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Christian Vande Velde gaining ground in Tour de France

October 14, 2008 |  2:25 pm

Christian Vande Velde, left, of Team Garmin-Chipotle, puts on the yellow jersey as he is congratulated by Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder after winning the Tour of Missouri cycling race.

Christian Vande Velde never had it this easy.

He keeps gaining ground in the world's toughest bicycle race while sitting at his home in Chicago's south suburbs.

Vande Velde will move from fifth to fourth in the 2008 Tour de France after the Monday news that Austria's Bernhard Kohl, the third finisher and leading climber in the race, has been found positive for the latest iteration of the blood-booster EPO, a drug called CERA.

Kohl is the fourth prominent rider from the 2008 Tour to be caught for CERA, which the cyclists apparently thought could not be detected.

The others: Italians Ricardo Ricco and his teammate Leonardo Piepoli, who each won two stages; and German Stefan Schumacher, who won both time trials.

In addition, Luxembourg's Frank Schleck, who wore the leader's yellow jersey during the Tour, has been linked in evidence found last month to the two-year-old Operation Puerto doping scandal.

And two Spanish riders in the 2008 Tour, Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas Nevado, tested positive for an earlier version of EPO.

This was supposed to be the Tour where lower speeds were a sign that cycling had found a cure to its doping plague.

What happened instead has led the International Olympic Committee to begin retesting for CERA of samples collected at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which may be causing some anxious moments for some distance runners and cyclists and other endurance athletes.

Even if they had been alerted by the CERA busts in the Tour, it might have been too late, because of this irony:

"CERA's advantage to patients for whom the drug was created becomes a disadvantage for athletes trying to cheat with it,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Previous forms of EPO needed to be taken as often as three times a week to be effective. CERA can be taken only once a month -- which means it could be detectable at least that long afterward.

Wadler noted the half-life in the body of earlier EPO versions was 8 hours, while the half-life of CERA is 130 hours, or more than five days. Traces of CERA likely will remain in detectable amounts for weeks.

The French anti-doping agency said Tuesday it had completed its retroactive retesting for CERA in samples from many Tour riders.

But it may analyze them again for other things that currently cannot be found by testing.

So Christian Vande Velde should sit tight.

He may keep on moving up that way.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Christian Vande Velde, left, of Team Garmin-Chipotle, puts on the yellow jersey as he is congratulated by Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder after winning the Tour of Missouri cycling race on Sept. 14, 2008, in St. Louis, Mo. Credit: Kyle Ericson / Associated Press Photo

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