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SA CYCLING TEAM LEADS FIGHT AGAINST DOPING

By Bardy the Action Scribe

MTN Cycling has tackled head-on the doping problems threatening to cast a dark cloud over the sport in South Africa with the announcement of a voluntary partnership with the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport to perform surprise tests on all of its riders over the coming year.

The MTN professional road cyclists and mountain bikers, pictured here during a training camp at Clarens, Free State earlier this year, will be subjected to the most stringent anti-doping programme in South African cycling. This is part of MTN Cycling’s bid to tackle the threat of performance-enhancing drugs casting a dark cloud over the sport locally.

Douglas Ryder, a former professional cyclist and 1996 Olympian, owner of the MTN Cycling Team, has taken a pioneering path to ensure his riders are clean by making available an anti-doping budget that will be used to ensure regular, random tests are carried out on his team members.

The Institute for Drug-Free Sport, by virtue of being a public entity and fully funded by the South African Department of Sport and Recreation, is affiliated to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is the official anti-doping organisation in South Africa. But with a wide range of sports to monitor and only a limited budget, the Institute is restricted as to how much testing it can do.

The MTN professional road cyclists and mountain bikers, pictured here during a training camp at Clarens, Free State earlier this year, will be subjected to the most stringent anti-doping programme in South African cycling. This is part of MTN Cycling’s bid to tackle the threat of performance-enhancing drugs casting a dark cloud over the sport locally.

“I want to make sure that there is enough funding to test all my cyclists. I want to show that cyclists can race without performance enhancing drugs and still be successful,” said Ryder.

Both the MTN Microsoft road cycling and mountain biking teams have been dominant on the local race scene in 2007, winning 75 out of 101 races entered between January and mid-October. Included in those successes are Elite South African titles won by Malcolm Lange (road race) and Kevin Evans (marathon and cross-country mountain biking), Daryl Impey’s African Games road race title and Melt Swanepoel’s Elite men’s African cross-country mountain biking title.

“Our riders have been super-successful in 2007. Success always breeds suspicion unfortunately,” said Ryder. “We already have a very strict policy in place with regards to doping, but now we will take this sport to new territory with the increased, guaranteed testing that will be carried out on our riders.”

Ryder was quick to point out that the testing will NOT be done in collaboration with the team or its management.

“That would be window dressing and not at all credible. The testing will be done independently by the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport. MTN Cycling is just making sure they have access to our cyclists at all times, day or night throughout the year and that they have sufficient funds to do so.”

The MTN anti-doping initiative has been implemented in support of the ongoing efforts already being made by Cycling South Africa, the sport’s local governing body.

“Cycling South Africa fully supports the proactive approach that the team have taken in approaching the issue of testing. MTN Cycling are to be congratulated for the professional manner in which they are tackling the unsavory issue of doping in our sport,” said Dave Bellairs, Vice President of Cycling South Africa. “CSA is committed to ensuring that doping is eliminated from the sport in this country and will be pursuing further measures to ensure that all other teams and riders in South Africa are following the example set by Douglas and his squad in keeping our sport clean of drugs.”

According to Fahmy Galant, Acting CEO of the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport, funding is the most significant limiting factor to there being more widespread testing, not only in cycling, but all sports in South Africa.

“We allocate budgets each year to various sports, depending on certain factors such as the risk levels and the doping history of that sport. For 2007, we allocated R345000 to cycling.”

This figure is relatively small when one considers that a standard drug test costs approximately R1800. Add in the R1500 test for EPO (a blood oxygen booster popular in endurance sports) and you have R3300. That’s only 150 standard tests and 50 EPO tests. There are more than 1000 cycle races on the annual calendar, excluding track cycling and BMX racing.

“The Institute will determine where and when the tests on the MTN cyclists will be carried out. These will be done independently as usual. Mr Ryder will ensure his cyclists complete forms on a quarterly basis that will be submitted to us. These forms will tell us where the cyclists are likely to be for that three-month period and in which races they are scheduled to compete in,” explained Galant.

“We will do both competition (post-race) tests and out-of-competition tests where we just arrive at any time, any place to test the cyclists. All of the tests will be unannounced.”

Galant praised MTN’s efforts in leading the way in the fight against doping.

“I think it’s an extremely proactive move and I hope other sponsored sports teams follow this example. Sponsors cannot afford the bad publicity that results in positive drug tests and the sport of cycling cannot afford more damage.”

“In light of the controversy that has plagued the sport in Europe over the last couple of years, MTN is in full support of the proactive stance that Douglas has taken on this highly confidential issue,” said Anthony Garstang, Senior Manager: MTN Sponsorships. “We would like to see the successes of the team in 2007 built upon in 2008 and it is crucial that this is done under the watchful guise and with the blessing of Drug-Free Sport.”
 
MTN Cycling is the first South African-based cycling team to voluntarily tackle the doping issues facing cycling. Big-budget international teams such as CSC and T-Mobile implemented similar proactive zero-tolerance strategies earlier this year.