As I was watching my various friends and family ride Haute Route Alps last week, an announcement from the organizers popped up on my feed. Haute Route booted ex-pro Antonio “Pippo” Garnero off the race. It appears that Pippo had tested positive for EPO, probably before the event, and the French Anti-Doping Agency had informed HR and they subsequently disqualified him. This article says that Garnero was leading the event, which might have been true, but I think that friend Rich said he was 3rd. In any event, he was last year’s winner, so it’s a big deal, at least within the very niche world of Haute Route.
Garnero admitted to using EPO and said the following on one piece of social media or another:
“Early this year, however, I decided to return to competition – this time exclusively amateur – at altitude. During my preparation, I had sensations that seemed to indicate a possible pre-anemic condition, confirmed by past tests. Hastily and thoughtlessly, in an act of desperation, I resorted to medication to try to raise my blood levels to the reference parameters. It was the first and only time I used the hormone…”
He went on to say that since he had never tested positive before, this was proof that he had never doped. I wonder where we’ve heard that before? At least he came up with something creative (anemia) and didn’t resort to blaming it on Spanish beef.
I know what you’re thinking. This is an amateur event with no prize money even (although I think you get a watch). Why would anyone dope to win a nothing race like this? In my opinion, this is the wrong question, because hell, people cheat all the time. People cheat on their taxes, people cheat on their spouses, people cheat on tests in school. In short, we don’t need a very good reason to cheat.
The bigger question is ‘why not?’. As far as I know, Haute Route does not do testing in their events. It used to be stated in their documents that there could be testing at any time, but I have never seen or heard of any, unless Pippo was tested in-competition this time. The only gran fondo that I know of who does testing is GFNY, who have caught a few in recent years. If nobody is testing, why wouldn’t the right type of person (and let’s be honest, at the front end of these events, you find very competitive people) do a little blood work to get ahead?
Why don’t these events have testing protocols? Probably money is one big factor. You’d need to hire people and equipment and labs and that’s not cheap. Then again, Etape du Tour has 15,000 paying customers at well over €100 these days. ASO could afford some testing equipment, definitely. Another reason might be to keep the ‘gran fondo feel’ of these events, i.e. it’s not a race and the vast majority of riders are there to have fun and challenge themselves. The problem is that with the more elite events, it IS serious at the front end, and there are some people who make careers riding these things (and using the prestige to further their job as coach, personal trainer, ‘influencer’, etc.).
Still, it is kind of silly, isn’t it?
Note: Since writing this a few minutes ago I’ve run across an article about a Swiss guy who was suspended for two years for refusing a test at La Marmotte, then again in Switzerland. Maybe testing is happening more than I had thought.