Cape Town – Banned cyclist David George has gone from a drug cheat to anti-drug advocate. George, the 37-year-old cyclist found guilty in December of taking EPO, is using his knowledge of doping to help officials plug holes in control strategies.
George has held a series of “conversations” with Khalid Galant, chief executive of the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids).
“The process has been invaluable,” Galant told the Cape Argus.
“He told me: ‘You could have actually caught me a long time ago. This is where you should brush up’.”
According to Galant, after sessions with George and in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, Saids decided to do retroactive tests for the banned performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO) on stored blood samples of 50 riders.
“People wanted to know if there was systematic doping in South Africa. I couldn’t say yes or no because I didn’t have the proof,” he said.
Galant said he was not sure what to make of it when George sent him an e-mail offering to help.
“I didn’t know if this guy was serious, but we took a few tentative steps. It’s like a first date and we’re building trust.
“He comments on our strategies and we listen. Information flows upstream.”
Galant said Saids was an independent body and it received intelligence from various sources.
“We’re administrators and we use science, but here’s a guy giving us information through a different lens. It’s shaken us up, but in a good way. It’s keeping our thinking fresh and innovative.”
George said he was educating the anti-drug body from “a doper’s perspective”.
He said he had provided information about the timing of the tests, the importance of consistent testing and of being less predictable, and testing riders in far-flung corners of the country.
“The way to clean up cycling is testing, testing, testing,” said George.
“Twenty years ago, university students would get smashed at the pub and drive home. Now, if they get smashed they take a cab. Why? Because they know there are roadblocks and they will get caught.
“If cyclists know that if they dope they will get caught, they won’t dope.”
He believes that if the cycling community embraces the controls, “we can get to the point where it’s clean”.
According to Galant, George could request a reduction of his two-year ban, but has not done so.
“I believe he is doing this to atone. He has matured in the last three months.”
George said that by co-operating with Saids he felt he had made a positive contribution.
“Hopefully by working with Saids I can win back some of the perceived integrity and credibility I lost,” he said.
“I get perceived to be the villain. I want to work my way from being a villain to being ‘normal’.”
Galant said he decided to test George’s blood for EPO after “suspicions” surfaced on his biological passport.
“His biological passport – which analyses the athlete’s blood profile – showed possible manipulation of the blood profile,” said Galant.
Bu he added: “I’m not prepared to pat myself on the back because I caught one of South Africa’s top mountain bikers.”