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Switch off the light on cycling, switch off the light on doping.
  1. Giuseppe Lippi (ulippi{at}tin.it)
  1. Sez. Chimica e Clinica, Dip. Scienze Morfologico-Biomediche, Verona University, Italy
    1. Massimo Franchini
    1. Servizio di Immunoematologia e Trasfusione, Azienda Ospedaliera di Verona, Italy
      1. Gian Cesare Guidi
      1. Sez. Chimica e Clinica, Dip. Scienze Morfologico-Biomediche, Verona University, Italy

        Abstract

        There is rather a long history of fraud in sport competitions, and doping has plagued the Tour de France almost since its beginning in 1903, culminating on July 13, 1967, with the dramatic death of British cyclist Tom Simpson on the climb of the Mont Ventoux, attributed to the use of amphetamines and complicated by the now defunct practice of drinking as little as possible (1). Nearly a year after the 2006 “Tour de Chaos”, when nine riders were ruled out of the race suspected to be implicated in an international doping probe based on blood transfusions and the winner of the Yellow jersey tested positive for testosterone (2), a sequel of events have again plagued the 2007 edition. First, a German rider was caught non-negative for testosterone in an out-of-competition antidoping control a few days before the start of the race. Then, an Italian rider was "non-negative" in a doping test for testosterone after stage 11 and a Spanish rider was also found guilty for erythropoietin misuse on the second rest day after stage 15. Later on, a Kazakh top-class rider and Tour contender has tested positive two times in 3 days, after stage 13, an individual time trial, which he won on an "impressive" manner, and after the mountains stage 15. The rider was suspected to have used blood doping by autologous transfusion, since a double red blood cell population was detected during a in-competition antidoping testing. Least but not last, the Danish rider who was wearing the yellow jersey (and already acclaimed as Tour winner) was fired by his team and was forced to withdraw from the race three stages to the end of the race because he has failed to heed several warnings about not informing the his national cycling federation regarding his whereabouts for possible unannounced doping tests (information on the whereabouts is vital for the effectiveness of out-of-competition random testing, to which the UCI attaches great importance). Finally, 2007 yellow jersey winner was formally enquired as a client of blood doping doctor Fuentes, involved in huge doping scandal widely known as “Operacion Puerto” (2). In a immediate reaction on what it is supposed to be the “greatest swindle in sport history”, and which came not long after several Tour contenders (including the two riders who won the yellow and green jerseys in 1996) formally admitted to doping, the major German TV channels have decided to stop broadcasting the Tour, a resolution which was supported by most German political parties. Practically, it sounded exactly as “the right point in time to say enough is enough”. The disappointing number of cyclists still involved in doping cases clearly attests that the innovative and pervasive strategies adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Cycling Unit (ICU) and several other Sport federations (3) are effective on an analytical basis, but they are probably inefficient to either prevent athletes to dope or modify this upsetting trend towards abuse of doping practices. Several top class athletes have been familiar with doping over the past decade and will probably continue to dope in the years to come, since their inclination to victory, along with the mirage of glory and money, will always overcome the risk of being found guilty. A strategy only based on prosecuting athletes to protect their health is no longer necessary, and it may even turn to be unproductive and costly (4). Therefore, a more radical strategy is needed. Since the enormous economical revenues around the most famous sports events worldwide (Olympics, football Word Championships, Tour de France) is thoroughly linked to sponsors and media coverage, the time has come to draw a line, and stop the media coverage of those events in which doping cases are revealing commonplace. In this perspective, the German TV channels have taken a foremost and audacious resolution. Desolately, little is changed form the 2006 “Tour de Chaos”, and the situation has even degenerated (2). Since it is inconceivable that cycling is the only sport where doping is commonplace, the interruption of broadcasting sports competitions where doped athletes participate should be considered an advisable resolution, which should be extended to a variety of other sports events. The time has come to switch off the light on doping.

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