Doping in cycling remains widespread, with cheats exploiting grey areas, experimenting with designer drugs and becoming ever more sophisticated, according to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) which published its highly anticipated report on Sunday night.
The 227-page document, commissioned by UCI President Brian Cookson as part of a push for transparency, and compiled by the fully independent panel over 13 months at an estimated cost of £3million, features one incredible claim from a "respected cycling professional" that 90 per cent of the peloton is still doping in one form or another today.
Although other riders interviewed under condition of anonymity reckon that figure to be far lower, the commission found that a typical response among those who testified, when asked about teams, was that "probably three or four [riders] were clean, three or four were doping, and the rest were a 'don't know'".
The contents of the report, which also provides damning evidence that former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid were complicit in creating a doping culture in the 1990s and 2000s, will come as a blow to many in the sport who insist that cycling has turned a corner.
Although the commission considers systematic doping organised by teams to be a thing of the past, it paints a disturbing picture of a sport in which doping has been pushed "underground", with the situation now "more opaque".
The three-man CIRC panel interviewed 174 people face-to-face over the course of their inquiry. Only 135 of them agreed to be named, so it is difficult to know exactly how many current professionals testified — only Chris Froome of the 16 riders named is active — but the consensus among those interviewed appears to be that doping remains prevalent.
The "biggest concern", the report says, is that riders are able to manipulate the Biological Passport — which monitors an athlete's blood levels — by micro-dosing; regularly using small amounts of banned substances to avoid spikes.
Riders are said to take advantage of the 'no-testing-at-night' rule, with the report claiming many of them are "confident that they can take a micro-dose of [banned blood booster] EPO in the evening because it will not show up by the time the doping control officers could arrive to test at 6am."
Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) — doctors' notes that allow riders to take prohibited substances for health reasons — are another concern, with one doctor stating that it was "impossible to lose the weight that some riders do without assistance".
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According to the anonymous doctor "riders use corticoids to 'lean out' i.e. lose weight quickly, and keep it off, without losing power".
Another doctor stated that "some quite recent big wins on the UCI WorldTour" were as a result of members of the team all using corticoids.
On the subject of TUEs, the report concludes: "There appears to be concern among riders about the way in which TUEs are used for corticoids and insulin in particular, and the extent to which they are being abused. In one rider's opinion, 90 per cent of TUEs were used for performance-enhancing purposes."
The report goes on to suggest that today's riders are experimenting with a range of substances, including Human Growth Hormone, 'designer steroids' and GW 1516 — a substance that sends more oxygen to the muscles, burns fat and increases muscle mass "but which was not given clinical approval because it was thought to cause cancer".
One rider told the commission he had tried "at least 12 different types of substances throughout his career, some of which were highly experimental and which were even designed only for horses". Others are said to be using 'ozone therapy', which involves extracting blood, treating it with ozone and injecting it back into the body.
"Several interviewees mentioned that AICAR, which supposedly has similar effects to EPO, has become popular in the peloton," the report added.
The report also notes that very few riders in the peloton today agree to allow their samples to be used anonymously for research purposes into developing new methods of drug detection.
"A box on doping control forms today can be ticked to enable such testing," the report says. "The Commission was told that over 95 per cent of the time, it is not ticked."
The CIRC admitted that responses varied as to exactly how widespread the problem of doping was today, but said that in a team "probably three or four were clean, three or four were doping, and the rest were a 'don't know'."
"One respected cycling professional felt that even today, 90 per cent of the peloton was doping," it added. "Another put it at around 20 per cent."
Just as alarming are similar claims being made about women's, youth and amateur cycling.
"It is commonly held that it is much easier today to compete as a clean athlete competitively," the report concludes.
"Whether this change amounts to a 'change in doping culture' as submitted frequently seems questionable. In interviews with riders and athlete support personnel it appeared to the CIRC that the basic problem was that athletes would go to the limit of what is detectable by the laboratories and this has not changed."
Cookson will address journalists at UCI headquarters in Aigle on Monday to discuss the CIRC's recommendations, which include setting up an independent whistleblower desk, introducing night time testing, and retrospective sample testing.