Last week’s “Wash Your Hands” piece about pros and personal hygiene was a surprisingly popular read. It showed an often unreported but essential part of the job of a pro cyclist. With this in mind, time to look at the topic of “Whereabouts” reporting, the daily logging of location by athletes so that anti-doping authorities can visit for a control.
If you asked many riders about the worst part of the job some might complain about the rain, the crash risks or crappy hotels but many would reply in a flash with one word: Whereabouts.
Out-of-competition tests are an essential component of anti-doping allowing testers to reach athletes anywhere. They’re not foolproof, see doping doctor Victor Conte advising his clients to treat two strikes like “lives” in a computer game, there to be used up on the way to completing a level. Tyler Hamilton writes in The Secret Race about dropping to the floor when testers come to his Girona apartment because he was “glowing”, slang for having enough of a banned substance in his body to test positive.
All cyclists in the UCI’s “registered testing pool” are included. This means every UCI ProTeam and UCI ProContinental team as well as other leading riders around the world in road cycling but also other disciplines. The UCI website page has links to the full criteria as well as all the riders on the list.
Who can test?
- The UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation
- The athlete’s National Anti-Doping Organisation based on their nationality
- The athlete’s National Anti-Doping Organisation based on their racing license
- A National Anti-Doping Organisation where athlete is staying, for example during a training camp
- WADA, the IOC and “Major events organizers” like pre-Olympic tests
Riders can be tested anytime with an unannounced test and normally a test is supposed to be unannounced although see the case of Segio Henao who tells how the testers phoned him to say they’d be late.
One Hour, Every Day
Whereabouts means logging a one hour slot for every day of the year where an athlete can be reached by anti-doping testers for a sample. Note the location data isn’t just for home or training camps, it can be used, say, during a stage race. It uses a system called ADAMS run by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a database where athletes log their location.
3 months in one go
Riders first have to submit their location for three months at a time every quarter. For example riders had to supply their likely whereabouts for one hour a day for every day in April, May and June last week. Failure to submit this batch of quarterly data can itself result in a Whereabouts failure and three failures equate to an anti-doping ban.
As you can imagine it’s hard to know where you’ll be so riders typically submit their home address and state 6.00am for three months in a row. Then they will update with changes as they’re called to races, training camps and other travel.
Along with the address, the athlete has to submit an email address, a phone number along with the following information:
- a one hour slot where they can be found between the hours of 6.00am and 11.00pm
- an overnight location, ie where they sleep
- any periods of travel during the day
- where they will be training
- where they will be competiting
The balance of reporting usually falls on the rider except when there is a race on and then a team will often submit the details. But should a rider abandon for example it’s up to them to update with the new info, something that might not be the first thing on your mind with a broken collarbone.
Pro cycling is a mobile job and if riders have target races the best plans often change. An athlete needs to log on and update any changes as soon as they’re aware of them. To help WADA now have iPhone and Android apps meaning this can be done by phone. In an emergency the information can also be sent by SMS but this is only a last resort as the info is not automatically entered into the ADAMS database but noted.
FDJ’s Yoann Offredo was banned after three missed tests. One happened over a simple mix-up, he was racing and hoped his team would handle the admin but they didn’t and so he missed a test. Offredo wasn’t in hiding but racing in public and staying in hotels provided by the race only he was not to be found where ADAMS said so and when the testers came knocking he wasn’t there. It’s just one example of how serious this can be.
The burden of having to submit updates is so tiresome for some that I’ve read quotes from riders saying they’d welcome a tag or a GPS chip under their skin so that testers could locate the rider 24/7. Whether this is a nice idea or horrifying is up to you… but it’s impossible. Imagine a rider who goes to a shopping mall, he cannot be tracked across the aisles by testers in pursuit nor can they follow him for hours if he’s in a sports car. A location has to be reported in advance.
GPS tech is used in latest version of WADA’s ADAMS app as users can use their phone’s GPS position to help signal their location but again only in advance to log where they will be, for example when staying in a hotel for several days.
Many riders have better things to do and task their agent or a helper with managing this but this still means the rider has to talk to someone so they can handle the data-entry aspect. In his autobiography At Speed Mark Cavendish explains how he missed a test because some hired help had not updated his status for him. Ultimately the guy lost his job for this slip.
System vs system
The above is all about the system of data logging by athletes. It’s up to the UCI, WADA and national agencies to then use this information to help with their testing regimes. Resources and the frequency of testing are a whole other matter. These two subjects overlap when riders complain about the duty to log their Whereabouts only a portion of the peloton cannot remember their last out-of-comp test and for others the last one was a long time ago. The amount of out of competition testing and the extent of data collection to populate a bio-passport is whole other topic.
The cheap hotels, the bad weather, the crash risks and more make pro cycling less glamorous than it often looks. But ask a rider what’s the worst part of the job and the Whereabouts system is up there. The continual responsibility is a big burden with daily demands and it assumes a total lack of privacy. But hopefully all agree it’s a price to be paid in order to help out of competion anti-doping controls.