The world’s best mountain bike racers competed at the 2013 ABSA Cape Epic. The event is the closest thing mountain biking has to the Tour de France. But is the battle against doping as fierce as in the Tour de France? We put some questions to Fahmy Galant, Doping Control Manager at the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport. – Sean Badenhorst


Photo: Dino Lloyd
Photo: Dino Lloyd


During the 2013 ABSA Cape Epic, did you take urine AND blood samples from the athletes?


Was this any different to the 2012 Cape Epic?

Yes, it was different in terms of the number of tests. In addition EPO tests were also conducted this year. This is the first time that bloods have been conducted in the race.

Why has SAIDS never tested Cape Epic athletes for EPO use before?

This is a UCI sanctioned event and they have overall responsibility on the number and type of tests tobe conducted. We entered into an agreement with the UCI for this year, as we wanted greater involvement in the race since it is a South African event, the prize money is high and, more importantly, to ensure that the testing plan is aggressive.

How many athletes didyou test each day of the 2013 Cape Epic?

On average, nine urine and six blood samples per day.

How did you determinewhich athletes you would test each day?

Podium positions and targeted athletes.

Did you test any athletes more than once during the event?


What were the primary banned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) you were testing for?

The prohibited list for PEDs is standard for all sports with minor exceptions, thus the laboratory will screen for all the prohibited substances as indicated onthe 2013 World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List.

Did you target any2013 Cape Epic contenders in the build-up to the event with out-of-competition tests?


Were any of these athletes from countries other than South Africa?

No, we targeted the non-South Africans in-competition only.

What is the protocol that needs to be satisfied to enable SAIDS to do out of competition testing on foreign athletes training/living in South Africa?

We need permission and authorisation from the mountain bikers’ home countries. In addition to this we also require the whereabouts information of these mountain bikers when they’re training in South Africa. We started discussions with the anti-doping agencies of these countries in March this year in order to give us authority to test these mountain bikers out-of-competition and hope to have this in place pre Cape Epic 2014.

Are athletes preparing for a leading global endurance event like the Cape Epic more likely to dope in the build up to the event or during the event? 

This is likely to happen in the period leading up to the event.

Did all the podium contenders in the 2013 Cape Epic (all categories) have a biological passport? 


SAIDS sent 50 retro samples taken from top South African cyclists in 2012 to Europe for EPO testing earlier this year, correct?

Not entirely. The retrospective testing was done by the South African Doping Control Laboratory in Bloemfontein. The results of suspicious EPO samples needed to be confirmed by a second lab. Those were sent to a European lab.

Did you send A and B samples for each athlete? Only A samples.

Why was EPO not tested for initially by SAIDS?

EPO analysis is expensive; therefore the analysis of EPO was limited to certain in-competition events and the focus was more concentrated on out-of-competition testing. Since the EPO positive came to light we decided to do the EPO analysis on the samples that were not targeted to give us an indication of the possible extent of its use.


Why were the European analyses inconclusive?

Any adverse analytical finding or positive result reported by a lab needs to be confirmed 100% and with all certainty. If this cannot be done, then we cannot proceed with an adverse analytical finding.

If the tests were inconclusive, is that not a waste of money?

No, it gives us a better understanding on which riders we should target and how to improve our testing strategy and ensure it is more vigorous and aggressive.

Do you feel that SAIDS is effectively reducing the temptation of South African mountain bike racers to use banned PEDs? 

The introduction of the athlete biological passport is an important tool to determine which athletes are using performance enhancing-substances. As a result, more cyclists will be included in the Athlete Biological Passport program that involves the monitoring and interpretation of selected biological parameters over time that may reveal the effects of doping, rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself.

We are aware that funding is the biggest limiting factor to SAIDS making more rapid progress in the fight to clean up South African sport. How can the public assist to improve funding?

We make representations to Government on an annual basis for increased finding and they have been very receptive and assisted us. I am not keen on penalizing the individual e.g. to part with a percentage of his entry fee as a donation for something that he/she may feel is not a part of and has no interest in. We are rather targeting multi-nationals that sponsor some of the major sporting events to assist us in this drive. Nedbank for example donated R100 000 in this regard earlier this year.

What does one EPO test cost?

A full screen that tests for all the substances on the Prohibited List, costs R1 260. An EPO tests costs R1 740.

When are the results of the 2013 Cape Epic tests likely to be known?

We are hoping to have it available by the middle of May.


A follow up article a year later can be found ‘here’ 

Doping Battle Intensifies -Originally published in TREAD magazine, Issue 23 (April/May 2013)

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