Columbia, Garmin-Slipstream name Catlin for anti-doping program

Updated: December 8, 2008, 2:19 PM ET
By Bonnie Ford | ESPN.com

The only two U.S.-based cycling teams with Pro Tour status have chosen a pre-eminent American anti-doping scientist to oversee the continuation of independent anti-doping testing programs.

Team Columbia and Garmin-Slipstream, both pioneers in promoting a culture of clean competition within the troubled sport, jointly announced Monday they had signed a contract with the Los Angeles-area Anti-Doping Sciences Institute run by Dr. Don Catlin and his son, Oliver.

The elder Catlin, former director of the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory at UCLA, is one of the world's foremost experts in development and interpretation of tests for performance-enhancing substances.

The ADSI program will replace the testing conducted by the Agency for Cycling Ethics, which recently went out of business for financial reasons. However, there will be continuity, as Don Catlin was brought in midway through the 2008 season to interpret results from samples collected by ACE.

Garmin and Columbia also seriously considered a proposal from respected Danish anti-doping researcher Rasmus Damsgaard, who designs and runs testing programs for several other elite teams. But their pre-existing relationship with Catlin, his standing in the scientific community and his passion tipped the balance, according to Columbia owner Bob Stapleton.

"We felt Don's program was the more forward-looking and would add to the body of knowledge in the sport," Stapleton said.

Athletes on both teams will continue to be tested roughly once every two weeks in addition to the tests conducted by other entities including the UCI, cycling's international governing body. Most of the riders on Columbia and Garmin have been in similar programs for the last two seasons and thus have baseline blood and hormonal profiles already constructed.

In the recent past, independent testing has focused on what is called longitudinal testing, or detecting deviations from an athlete's normal biomarkers that might indicate use of banned substances or blood doping. The ADSI program will continue to collect blood samples to build profiles, but also will expand urine testing in order to focus on detection of new-generation blood boosters similar to erythropotein, or EPO.

One of those "EPO bio-similar," CERA, infiltrated the peloton quickly this year. A test was developed almost as quickly, reducing the usual lag time between introduction of a new doping product and its detection. Garmin team director Jonathan Vaughters said his hope is that techniques developed in Catlin's program will continue to erode the advantage cheaters have over testers -- although he doesn't expect his riders to provide Catlin with any material.

"The culture of the team is so evolved now," Vaughters said. "They're at the point where they're like, 'Test me this way, that way, whatever.' They want more stringent testing. I had one rider who rode both the Giro [Tour of Italy] and the Tour [de France] who was only tested once in between, and came to me asking why."

ADSI also will test regularly for "traditional" doping products such as testosterone, anabolic steroids, cortisone and masking agents. Any positive results would be reported to the UCI and WADA. Catlin's company will conduct some tests in its own lab and subcontract others to outside labs, including WADA-accredited labs.

Riders may or may not be subject to official sanctions depending on where results are analyzed -- currently, that would only happen if the results were obtained in a WADA lab.

The teams have the right to discipline riders if they turn up evidence of "traditional" doping products or abnormal blood results that are not official positives. Garmin has never had to take such action, but Columbia, then known as T-Mobile, released Ukranian rider Serhiy Honchar last year due to suspicious blood test results.

Stapleton and Vaughters said the teams would turn over any suspicious blood results to the UCI and encourage the agency to target-test riders.

In the long term, they hope the UCI's biological passport program, longitudinal testing that is being conducted on all Pro Tour teams, will supplant what the teams are presently paying for out of their own pockets.

UCI officials have gathered enough data to state that cases against riders suspected of blood manipulation could be prosecuted even though they don't constitute official positives.

"I'd like to see them open cases in the next 90 days," Stapleton said, adding that he thinks those kinds of precedents are important to set as a deterrent.

This fall, returning seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong announced that Catlin would be designing a personal anti-doping monitoring program for him as part of an effort to be transparent, but no further details have been released.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports and tennis for ESPN.com.