Keep­ing it clean

We broach the tricky sub­ject of dop­ing. Are there cheaters in MTB? And if so, what’s be­ing done to catch them?

Mountain Biking UK - - UPLIFT -

There was sur­prise this sum­mer when the En­duro World Se­ries (EWS) an­nounced it would be part­ner­ing with the Union Cy­cliste In­ter­na­tionale (UCI), cy­cle sport’s gov­ern­ing body. After all, when ex-UCI tech­ni­cal del­e­gate Chris Ball set up the se­ries in 2013, it was with­out the back­ing of his for­mer em­ploy­ers. Why the big change? The main rea­son is that it gives the EWS ac­cess to the UCI’s tough anti-dop­ing con­trols.

Although the se­ries has its own test­ing pro­ce­dures, en­duro is one of the most phys­i­cally de­mand­ing race dis­ci­plines in moun­tain bik­ing, and there have been mur­mur­ings that some ath­letes may not be clean. French­man Cé­dric Gra­cia, who’s been in­volved in en­duro rac­ing since its in­cep­tion, has voiced opin­ions on his vlog that there are cheaters out there, and at the mass-start Me­gavalanche Réu­nion race in 2012, a prom­i­nent French rider re­ceived a six-month ban after test­ing pos­i­tive for a banned sub­stance. Spec­u­la­tion has con­tin­ued, with a re­cent online poll find­ing that the ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents be­lieved some EWS rid­ers were dop­ing.

Un­der­stand­ably, this up­set many rac­ers. Scot­tish star Katy Winton told us it was un­fair to sug­gest rid­ers were tak­ing per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs with­out pro­vid­ing any ev­i­dence. “En­duro rac­ing is bru­tal,” she said. “But the fact we go through all the highs and lows together means there’s re­spect be­tween us.” Katy said she didn’t be­lieve dop­ing was go­ing on, but added: “Some control would be good, to si­lence the haters and make peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that we’re work­ing damn hard to go that fast!”

Thrills, not pills

Coach Alan Mil­way, who trains Joe Barnes and his Canyon Fac­tory En­duro team­mates, agreed that most rac­ers are in it for the love of the sport, but warned that “where there’s money, pres­tige and rep­u­ta­tion on the line, the sit­u­a­tion will be ex­ploited if we leave too much room to ma­noeu­vre”. He said that goes for other, UCI-reg­u­lated MTB dis­ci­plines too.

Alan pointed out that XC rac­ing isn’t far re­moved from road cy­cling – which con­tin­ues to be be­set by dop­ing scan­dals – in terms of the aer­o­bic fit­ness re­quired, while in down­hill, where races are won by frac­tions of a sec­ond, “be­ing fresher, more pow­er­ful or more fo­cused would surely be an ad­van­tage”. En­duro re­quires all th­ese things, and fa­tigue plays a big part too, so drug use could cer­tainly ben­e­fit un­scrupu­lous rid­ers.

An­other pro trainer, Burgtec’s Dan Critchlow, who coached Josh Bryce­land in his DH World Cup days, said he was pretty sure some rac­ers were tak­ing per­for­mance en­hancers. “Look at road cy­cling,” he said. “Even rid­ers who com­pete in lo­cal club time-tri­als are or­der­ing drugs online. And mo­tocross is mas­sively dirty, with drugs for im­prov­ing con­cen­tra­tion, drips be­tween mo­tos and in­jec­tions post-race. I be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of rac­ers are clean, but it’d be naive to think no one is cheat­ing.”

The war on drugs

When we raised the is­sue with Chris Ball, he said he be­lieved en­duro rac­ing was clean, if only be­cause there isn’t the same money in­volved as with road cy­cling. But he said he wanted to end the spec­u­la­tion and that this was a big con­tribut­ing fac­tor in the de­ci­sion to join the UCI.

“In or­der to work with WADA [World Anti-Dop­ing Agency] and CADF [Cy­cling Anti-Dop­ing Foun­da­tion], we need to in­te­grate with the anti-dop­ing net­works of global sport and con­trols need to be put in place,” he said. “First and fore­most, to pro­tect rid­ers.” Chris said de­tails of the new con­trols would be de­ter­mined over the next three years, but the test­ing would be sim­i­lar to that used in other cy­cling dis­ci­plines.

Ul­ti­mately, we can’t be sure that dop­ing isn’t go­ing on in moun­tain bik­ing. Even though test­ing is in place, you only have to look to our road cy­cling cousins to see the lengths some teams will go to. But at least, from next year, all of the ma­jor MTB dis­ci­plines will have in­ter­na­tion­ally-reg­u­lated con­trols. That means we can mar­vel at the tal­ent and ath­leti­cism we see on the world stage, safer than ever in the knowl­edge that it’s the best rider who’s win­ning.

“I be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of rid­ers are clean, but it’d be naive to think no one is cheat­ing”

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