Suspicions over latest probe into Astana team

PARIS: There is something fishy about France’s latest

probe into the former team of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

Leaving no stones — or in this case, syringes — unturned in the battle against doping is commendable. Unless, of course, the investigation proves to be little more than a vendetta against the cyclist some French love to hate.

The facts: After this year’s Tour, French police descended on a waste management firm, Cosmolys, that many teams use to dispose of their medical trash — bloody bandages, used sticking plasters, etc. The officers seized 15 containers, according to a French judicial official who was happy to brief reporters about the probe but not to be identified by name.

The officers went through the boxes. All of them checked out except one that the judicial official says was labeled as belonging to Armstrong’s Astana team. The official says the box was stuffed with a “large quantity” of syringes and, most alarming, equipment for doing intravenous infusions. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, such IV drips are banned without a compelling medical need.

This paraphernalia is now being inspected by a laboratory, Toxlab. It is looking at whether the syringes contained substances banned for athletes and, if so, whether blood specks on some needles can, through DNA analysis, be traced to riders.

Now for the troubling aspects. The probe comes amid a dispute between

the UCI, which governs world cycling, and France’s anti-doping agency,

known by its French initials AFLD. Ideally, they should be partners. But they don’t trust each other.

Officials at the AFLD suspect the UCI isn’t doing everything it could against doping. In a report to the UCI that leaked to French media, the agency this month accused UCI of messing up drug tests at this year’s Tour. Most damagingly, it claimed that the UCI’s testers granted “privileged treatment to Astana, which the champion Alberto Contador also rides for.

The view at the UCI is that AFLD officials are unreliable publicity hounds. To rid cycling of its drug-tainted image, the UCI has spent a small fortune

building one of the most sophisticated anti-doping programs in sports. It rejoiced that, for the first

time in years, no rider tested positive at this year’s Tour. It is miffed at AFLD suggestions that its efforts are still full of holes.