The Tour of California begins in San Francisco on Sunday with a 1.9 miles time trial around the famous hilly streets but the race was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Saturday when it was revealed no riders were tested for EPO in 2006.
This year?s race has big names such as Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Ivan Basso (Discovery Channel) on the start list but 2006 disgraced winner Floyd Landis was the name on everybody?s minds on Saturday after he announced he will be holding fund raising events in San Francisco just few hours after Sunday?s prologue time trial and again Wednesday after stage three to San Jose. The $35 entry fee will go towards helping Landis fight to prove his innocence after failing a dope test for testosterone after winning the 2006 Tour de France.
The news of the missed EPO tests left race organizers angry and embarrassed and race sponsor and EPO maker Amgen fuming on Saturday after a pre-race press conference.
According to the New York Times, Amgen were told all tests, including EPO tests, were negative in 2006. However race organizers AEG have now admitted that the UCI and their testing representatives did not carry out any EPO urine tests in 2006.
A spokeswoman for Amgen, which claims it sponsors the race to educate people against improper use of EPO, was angry that EPO tests were not done in their race.
?Our understanding going into the race was that the test would be included and we were told afterward that no rider tested positive for EPO or for any banned substances,? Mary Klem told the NYTimes.
Klem described the revelation that no EPO tests were done as a ?a big disappointment to Amgen. We made clear that if Amgen was going to continue to be a sponsor of the race, it needed to be a clean race and EPO had to be tested for,? she said.
This year, the organizers of the race have agreed to test riders for EPO after every stage and will personally cover the extra cost of $1,600 for each of the race?s eight days, despite the UCI having a free hand to decide what test are done and when during races. They claimed they followed normal race organizing procedure regarding testing in 2006 but were left looking foolish as they on the eve of this year?s race as they tried to promote the event.
It can be argued that the riders rarely take EPO during races but Klem made it clear Amgen still wants the testing done.
?If somebody?s using EPO in the race, we want to know it. At least we know going into this year?s race that we will,? she said.
Unfortunately the EPO test only detects the drug up to four or five days after it was taken, meaning riders could have taken EPO a week before the race and so in theory could still get the benefits from its blood-boosting qualities during the Amgen sponsored Tour of California.