July 5/02 6:20 am - Canadian First at Tour
Posted by Editoress on 07/5/02
Canadian at Tour de France
When the Tour de France starts on Saturday there will be a new member of the cadre of commissaires responsible for making sure that the race is run completely according to the rules. His title will be UCI Medical Expert, and he will be a Canadian: Doctor Pierre Blanchard of Quebec City.
I have known Pierre for years, as our paths crossed regularly at both road and mountain bike events. Due to his medical expertise, and experience at supervising anti-doping at major events such as World Cups and World Championships, the UCI contacted him to take on this new role, the first time it has been instituted.
Readers may remember last year when American Jonathan Vaughters was forced to compete with one eye swollen shut due to a bee sting. The standard course of treatment for such an injury is corticoidal steriods but, because of the complete ban on these drugs, Vaughters eventually was forced to drop out of the race.
"Outside of the race, we would have automatically prescribed a (steriod) injection for this problem." explains Blanchard, "but under the rules (the way they were last year) there was no opportunity to review the situation and make a decision for appropriate treatment."
Now there is.
Blanchard will work with the teams, their doctors and the riders to review specific needs so that, hopefully, a more humane and common-sense approach can be taken.
"The UCI is moving towards treating the rider as a patient."
Blanchard has been meeting with team doctors and riders for the last two days, discussing individual cases and medical requirements. As instances come up that demand interpretation, Blanchard will provide the UCI position on the matter.
Unfortunately, "the French government is not moving in the same direction as the UCI. We hope to eventually harmonize positions and rules but, for now, there could be a case when the UCI would allow some treatment (ie, there would be no penalty, such as suspension), but under French regulations it would be banned. This could mean that the rider could receive a ban from racing in France, in theory."
At that point, Blanchard would discuss the situation with the team and the rider, "and it would be up to them whether or not to prescribe the treatment. They would have to take their chances, understanding the ramifications if the French authorities decided to act."
Blanchard is optimistic that the attitude is evolving to a more realistic viewpoint. "Right now it is confusing, but we are adapting to the real world, and the mentality is evolving. We see the need for treating the patient, but making sure we are not overtreating. For example, there is a rumour that corticoidal steriods will come off the banned list - they will still need permission, but would be allowed if appropriate."
He also says that the riders are generally recognizing the necessity of the work anti-doping officials do. "In the past we were the bad guys, now the riders generally see us as good guys doing our tests. When we show up at their rooms early in the morning to do unannounced tests, the riders aren't mad anymore, not like 5 years ago. It is sad - cycling does the most testing (in sports), but we get the most (negative) media exposure. However, even the media is start to evolve, I think. I am reassured that we are moving in the right direction."
Pierre will be reporting regularly through the Tour on his work and impressions - a real insider's look at the Tour. Below are some of his impressions as the race prepares to get underway:
"I've seen the Tour from the outside before, both as a spectator and on television, but that is nothing like real life. The organization is fantastic - every detail is thought of. I'm proud to be here and be part of it.
Even two days before, I've never seen anything like it. The number of spectators, media (over 1000), and I've never seen so many satellite dishes - it's incredible!
The other thing is, even though it is big, people keep it at a personal level. Jean-Marie Leblanc (Director of the Tour) still met and greeted me by my first name.
I also talked to Miguel Martinez, who you get to know after having him pee in a bottle for you so many times! He says that he is very pleased to do the Tour, and considers it an honour to be the first mountain biker to go to the Tour (note: Jerome Chiotti went from road to mountain, not mountain to road).
I look forward to the start of the Tour, and will speak to you soon."
We want to thank Pierre for providing this unique look into the workings of the Tour de France. He has a very busy schedule, but still took the time to call us at 11:30 pm (his time) last night.