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Drug use is not something one would normally associate with Cyclosportives and Gran Fondos. There is often little sponsorship or prize money. However amongst the elite racers the pressure to score good results can lead to the same shortcuts we've seen in pro-cycling. With two riders testing positive in the Gran Fondo New York we take a look at drug use in other events.

Bikes, Drugs and Cyclosportives

Cycling, perhaps more than any other sport, seems to be associated with doping. The death of British pro Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux was a seminal event, despite the widespread use of drugs dating back to the 6 Day Track Races of the 1890s (cyclists really did have to ride for 6 days non-stop).

Drug use in pro riding can be understood. The prize money and sponsorship is a major incentive as well as the number, length and difficulty of events. Fausto Coppi is quoted as saying that "drugs are used only when necessary, that is, most of the time".

What is perhaps harder to understand is drug use in amateur sport, particularly events such as Gran Fondos and Cyclosportives. These events, often over long distances and perhaps covering a number of serious mountain passes, have little or no prize money and sponsorship is confined to the few specialist magazines. They are not even supposed to be races although many will publish a list of finishers including a "winner" and may present trophies based on results.

From being friendly, minority events, participants have complained that they have become more and more competitive with "teams" headed by ex-pro riders some of whom have been banned for drug use. For example, in France, ex-pros Philippe Gaumont (Cofidis Affair - deceased at 40 in 2013) and Jean-Christophe Currit (positive control for amphetamines in the 1994 Paris-Bruxelles, the control was buried for commercial reasons) ride regularly in cyclosportives and are sponsored by Ekoi who market heavily in specialist magazines.

Drug testing in cyclosportives has been sporadic and not always taken seriously. In 2003 star rider Michel Sacaze was banned for Cortisone use (he claimed it was prescribed following a road accident). However he was allowed to start the 2005 Etape du Tour with a priority number despite this ban. He suffered the indignity of being booed where-ever he competed. The 2007 Etape welcomed French national champion Loic Herbreteau (currently riding for Ekoi), suspended after a positive sample for a mild stimulant.

According to the website Cyclisme-Dopage, 12 riders in the Ardechoise cyclesportive were controlled, half of them giving positive results. Impossible to know which edition or who.

It is a similar situation in Italian Gran Fondos. In 2009 ex-pro Emanuele Negrini, who made the podium of the GF Sportful (ex-Campagnolo) was found to have taken Betemetasone and Triamcinolone. In 2010, Michele Maccanti, "winner" of the GF Sportful and the Maratona dles Dolomites, was found positive for EPO at a time trial in May of the same year. He was allowed to start the event as communications between the various federations was poor.

The five major Italian Gran Fondos decided to get tough in 2011, organizing doping controls for the podium places in their events. Out of 12 controls in the Maratona dles Dolomites there were 3 failures. Belgium woman Eva Van Den Brande for an anabolic steroid. Ex-pro Marco Madrigali for EPO and Andrea Beconcini.

Ex-pro and Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich had hoped for a retirement riding sportifs sponsored by Alpecin shampoo but he figured without the German cycling federation (Bund Deutsche Radfahrer) who have said that his 2 year ban for doping (his blood was found in bags siezed as part of Operation Puerto investigatin Eufemiano Fuentes) also covers cyclos sanctioned by the federation.

The 2012 edition of the Gran Fondo New York conducted out of competition doping controls and post race tests amongst riders signed-up for the event held in May. To the shock of organizers two riders tested positive. David Anthony, who won the men's 45-49 section, admitted to taking EPO and was banned for life from the event. The other rider is disputing the results. The GFNY has a $100,000 prize list.

Former Italian pro Riccardo Ricco received a 12 year ban for blood doping but still lined up for the start of 2012 Granfondo San Marino. Gran Fondo's are not UCI world-ranked events but the organizers were concerned about Ricco's participation. After complaints from other riders about his presence and following a refusal to withdraw a motorcycle policeman eventually had to apprehend Ricco on the road.

Giro runner up Ricco was first banned in 2008 after testing positive for EPO during the Tour de France. He returned to cycling but in February 2011 he was admitted to hospital in a serious condition after apparently trying to administer a home blood transfusion. Some liken Ricco to the late Marco Pantani and think he is addicted to winning and cycling with possible tragic consequences.

A short timeline of doping in Cycling

Ancient World: Use of strychnine by Roman Gladiators to fight fatigue (Italian cyclist Dante Gianello was taken ill in the 1938 Tour de France, his drinks bottle contained 3g of Strychnine). Cocoa leaves in South America. Various preparations by competitors in Greek Olympic games. Egyptians ingested the ground rear hooves of the Abyssinian mule. All considered normal at the time.

1896: World Cycling Hour record holder Arthur Linton dies following illness, possibly aggravated by an overdose on Trimethyl.

1932: Early use of Trinitrine in the LA Olympics, later adopted by 6 Day racers. Helps oxygen take up in blood.

1951: Cortisone synthesized in lab. Widely used in Cycling from the late 1960s. Can result in sudden death. In 1999 Lance Armstrong is controlled positive for Cortisone use but has a medical reason.

1950s: Amphetamines developed during the war for combat troops start to be used in Cycling

1958: Anabolic Steroid Dianabol developed in the USA, steroids are widely used by sportsmen for building muscle mass. Come under greater scrutiny in the late 1980s

1960: Dutch cyclist Knut Jensen dies in 100km Team Time Trial at Summer Olympics. Amphetamines Ronicol is found in his blood.

1967-68: British cyclist Tommy Simpson collapses and dies on Mt Ventoux after consuming amphetamines and alcohol. In reaction to Simpson's death drug testing is introduced at the Olympics the following year. Swedish athlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall gets drugs ban following a positive test at the games.

1972: Dr Bjorn Ekblom of Stockholm invents 'blood doping' removing blood, increasing the concentration of red blood cells in a centrifuge, then restoring it through transfusion.

1981: Human growth hormones (hGH) synthesized, banned in 1989 but difficult to detect as it is a naturally occurring hormone.

1987: EPO (Erythropoietin) increases total aerobic power by increasing the transport of oxygen to working muscles. Athletes have to exercise at night to avoid heart attacks and strokes due to blood thickening. Numerous sudden deaths.

2012: Tea revealed as a steroid masking agent by Kingston University, England.




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