Reports out of France that the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD plan to re-test some 30 blood samples collected this summer have cast a pretty major shadow over Cycling and the recent World Championships. Rumors have been flying all week about the number and possible names of the involved, and while the rumors contain no allegations of doping, the riders are at least being looked at for traces of the long-lasting EPO variant CERA.
If the tests come back positive, Cycling will be dragged right back through the mud again, just as signs of its resurgence have become unmistakeable. To us fans, it's the nightmare that never seems to end, and if big names are declared positive, only the worldwide economic collapse or upcoming presidential election would save us from the media feeding frenzy to be unleashed on the sport. In short, it'll be another winter of articles declaring the death of Cycling.
Truth is, though, the next purge may be the last. There are a few aspects of this AFLD scheme that could put a massive broadside in whatever remains of Cycling's doping regime. First, the fact that a CERA test now exists for blood samples means that this one particular product can no longer be advertised to potential cheaters as a fool-proof way to beat the system.
Second, and more importantly, the fact that a test now exists and is being applied after the fact is profound. Huge credit to the Tour de France and the AFLD for doing what races historically -- up to and including the 2008 Giro d'Italia -- are loathe to do: double back and test the legitimacy of race results. The message to potential cheaters is doubly terrifying, saying that not only will we no longer look the other way once the race is over, but we might have a test for something you recently didn't think we had a test for.
The message is that virtually no doping regime is safe. If Dr. Evil hooks you up with the new shit, how do you know that the day after you pump it into your system, someone won't announce a new test for it? Maybe some races will continue to look for ways to avoid testing, but if you set foot in France, how can you ever sleep knowing they have a sample of your blood? Finally, with the biological passports charting changes in your blood, how can you ever expect to go unnoticed again?
The next month or so might get ugly -- or should I say, even uglier -- but if people don't dismiss Cycling as a going concern, it's possible this could be the last round of chemo zapping the cancerous tumors still hidden in the sport.
... Or, put another way, what Toto said.