Ag2r out of Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse?

Lampre-Merida too?

One year ago Ag2r’s Sylvain Georges stood on the podium in California, this morning he quit the Giro after an “Adverse Analytical Finding” for Heptaminol, a banned substance.

It’s curious to see the UCI announce the news after the A-sample only has been tested and, because it’s a “specified substance,” Georges could get any ban reduced.

But perhaps the most interesting thing is that under a new code the French team could be out of the Dauphiné and Tour of Switzerland, ruining its preparation for the Tour de France. And Lampre too?

Here’s the deal. The MPCC is the Mouvement Pour Un Cyclisme Credible, a group of teams that have signed up to a stringent set of principles above and beyond the WADA Code and the UCI rules. Amongst these terms is the principle of “auto suspension” or self-suspension. You can read the rule, I’ve edited it slightly for format:

In the event that a team member « MPCC » is facing several cases of positive or incapacity imposed on its competitors, the team agrees to temporarily suspend its activity (to implement any corrective action that it deems appropriate).

Principles of self suspension:
– All teams must be stopped
– No abandonment of the team during the World Tour events.

In the last 12 months: Two positive doping tests and / or blood tests abnormal (excluding penalties for no-show and / or information not AMA). AUTO SUSPENSION: Team 8 days from the knowledge of the second control. The car suspension begins on the 1st day of the race calendar next World Tour, with the exception of the 3 Grand Tours.

The English isn’t perfect but it means a team with two positive doping tests in the last 12 months has to stop racing completely for eight days starting on the day of the next World Tour race.

  • Ag2r’s Steve Houanard was caught for EPO last autumn
  • The next World Tour race is the Critérium du Dauphiné which begins on Sunday 2 June
  • The Tour de Suisse starts on Saturday 8 June, less than eight days after 2 June

The Test
I’ve said before on here that anyone can sign up to the MPCC and its rules. But the test comes when a team is caught out and risks punishment. Will it stick with the self-regulatory principles or will it just quit the group?

If George’s B sample comes back positive – and UCI rules insist a B sample is tested quickly during a stage race – then it will be Ag2r’s second positive within a year meaning they have to suspend themselves for eight days and therefore no Dauphiné and no Tour de Suisse. Both of these races are crucial for the pre-Tour de France preparation offering high-level racing in the Alps and being forced to sit out would substantially undermine the team. Now Ag2r could try to plead, perhaps appeal the verdict in a stalling move but the rules above don’t mention this. Instead if the rider is positive, the team is suspended.

So we’ll see what the MPCC is made of. Note it remains a grouping of teams, it has no stick to beat Ag2r into line, it is only as strong as the teams that have signed up to it.

We’ve also got news today of Lampre’s Miguel Ubeto with a positive A-sample for the dangerous GW1516 drug. But is there a second test? Well in June last year the UCI announced it was starting a bio passport prosecution against Leonardo Bertagnolli, then a rider with the Italian team. Almost 11 months later and I’ve checked the UCI website but can’t tell if Bertagnolli has been banned. Note he’s retired but that doesn’t matter, if a rider is caught on the last day of their career they still get banned. But if Bertagnolli was banned then, because Lampre-Merida is an MPCC member, this is another case where the team has to be suspended.

The ball has only started rolling on this story so we can’t extrapolate too far but it’s possible to imagine riders appealing the suspension as this amounts to some collective punishment, those who have done nothing wrong risk seeing the highlight of their season compromised.

We could even see a team ask the UCI for help, essentially saying “we’re a World Tour team, your rules oblige us to ride.” Indeed all World Tour teams have to ride all World Tour races but they can be fined for not taking part. Is the fine the price to pay to keep to the MPCC rules? Remember ASO’s Christian Prudhomme has loudly backed the MPCC.

George’s could be cleared by the B-sample but if he fails then the MPCC rules are clear, the team has to be suspended for eight days. With spectacularly poor timing for the French team it could be blocked from vital racing and Lampre risk the same fate too. We’ll find out just how credible the MPCC is.

Thanks to Theo Maucher for alerting me to this issue


37 thoughts on “Ag2r out of Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse?”

  1. “It’s curious to see the UCI announce the news after the A-sample only has been tested”

    When has the UCI NOT hurried to announce “A sample only” positives. Their own lack of operating within the rules in this regard is troublesome.

      • If he admits to it on the A-sample result, then there simply is no need to test the B-sample. The B-sample only MUST be tested if someone quibbles the result of the A. So is George denying/fighting it, or did he admit?

  2. Le fait que Houarnard se soit doppé parce que – dit-on – il n’était pas conservé dans l’effectif, ou le fait que le contrôle de Georges ne soit qu’un produit “mineur” ne peuvent-ils pas réduire la sentence prévue par le MPCC ? Ou voudront-ils envoyer un signal fort pour montrer leur crédibilité, justement?

  3. I’m not so sure the rule is clear. What exactly does the proviso ‘with the 3 Grand Tours’ mean in the current context?

    Ordinarily you’d expect it to mean that a team doesn’t have to suspend itself from a Grand Tour. But perhaps AG2R could argue that it means that, because of the length of the GTs, you don’t have to wait for one to finish until the 8 day period commences?

    They would then argue that the 8 days starts running tomorrow, and consequently they’re only suspended from the Dauphinee and are free to race the Tour de Suisse.

    It’s by no means clear, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to fudge this.

    • The timing is clear, it’s the next World Tour race. The wording is better in French but still quite simple, a set of principles. Maybe there are loopholes to exploit but this is the test, once you let one team through the MPCC looks a lot less credible.

      • Yes, read the French now. Perhaps the English translation should read “begins on the 1st day of the next World Tour race, other than a Grand Tour”?

  4. I asked on Twitter, but this is probably a better spot to ask.

    Does the UCI even allow a WorldTour team to intentionally not-start a WorldTour event?

    • They are supposed to ride every race. But can be fined if they miss a race. Perhaps the fine is the price to pay for the MPCC rules? Or will Ag2r try to ditch the MPCC and seek refuge in the UCI rules.

    • They could start the Dauphine and the whole team pulls out after 1km. Team rode the WT event and banned themselves from competing as well. All issues solved.

  5. His win at last year’s ToC was thrilling. Unfortunately, barring a negative B sample, I’m forced to not give a shit about yet another cyclist’s inspired past performance. To be anything other than a cynical fan of this sport is an exercise in futility.

    • The way I see it pro cycling is the only sporting organization with the balls to aggressively (in most cases) go after the dopers / cheats in an effort to make the sport clean. When I look at other organizations around the world I do not see this happening. To me that means they condone, or at least tolerate, doping in their sport.

      I hear you, but I also wish we could celebrate and be proud of trying to be clean more often than we are cynical or doubtful of performances.

      • Spot on. Imperfect as it is, it’s good to see the effort. Compare the penalties for a doping positive in cycling to those dished out by some of the “major” U.S. sports. An NFL player gets a handful of games vs. two seasons for a cyclist in most cases. MLB players don’t lose a whole season until after a third offense.

      • I understand your sentiments, as well. The implementation of the bio-passport, whereabouts, and out of competition testing programs in cycling are laudible. However, Theo Maucher / INRNG (above) and Tovarishch (below) are keen to point out the significance of these cases with respect to the MPCC and strict enforcement. Cycling’s governing body has lost credibility over the years for many reasons, including its less than strict enforcement of its own rules. This will be a true test for the MPCC’s self-imposed sanctioning structure.

          • It is difficult to watch races, see an amazing performance, and not immediately think ,”Well, I hope he was clean”. In the case of the MPCC it is a sort of Gentleman’s Agreement that is only as good as those who are in it. Perhaps AG2R will claim the rider acted as a rogue? I would think the point of the MPCC is to say that the teams who signed will not pressure the riders for performance to a point that doping is considered necessary?

            There’s so much money in sport these days from marketing, advertising, ticket sales (not cycling) and such that there must be huge pressure to perform in an effort to retain sponsorship and the money required to run a team. That’s a lot of responsibility for some young guys in spandex to carry.

      • Sorry Greg, I see ‘pro-cycling go after dopers’ as being one of it’s biggest failures in the last 20 years. A few (very few) individuals have been thrown under the proverbial bus and labelled ‘cheaters’. Not too surprisingly, there are at least another 100 guys deperate to get the place on the pro-Tour team that has just been vacated.

        The testimony and evidence has demonstrated that cyling has an endemic culture of performance enhancement. I see little from other sports that makes them look any different, more often quite the opposite… What has cycling done to change this endemic culture? Ruin the career of a few, select athletes, who are probably not doing anything out of the ordinary amongst their peers?

        That’s not balls (in my opion), that’s just window-dressing.

        • I can respect this point of view because, as you say, there seem to be a hundred more people waiting in the wings and there is a long history of doping. However, taking the stance that all they have done is catch a few guys -and ruin a few careers- who are doing what everyone else is doing, is not something with which I agree. Are you suggesting that we turn a blind eye and pretend nothing is happening?

      • The way I see it pro cycling is the only sporting organization with the balls to aggressively (in most cases) go after the dopers / cheats in an effort to make the sport clean.

        Really? The way the UCI *didn’t* want to process Contador’s positive was pursuing dopers?
        How about the way they didn’t pursue Armstrong, reluctantly enforcing (their words) USADA’s findings?
        How about the way they refused to even sign onto the WADA/bio-passport program until the very, last possible moment? Even then, the UCI retains total control over dope testing. Which is handy when it came to not processing Armstrong’s 2010-ish “red hot” positives.

        The UCI and the IOC enable the doping.

  6. Lampre-Merida’s Miguel Ubeto provisionally suspended after positive test for black market drug GW1516

    Aren’t Lampre-Merida also in danger?

    • IMHO, the phrase “black market” is not appropriate.

      For example, morphine is a “black market” drug as it is a controlled and regulated compound.
      GW1516 is not controlled and not a regulated substance. There is likely no big-pharma source for it but that is different than black market.

      Unfortunately, most of the modern PED/peptides appear to be relatively easy to create. There is a thriving industry of legitimate, very small labs producing these unregulated compounds. It produces the compound while it is not regulated, then stop when the regulators finally catch up to them.

      It’s legal until it’s illegal.

  7. The BBC’s Matt Slater reports that AG2R manager says it is an inadvertent fail as SG bought an over-the-counter product because he had ‘heavy legs’. There have also been 23 heptaminol cases, 13 of them involving French athletes with big range in sanctions.
    It doesn’t make it any better, as the rider is responsible for what he takes – and in any event I suspect the idea that a vasodilator would help heavy legs is wishful thinking on the athlete’s part.

    • It also affects blood pressure too. But regardless, nobody – amateur or pro – should be taking products without knowing what is inside. It’s possible he can use the product with packaging and receipt to show he took something in good faith but it was asking for trouble. Did the team doctor know this?

  8. They could probably claim that the MPCC set of principles is only valid from the moment it was signed onward. I don’t know if Steve Houanard positive control was before or after they had signed the MPCC.

  9. Many teams signed the MPCC under the potential public scrutiny and bad PR that would result by not doing so. It’s a hampering and hamstringing device. Teams have zero control over what their riders do away from the eyeballs of team management. Yet, the team and the other riders have to suffer the consequences.

    Punish the rider responsible for the infraction. Not the rest of the team. If a team has numerous violations within a given time frame, then investigate the structure of the team and management. It is silly “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

  10. I actually feel bad for AG2R and the rider in this case … genuinely seems like an innocent mistake. The product itself sounds no more performance enhancing than the energy gels you see everyone taking throughout every stage. Still, in this day and age he should be more than aware than ignorance is not an excuse. A pro today should be taking his case of beer to the team doctor before drinking it, just to make sure there’s not something in there that shouldn’t be. With that in mind I’d consider any suspension he receives one for being stupid rather than cheating. As for the team, it would be harsh if they missed races off the back of something like this.

    • I agree.

      If a rider is taking things without showing them to the team doctor, how stupid is that? The rules might be tough but getting caught out by them is the mark of an idiot. The product makes no secret that it contains the substance, the notes inside the packet apparently even warn the user they will test positive in a sports anti-doping control.

      Note the substance is banned for good reason. There’s surely no excuse here.

  11. “If the new analysis comes up positive then, in accordance with our commitments, we will not participate in the Critérium,… The team made a commitment to the MPCC to comply with its rules,” Lavenu said. “This may serve as an electric shock for everybody, to fully understand what the stakes are.” – Vincent Lavenu

    Read more:

    Good for him and them. Too bad, but good to respect their promises.

  12. Will be interesting to see ASO’s response. The Daffy is their race and Ag2R is a big media player.

    The wheels of injustice and political posturing begin to turn

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