The fallout from disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong's doping scandal may include more drug testing at top-tier races, including the Northwest suburbs' own Tour of Elk Grove, according to the head of the United States sanctioning body for competitive cycling.
The Armstrong scandal has gradually changed the landscape of competitive cycling over the last several years since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began investigating the seven-time Tour de France champion, said Steve Johnson, president and CEO of Colorado-based USA Cycling.
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The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency this week explained its decision to strip Armstrong of his seven titles and ban him for life from the sport, saying its investigation revealed "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
Armstrong won all but one of his Tour titles with the U.S. Postal Service Team from 1999 to 2005.
USA Cycling's Johnson said while the rules against doping in competitive racing are strict, there is room for expansion.
"We are expanding our (drug) testing into recreational racers," Johnson said. "We've actually begun testing at that level as well. We are really sort of moving out into the masses with regards to our implementation of testing programs. We have a zero-tolerance policy and we want to make sure that the playing fields are level across the board for all of our members."
It's possible recreational racers at events such as the Tour of Elk Grove -- now ranked among the elite races sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI -- could be subjected to drug tests in future, he said.
Tour of Elk Grove professional racers already are randomly tested for drugs, and the top finishers of the pro stage races must submit a urine sample for drug testing as soon as the race is over, in accordance with UCI rules.
Any cyclist caught doping is banned from the event for life, Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said.
So far, that has happened only once. In 2007, the second year of the Tour, Nathan O'Neill of Australia won the men's professional race but failed a subsequent drug test. He was stripped of the title and had to return the prize money, Craig Johnson said.
That year's runner-up, Mike Friedman, was later crowned champion and O'Neill was banned for life.
Elk Grove's rule is far stricter than UCI's, which suspends cyclists caught doping for two years on a first offense.
"We feel that strongly about it," Craig Johnson said. "We want clean racers in our race."
However, cyclists caught doping in other races are not barred from racing in Elk Grove Village and have participated in previous Tours, the mayor added.
Though drug testing at competitive races is not uncommon, few athletes have been caught doping in the more than 3,000 annual races overseen by USA Cycling.
"In a given year, we may have up to a dozen riders that test positive," Steve Johnson said. Any refusal to submit to a drug test also is considered testing positive, he said.
Craig Johnson said while the outcome of the investigation into Armstrong was disappointing for cycling enthusiasts like himself, the result didn't shock anyone. He believes it's important doping abuses are brought to light to keep the sport clean.
"In a way, I think it helps," he said. "It shows no one is bigger than the sport. Cycling is truly trying to run the cleanest sport in the world. No other sport tests the way cycling does. It is because they are so aggressive in the testing that you see so much results."