Riders to face beefed up drug testing for Tour of California

Updated: January 22, 2008, 10:18 PM ET
Associated Press

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 sports."

"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 evenings.

•  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.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press