A story from Fox today looks at rumors saying Riccardo Ricco might be targeted by French authorities because of irregular physiological parameters, as a clue for doping. Supposedly such parameters tipped off the Tour de France doping control to Manuel Beltran's alleged EPO use.
Ricco claimed his second victory win on the Tour de France inside four days on Sunday when he triumphed on the mammoth 224km ninth stage, the first of three to be held in the Pyrenees.
But the 24-year-old Italian, who cites deceased Italian icon Marco Pantani as his idol though he was plagued by drugs scandals in his latter years as a professional, said he is getting fed up of reports claiming he is one of several riders to have aroused suspicion at the French Anti-Doping body (AFLD) which is carrying out all the controls at the race.
"I'm not angry. I'm just disappointed," Ricco said of the reports following his victory on the ninth stage which took in two first category climbs.
"I know I have nothing to worry about. My blood values are high, but for me they are totally normal because I've had them since I was a child.
The biopassport idea incorporates serial lab testing to establish an athlete's physiological parameters over time. What particular parameters are involved in the biopassport testing, are held secret by doping agencies, which is a conundrum to scientists who are much more open than that about medicine and about lab testing.
To detect EPO use, blood parameters like hemotocrit (HCT) and hemoglobin (HGB) may be followed. If an athlete dopes with EPO, red blood cell production is artificially stimulated, producing abnormal values -- for that athlete. Training may affect the values some, but not to the dramatic degree a drug affects the biological values. Fox goes on:
Ricco is reported to have a naturally high haematocrit level of over 50, meaning the volume of oxygen-rich red blood cells in his blood is higher than the norm.
The UCI introduced a 'legal' limit of 50 for cyclists in 1999, after many cyclists and endurance athletes were found to be using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) in dangerous proportions.
EPO and other blood boosting drugs increase the volume of red blood cells, pumping more oxygen into the blood and therefore allowing athletes to work harder and longer.
Actually the increased number of RBCs doesn't "pump more oxygen into the blood", but increases the number of RBCs, which allows more oxygen to be off-loaded into the peripheral tissues (O2 molecules are carried in RBCs like tiny dump trucks carrying stuff -- great analogy, right).
Haematocrit is widely cited as the principal parameter measured in doping analyses, although scientists now also look at other readings such as haemoglobin (an oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells), reticulocytes (young blood cells) and by employing the 'off-score' test.
The off-score test has become a crucial weapon in the anti-doping armoury which takes into account both mean (or average) levels of haemoglobin and reticulocytes.
The Tour's first doping case erupted on Friday, when it was revealed that a urine sample from Spaniard Manuel Beltran of Liquigas had tested positive for EPO.
The AFLD carried out the urine test sample after being alerted by a suspect reading in a blood sample taken before the race.
The AFLD had said they would be specifically targeting several riders because of ``worrying'' parameters in some of the 180 blood samples taken from the peloton on July 3 and 4.
However the anti-doping body ultimately admitted the readings did not necessarily show proof of doping.