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by Shane Stokes
June 14, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Alexander Kristoff’s coach and stepfather Stein Orn has said that he is generally in agreement with the concept of storing all doping control samples for future testing, but believes that things need to be tightened up with the current system before this should happen.
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report brought the topic to public attention when it said that despite the perception that the sport was much cleaner than before, that few riders had got behind retrospective testing.
“The Commission notes that despite the statements from riders and teams today that they are clean, the Commission was informed that hardly any riders in the peloton today are willing to allow their samples to be used anonymously for research purposes into developing new methods of drug detection,” it stated when it was released in March.
“A box on doping control forms today can be ticked to enable such testing. The Commission was told that over 95% of the time, it is not ticked.”
Testing methods often lag behind doping practices, showing the importance of being able to apply future analysis to current samples.
Asked about this by CyclingTips, Orn said that Kristoff is in agreement with the principle, but doesn’t always take up on the option.
“The way it has been is that Alexander, when he is in Norway, he always signs that,” he said. “He has nothing to hide. Nothing whatsoever. For our sake, there is no problem whatsoever.
“But he hasn’t always signed the box. That is actually due to a suspicion in the field that there are concerns regarding the security of those samples. And those regards are actually true, because the problem is the primary sample that you give is really well secured. It is handled in such a way that it cannot be mixed up. But when you work in science you know that it is extremely easy to make mistakes when you work with samples.
“You know there are mix-ups and you know you can use polluted agents. You can use a pipette and you can take blood from one, you don’t clean it properly up and then you have a big problem.”
He said that this is generally not a big problem in scientific research. “You don’t go back to the single sample and say you are actually guilty or not guilty. You just use the numbers and those kind of errors will be diluted,” he explained. “So for science purposes it is not a problem.
“But if you are looking at an individual sample, that is a major problem. It is extremely important that if we are to trust the way these blood samples are handled, there has to be a system that is 100 percent foolproof. And so far that is a concern that has not been addressed and that needs to be addressed. That is the reason for why 90 percent has not signed.
“But I can tell you that Alexander, for all samples that are in Norway, in settings that he feels secure, he signs that sample. He has nothing to hide.”
Orn is a cardiac surgeon and has long acted as a coach to Kristoff, guiding him from a young competitor through the ranks and helping him reach the level he is at now.
He is currently the most successful winner this season, having notched up 17 victories including the Tour of Flanders. Orn knows that any rider showing this level of success will be questioned by some, but maintains there is no secret.
“I think the young generation now coming up that it is proof that it is possible [to win clean].
“Of course, I can see on international forums – I am a doctor, he is the son of a doctor, that is suspicious. But to me he is the proof that it is possible. That is a very important that you get through because that gives hope to all the people trying to do this the right way.”
Asked therefore if he believes that the retrospective testing of results is a necessary idea once the system is fine-tuned to address the sort of concerns he expressed, he was adamant this should be the norm.
“Of course, of course. I think it is extremely important,” he said. “I think it shouldn’t be something that you can choose. I think it should be compulsory.
“I think it is extremely important because what we know from the EPO era is that at that time, there were no available tests. I think the knowledge, the understanding amongst cyclists that you can actually be caught many years later when the tests evolve and be disregarded because of what you have done is extremely important.
“They [the anti-doping agencies] should say, ‘we maintain your blood samples for 15 years, 20 years, they may be analysed at any time point if we get better tests.’ That is so important to maintain a preventative measure against doping.
“I very much applaud that and I really want that to be a compulsory thing, but there needs to be extra security regarding the samples so that we know that they are safely secured and stored in a way that cannot be mixed up.”
Also see: Who is Alexander Kristoff? The most successful rider of 2015 profiled