Questions for Carlos Barredo and the UCI

Carlos Barredo has done nothing wrong and he not allowed to race by his team.

If this sounds odd, you are not alone. Today brings the story of Rabobank’s Carlos Barredo who has had some curious values in his blood passport during a five year period spanning 2007-2011  and earlier this year the UCI asked him to explain the data.  Odder still.

It might seem odd that the UCI is only now asking questions after collecting data for years. But to speculate it is possible that the numbers shifted substantially this year, giving a different denomination to things… but again this is just a suggestion for why questions are being asked.

What we do know is that Barredo and his Rabobank team have responded back in July and are awaiting a reply, probably due in September. In a statement Rabobank said:

Carlos Barredo denies in a statement to Rabobank Cycling Team that he is involved in any doping-related cases or the use of banned substances

Let’s hope so but note the statement above, “he is” is not the same as “he has been” and the “use of banned substances” is distinct from the use of prohibited methods, such as blood doping which can trigger suspect passport data. But let’s be generous, after all English isn’t Rabobank’s first language.

Anyway if this is just innocent questioning, we must ask why this has leaked out? Presumably if Barredo and Rabobank worked to answer the questions back in July then he was made inactive by his team since then? Right now Barredo’s name is linked to further suspicion and it’s no good for him or his team. Were Rabobank just being cautious with the suspension and open in saying “we are working with the UCI and Barredo”… or did something else prompt the admission today?

Either way suspension is a big deal. It’s Rabobank’s decision to stop the rider from racing. We can see this two ways:

  • it’s a sensible and professional decision to protect the team. Rabobank is a Dutch bank and let’s imagine a banker was accused of fraud. It’s normal that they’d be suspended from work pending the investigation, many professions adopt this kind of precaution. This is a similar level of protection and concern, only applied to the often less professional world of pro cycling.
  • on the other hand since this appears unprecedented it makes Barredo look bad. If he’s innocent – and the UCI is only asking questions – then the guy is blocked from doing his job. What if he was on another team, say, Katusha, would they block him?

The Rulebook
Here’s the WADA guidebook on the bio-passport (Annex D, 3(a) and 4 – note the document is from the website)

In the panel’s unanimous opinion, absent a satisfactory explanation from the Athlete, it is highly likely that the Athlete has used a Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method…

…the Anti-Doping Organization will:
a. Advise the Athlete that the Anti-Doping Organization is considering bringing an anti-doping rule violation against the Athlete;
b. Give the Athlete a copy of any document provided to the Expert Panel;
c. Invite the Athlete to provide his/her own explanation for the data provided.

It seems Barredo’s case mirrors this procedure but we do not know for sure if the UCI’s “Expert Panel” has reached an opinion on Barredo, only that he has been instructed to explain himself. Hopefully all can be explained and there’s nothing for anyone to worry about.

Forget Barredo
I don’t think we’re going to get much more from Barredo, the team or the UCI on this matter for now. When Velonation’s Shane Stokes called the UCI today he got a “no comment“. Instead the real issue is systematic. Just what is the UCI doing?

If a rider has suspicious numbers then asking him to explain them is a novel approach. It could be sensible, a way to get the facts instead of launching a prosecution. It underlines the way the bio-passport is a subjective tool. Unlike the binary positive or negative of toxicology where a lab tests for banned substances, the passport looks at changes in levels, using logic and mathematics, for example Bayesian statistics, to look for anomalies. However, if things are suspicious then inviting answers from a rider does give a bad rider plenty of room to get off the hook.

Also what if another rider on another team was involved? Rabobank have taken the unilateral action here but have other riders and other teams stopped riders, or have some riders replied to the UCI but continued to race?

Suspended, inactive, banned?
This raises the murky world of bans and inactivity. In summary after a positive A-sample a rider is provisionally suspended. If there’s a B-sample and then a hearing, then the rider is given a ban.

But there appear to be implicit suspensions tooo. There are cases when a rider has claimed injury when in fact they have been caught a in doping case. For the record Barredo did have a big crash in the spring classics but he came back and raced the Tour of Belgium in May and on to the Dauphiné. But others have appeared to cited injury as a means to deflect people from asking why they are not racing. There are some public examples like Alberto Contador who told everyone he slipped on an oil patch and could not race again for the season. But there are other hidden examples.

No rest for the wicked?

Sometimes even getting a rider to stop is hard. In 2005 the UCI had suspicions about Levi Leipheimer and asked his Gerolsteiner team boss Hans-Michael Holczer to stop him from racing. But Holczer, today manager at Katusha, declined because he was trying to find a new sponsor and feared the scandal would kill his chances. If Holczer refused, are other teams also doing something similar?

It leads us to question whether there is a shadow system where riders and teams are told to rest some riders, bio-passport backchannels where some riders might not get prosecuted but are asked to explain themselves.

But there are still questions here:

  • Barredo had to reply to the UCI by late July so presumably he was given notice some time before this?
  • How come it takes until September to review this?
  • Have other riders or teams been in a similar situation?
  • If so did they suspend their riders from competition?
  • Does the UCI support Rabobank’s suspension of a rider who is not charged with anything?

It’s nice to see Barredo co-operating with the UCI but it’s odd that he’s suspended from racing if he hasn’t done anything wrong. Then again perhaps it’s just shocking to see this level of precaution applied in pro cycling?

Nevertheless we’re still left with a lot of questions over this case. The biopassport is a subjective tool that requires careful interpretation but this example seems to take this to a new level that we haven’t see. We can only wonder whether there’s more to this than we’ve learned today. I wish we knew more but for now the topic – like yesterday’s subject of team transfers and tactics – is one to be aware of.

36 thoughts on “Questions for Carlos Barredo and the UCI”

  1. Hey Inrng, nice analysis. Quick note – I spoke to Michael Ashenden a couple of times about the bio passport and he said it was standard practice for riders with suspicious levels to be given an opportunity to explain why that may be the case. Ie illness, etc. I believe it’s the last stage prior to the assessing experts making their ruling on whether there should be a disciplinary action or not. The fact that it’s got this far suggests that they are concerned by the levels; let’s see what the final outcome is.

    • Thanks. I’ve updated this with the rules from WADA here and as you say, it is a procedural step.

      What I’d like to know is whether other riders have been “suspended” in the same way during any investigation.

    • In this interview with Ashendon (, he says that many of the bio passport cases can be interpreted only in the context of what the cyclist was doing before, during, and after the samples/data points were collected. An unusual pattern of data points to the analysts may make much more sense when overlaid against, for example, a training or racing schedule or even a travel schedule (altitude and other atmoshpheric conditions that may affect physiology).

      If this is the case, doesn’t necessarily seem odd for the panel to request further information from the rider (though I would hope they would do it blind – i.e. not revealing what data the panel has collected).

      As for the July to September timeline, perhaps that is how long it takes for the “expert panel” to convene, discuss, and render an opinion, given that the panel does need to be convened from their regular day jobs.

      Inrng’s points are very fair ones to bring up in terms of how this has been handled both scientifically and procedurally. Just wanted to share the perspective I gleaned from the Ashendon interview.

  2. What I find surprising is what about the OTHER FOLKS who were on that infamous list, the one with Barredo and Popovych at the top? Were they asked to explain? As Ashenden has explained, it seems to take a few experts and some serious discussions before these proceedings are opened. When I looked back at where Barredo began his career (Liberty Seguros) I was anything but surprised to read his name in a case involving suspected cheating. Weren’t the Rabobank sponsors ready to bail after the last scandal involving the cycling team? My guess is this could turn out to be just one more case of the UCI trying to keep a lid on scandals to prevent monetary losses

  3. Let’s not forget Rabo’s context here. Only a few months ago they basically admitted that they had full knowledge of it’s riders doping and did nothing to stop them and even helped monitor them up until the house cleaning of 2007.

    And another fun Rabobank fact for you, they are one of only two commercial banks left in the world with a AAA rating… credibility may be on their minds!

  4. InRing, you ask five pertinent questions, but I can’t help feeling that you are acting like a good prosecutor : you only ask a question if you already know the answer.

  5. Heard suggestions last year of one rider being warned; impossible to verify, but after that his results dropped right off. If true, that’s a major problem as it suggests that in at least some high profile cases, that the passport is being used as a warning system rather than one for disciplinary action. Lets hope that’s not the case.

    • While I don’t like cheating at all, if the values “drop” when a rider has suspicious values at least keeps the doping riders less turbocharged in those cases where masking/micro-dosing doesn’t yield adverse analytical findings (i.e. “positive” tests). This would be consistent with the decreasing speeds in the peloton – so in number of instances probably the number of cheaters is the same, but the effect of their cheating is diminished.

      On the other hand, my first impressions is that this would be more UCI skullduggery. Didn’t they try to sweep Contador’s positive under the table, amongst other questionable actions? They do have a history of suspect application of the rules.

    • The passport management is not in the hands of the UCI. There are independent, anti doping lab based organisations, the Athlete Passport Management Units that deal with these data.

    • Shane — I think the availability of the passport system to warn is very important. For now, these cases will be exceptionally hard to prove. However, if warnings are issue and performance/testing levels change as a result, anti-doping authorities will have well-grounded evidence to use in future cases.

      Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to accumulating good data and it would risk the viability of the entire program to bring an enforcement action until there is a near certainty that the bio passport data proves doping.

      As for warnings, my opinion is that they clearly let the riders know that the system is maturing and that, in time, enforcement will be routine. I can’t help but think that’s good for the sport as riders recognize that it is becoming harder and harder to cheat.

    • Whereas always thought it odd USADA confidently stated in its charging documents that LA’s passport numbers were thoroughly consistent with doping, yet dont seem outwardly to have undergone any of this process as per the guidelines.
      And when read the letters going back and forth between Bock/McQuaid they were still at the stage of asking for all the documentation to do with the passport samples (which is all supposed to be part of the information reviewed by an expert panel – particluarly as the forms that accompany the sample taking includes questions on medical matters that can inform the review process)

  6. Remember there has been litigation (or is it just potential litigation) reported between Michael Rasmussen and the Rabobank team; maybe Rabo are just trying to act somewhat “consistently”.

  7. Nice enough article but on the whole posing questions and raising concerns that dont really exist. Substantively the rules for the passport havent changed much since its inception, and the requesting of information has always been such a step. Only major change for the latest version is the recommendation for lab based APMUs and that when it reaches this stage of the process WADA are now automatically advised as well as the athlete which is why the UCI up to no good/trying to hide things etc comments seem a little off kilter really)

    Got a problem with the process – contact WADA, their guidelines.
    Dont approve of the delays – contact the AMPU at Lausanne, they are in charge of the expert review panel
    Dont trust a “no comment” – why expect anything else, it is the only appropriate response
    Info “Leaked out”? Was unaware here until, which is the only unusual thing in the whole event, Rabobank have gone on record and advised one of their riders has been asked to provide info and they have sidelined him until the porcess has been completed. (Also unlike Valjavec can assume Barredo required the assistance of his team/their medical records to answer relevant questions properly)
    “Suspended” – not yet. Sidelined, very different.
    Never seen this before – well before a formal decision no, but Pechstein, Valjavec and others all show their cases went through this stage too.
    Does the UCI approve – doubt they gives rats arse how teams allocate their riders to races on a day-to-day basis, nor should they particularly.
    Happened to other riders/teams – well only appropriate people to comment on that is them, not the Anti-Doping Authority.

    • I agree except it’s highly unusual to see Barredo’s name leak out like this. Even if he is totally innocent many will know him as the guy who had to explain his biopassport data and since we don’t know how often this happens, his name is public when others are private.

      I also wanted to introduce the idea of inactive riders as I know there have been cases of riders citing injury when other conspiratorial reasons have stopped them from racing.

      • And that is exactly the reason why Rabobank couldn’t say themselves that he had been suspended. Barredo has a contract with Rabobank. Like any employer, Rabobank Team must let their employees do their job and as an employer they have the obligation to protect their employees if it is not sure that they have done anything wrong.

        The buq question thus is not why rabobank didn’t come out with this story themselves earlier, but whoe leaked this story.

        One of the aspects in this case, is that Rabobank Team is at the moment still dealing with Michael Rasmussen. The dutch civil court has been asked to rule if his pulling out of the Tour and his sacking as an employee was within the law. Note that at the moment of his sacking he was under suspicion, but not yet a convicted doper. There is a high possibility that Rabobank Team must repay him EUR 1 million because they suspendend and sacked him too early.

  8. This has nothing whatsoever to do with this particular story except that it is the most recent thing on the blog – Just wanted to say to Inrng that if I knew who you were (and if you work in the UK as I sometimes think you do but otherwise I’m not so sure) I would vote for you in this: This blog is hands down the best source of sports (not just cycling) journalism I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Many thanks!

  9. You say twice that Carlos Barredo has done nothing wrong. Sure he hasn’t failed a dope test but we don’t know that he has done nothing wrong.

  10. Hi INRG,
    Nice to read your analysis on cycling, but in this “affair” everything seems to go according to the rules, as pointed out above. Check on the WADA website for the “Athlete´s Biological passport Operating Guidelines”, its all explained in detail in there.
    The bigger question is where is the leak from? Comparing this to the Pellizotti and Valjavec cases, the names only came out after completion of all the steps (evaluation of the expert panel, explanation of the athlete, evaluation of these explanations by the expert panel etc.).
    It should be added that all according to above guidelines, the case management is handled by the “Athlete Passport Management Unit”, an organization independent of the UCI who does not know any names but just treats numbers. So any favourism or hiding cases is not an issue..

  11. I don’t understand why we know about this? Surely this is something that should be kept private until such time that there is a realistic outcome or a decision.

  12. Inner Ring, I remember reading an interview with Chris Ashenden who said that dodgy results are flagged all the time, but the authorities dont actually do anything until they have particularly compelling arguments/evidence. Given that Barredo’s name has actually come out, do you think that this is one of these times? Your quoting of the WADA process would certainly suggest this…

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