World Anti-Doping Agency," McQuaid said. "We collaborate on a daily basis in the fight against doping."