When Basque rider Iban Mayo of the Saunier Duval team tested positive during the Tour de France for EPO, hardly anyone was surprised. Those who follow professional cycling took the single non-negative test result of Mayo’s A sample as yet another example of how cycling had distinguished itself as the most corrupt of sports.
According to a release by the Spanish Cycling Federation issued Monday, Mayo has been cleared, thanks to a negative test result of Mayo’s B sample. Testing was performed on his B sample at a laboratory in Belgium and the results reviewed in Australia, neither of which confirmed the initial positive test.
WADA’s own rules indicate that should have been the end of the story, more or less. BKW spoke to a doping expert who requested anonymity for this story; he said it was curious the lab in Gent, Belgium, was chosen to test the B sample. According to the expert, the lab in Belgium isn’t particularly competent to perform EPO testing. On the other hand, he said that while the Paris lab’s IRMS group is “atrocious,” their EPO and blood group is “quite good.” Remember, the doctor who helped to formulate the EPO urine test is based at this lab.
According to our source, any result from testing the B sample that does not confirm the non-negative A sample is ordinarily considered a negative test, and the end of the case. It is not unheard of to test the sample further, but the case is closed once any result other than positive is returned, and we are told that judging an EPO test is very simple, that the results are very “cut and dry.” So when the UCI’s Anne Gripper said that “Mayo’s B sample wasn’t negative, it was inconclusive,” the testing community would ordinarily judge such an outcome negative, the end of the case. For further testing to take place, the UCI must allege something extraordinary took place, say, incompetence at the Gent lab. Gripper has indicated a willingness to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Mayo’s situation is exactly the converse of the Landis case. If all lab work was performed properly, Mayo is innocent of doping. If, however, the A test was properly administered and the B test alone botched, Mayo could conceivably have doped and still be acquitted. Gripper has indicated she believes the case is worth pursuing. But for this case to go forward, it appears that the UCI will have to accuse a WADA lab of shoddy work.
The question is: Why would they be willing to risk such a self-indictment? Pursuing such a case seems a lose-lose for the UCI. If they won the case against Mayo, it would undermine the case against Landis by demonstrating faulty lab work. And if the UCI lost the case against Mayo, their professed doubt of a WADA lab would certainly fuel the Landis defense team’s contention that the labs do not perform without flaw.
Photo courtesy: Saunier Duval-Prodir Pro Cycling Team