Cycling-UCI to crack down on drugs, says Verbruggen

Cycling-UCI to crack down on drugs, says Verbruggen

Cycling's international governing body plans to crack down on the use of performance-enhancing drugs during the 2001 season, its president Hein Verbruggen said on Thursday.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) was determined to fight more effectively against the use of drugs, particularly EPO, in the wake of the Festina scandal, Verbruggen said in an interview with Reuters.

EPO is used by athletes to increase oxygen in the blood and boost endurance. "I am not prepared to enter into details but we are proposing the use of measures which will enable us to fight effectively against EPO," he said.

Verbruggen said the UCI would draw on the experience of both French and Australian drug-testing methods and he was confident the battle against doping was one the sport could win.

"Now I spend four-fifths of my time speaking about doping," he said. "I think that finally we can make some progress, particularly as the leaders of pharmaceutical industry have decided to collaborate with us, conscious that all these matters harm their image.

"Cycling is ready to make changes. It has to."

But Verbruggen said that despite the attention that had been paid to the situation in cycling, drugs were a problem across the board.

"It is not a problem specific to cycling, but to all sport," he said.

Cycling's image was seriously damaged by the Festina affair - and recent scandals involving Marco Pantani.

Richard Virenque, five times Tour de France "king of the mountains", and his team mate Pascal Herve both admitted in October in a court hearing in Lille that they had knowingly taken performance-enhancing drugs.

The Lille hearing stemmed from the doping scandal which rocked the 1998 Tour de France.

Virenque was subsequently banned for nine months by the Swiss Cycling Federation and Herve for two months by the French Professional Cycling League.

All the other Festina riders who earlier confessed to doping after the 1998 Tour received six-month bans.

Pantani, the 1998 Tour de France and Tour of Italy winner, is currently being investigated on charges of fraud in connection with an alleged doping incident during the 1999 Tour of Italy.

Pantani received a three-month suspended jail term in December after being found guilty on another doping charge.

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