Retrospective Testing - In Retrospect, Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

So, farewell then, Anne Gripper. You chased the Men in Black. You acted as mid-wife to the Biological Passport. And now you've left the UCI 'for personal reasons.' We must in future pin our hopes on your replacement, Francesca Rossi.

Introduced to us with an interview in CN, I was struck by some comments Rossi made about retrospective testing.

For the last few years the UCI and the IOC have been boasting about the power of retro-testing to catch old cheats in the future when new tests are developed. The AFLD's success in going back again and again and again to the 2008 Tour samples in order to get the result they wanted - and the way the IOC similarily subjected Beijing samples to retrospective analysis months after the last athletes had left China - were held up as shining beacons of the future. You can cheat, we were told, but you can't hide. The truth will out when we retest your stored samples. Even Pat McQuaid came out as a fan of retro-testing. Though curiously he manged to do this even as he refused to call for the re-testing the 2008 Giro samples.

But - it would seem - re-testing is not all it's cracked up to be. According to Rossi:

Retrospective analyses in general are really tricky. You cannot apply this for every sample in every time. So it is really a complicated matter for me, in general.

Heavens to Betsy! The Vrijman report wasn't a total work of fiction after all.

I am not speaking about it being precise or not precise.

I am speaking about the fact that you cannot apply the same analysis on all samples that you have, because it depends if the labs have kept the samples or not.

Going by the rules, they should keep the samples for three months.

By chance, if they have the samples longer, you can make a retrospective analysis.

So it is really a different view in this sense.

Ideally, you'd ask the lab to keep the sample for years, but they don't have the space. They can do it only for some competitions, not for others.

The way retrpospective testing has been hyped over the last few years, you might be forgiven for believing that the UCI had a gigantic underground facility somewere near Aigle which was filled floor to ceiling with beakers of urine and phials of blood dating back years and years. The sort of room you might expect a vampiric Howard Hughes to have lived out his last days in, perhaps.

Reality though would seem to be somewhat different. Dispersed storage facilities with samples dating back mere months. So much for a future in which each new test would see heroes of the recent past have their achievements called into question.