As long as there's money involved, cheats will always be a step ahead

Admitted doper, Dario Frigo  Credit: Grazia Neri/Allsport
As drug testing gets more sophisticated in the sport of cycling, so does cheating. In fact, scientists fear they may one day have to test not only blood and urine for the over 100 banned stimulants, narcotics, anabolic agents, diuretics and hormones, but also genes.

As genetic research and manipulation become more commonplace, cyclists may find ways to reprogram their genetic codes to become stronger and faster. For now, cheaters have to settle for less futuristic methods that simply keep them one step ahead of the latest drug-testing technology.

Willie Voet, the French Festina cycling team masseur for whose arrest by customs officers in 1998 spawned a drug scandal at the Tour De France, described some tricks cyclists used to beat urine tests.

In his recent book, Chain Massacre, Thirty Years of Cheating, Voet admitted cyclists stuffed a condom filled with "clean urine" up their anus with a rubber tube hidden by pubic hair to provide an untainted, body temperature urine sample.

Voet also admitted that the testing protocol left enough time for the cyclists to regulate their own hematocrit levels when tests for EPO were announced.

Almost every rider he "coached" in the Tour de France owned a German-made, pocket-sized centrifuge. When the test was announced, a rider had enough time to prick his finger and test his own hematocrit level.

If it was over the allowable 50 percent, all a rider had to do was hook himself up to an IV drip of sterile saline for 20 minutes or so and dilute his blood enough to pass the test. The centrifuge allowed the riders to know they would pass the test before they took it!

I've also seen cyclists that use concentrated forms of caffeine administered as a suppository just before a race, giving them a large advantage in their event. By the time the race is over and the test administered, the caffeine is dissipated from the system and can not be detected.

Before the invention of EPO, some cheating athletes stored their own red blood cells and reinfused them a day or two before competition. This original form of blood doping is fraught with risk of infection and other complications.

Drug experts have also alluded to the use of a mimetic, which is a drug that acts like a banned drug but isn't yet detectable. As scientists perfect tests for detecting the use of supplemental EPO, other scientists are developing a drug that acts like EPO and a hormone that releases more of the body's natural supply of EPO.

Anti-doping research has been vastly under-funded for years, which explains the almost remarkable lack of progress in developing reliable, modern drug tests. The IOC, with assets of more than $350 million for 1998, pledged one-hundredth of that amount $3.5 million to drug research in the time leading up the Sydney Olympics.

The IOC has pledged to take the lead in creating an independent drug-testing agency to oversee testing internationally. However, even this plan is fraught with an inherent scam that might play well on the PR machine but leaves athletes willing to cheat with a back door.

The IOC's vision of the anti-doping agency uses $25 million in IOC funds to conduct unannounced tests and contribute to drug research. A major flaw one IOC Medical Chairman, Alexandre de Merode acknowledged was that the agency would not interfere with or revise the long-criticized established systems of drug testing. So, what's the difference?

The bottom line is that the ticket-buying public wants to see better and better performances each time the Tour de France, Olympics or major sporting events are conducted. We want to see world records shattered and gold medals won for our respective countries. The majority of people tuning into the games and supporting the sponsors who support the Tour or Olympic Games really don't care how their favorite star wins; they just want to see him or her win.

The line from Jerry McGuire says it best. Cycling has become a "show me the money" affair. And as long as it is, winning is not just everything, its the only thing.

No matter how sophisticated drug policing becomes, the carrot dangled before cyclists is far too enticing for the many of them not to cheat. While running a clean race should be at the forefront of every cyclist's mind, the important thing for some cyclists is getting away with it.

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