Anti-doping head promises upgrades

AIGLE, Switzerland -- Further improvements will be made in cycling's biological passport program and more riders will be exposed as drug cheats, according to the International Cycling Union's new anti-doping manager.

Francesca Rossi said the UCI plans to add steroid profiling next season to the current blood analysis that led to doping allegations this week against three riders.

"It's the beginning of the story," Rossi said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I am sure that in time the procedure is improving and we are going to be faster when we have a case."

Among the three riders accused Monday were Italy's Franco Pellizotti, "King of the Mountains" at the 2009 Tour de France. Last June, five cyclists were identified in the first investigations opened solely on the basis of irregular blood values since the project was launched in 2008.

Some teams, who help pay a $7.75 million annual bill to operate the passport system, have complained they expected more riders and bigger names to be caught.

Rossi said more cases will follow, and that Monday's announcement did not mean the other 850-plus riders in the program could relax for the rest of the season.

"We will have new cases but I can't say to you the timing. You never know when," she said in an interview Tuesday at her UCI office. "We are continuously testing [riders] and involving our experts. When, statistically, the case is solid we can proceed."

Rossi inherited a project created by her Australian predecessor, Anne Gripper, in partnership with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Rossi's previous employer, the International Association of Athletics Federations, and soccer governing body FIFA are among sports learning from cycling's work before launching their own blood profiling programs.

It will likely be on Rossi's watch that the biological passport's legal validity is tested through the sports courts, if riders appeal bans imposed by their national federations.

"Before, it was a new baby for implementing the scientific procedure: now it's a new baby for starting a legal procedure," she said.

Rossi joined the cycling body in February.

"For me it was a dream," she said. "From a scientific point of view I can implement lots of ideas and projects."

Rossi worked at the WADA-accredited laboratory in Rome, where she became deputy director and oversaw testing at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

The UCI also wants to crack down on cyclists who "microdose." The technique involves taking smaller but regular amounts of banned drugs, such as the endurance-boosting hormone EPO, so that fluctuations in a blood profile are less dramatic and do not alert testers.

"You have to target the rider [for testing] as close as possible to the microdose," Rossi said. "Everything is really like a chess play. You have to make provision for what is the next move you have to do."