In November, the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) announced that top cyclist and Absa Cape Epic contender, David George, tested positive for the banned drug, EPO (Erythropoietin) and would face a charge of doping at an independent tribunal. George has officially been given a two-year ban, prohibiting him from cycling professionally for this time period. SAIDS indicated that only results dating back to 29 August this year can be erased, thus George’s 2012 Absa Cape Epic results will remain unaffected. With his riding partner Kevin Evans, George finished in second place overall in this year’s Absa Cape Epic, his best performance in the event to date. George has also won the Absa African Jersey at the Absa Cape Epic three times (2008, 2009, and 2012) and, together with Evans, was a strong contender to be the first all South African team to win the race next year.

Says Kevin Vermaak, founder of the race: “As of 1 January 2013, any athlete (professional or amateur) caught using performance enhancing substances, whether at another event or out of competition, will be banned for life from participating in the Absa Cape Epic. Not only will the person not be allowed to participate (as an amateur rider or UCI- licensed elite), but the individual will also be banned from being involved on any level including as a team manager. This is harsher than what is required currently by any federation, but is our considered opinion of what should be enforced even on a wider scale with regards to event participation of convicted dope cheats.”

Vermaak continues: “We’ve chosen not to apply this retrospectively because we believe that would be naive. As has been exposed in recent months, cycling has a dark past. Many riders from this previous era have rediscovered the joy of cycling as mountain bikers and participate in the Absa Cape Epic as their expression of riding clean. Previous offenders, who have served their suspension term, may ride future Absa Cape Epics. We want to be part of the new era of cleaner cycling, and therefore only future offenders will receive the lifetime bans.

“Since the Absa Cape Epic was awarded UCI HC status, we’ve invested more than R800 000 into our anti-doping programme at the race and to date have only recorded one positive in-competition test at the event by an amateur,” says Vermaak.

The Absa Cape Epic anti-doping programme is overseen by the UCI appointed Doping Control Officer who works with the South African Institute for Drugfree Sport (SAIDS) to test athletes. Vermaak adds: “With the financial help of our sponsors, we will increase our investment in this programme for 2013 by increasing the number of athletes tested. We’ll also increase the time-window classified as in-competition testing.”

The Absa Cape Epic has been the catalyst in making the sport of mountain biking more professional in South Africa over the past 10 years. “The prize monies have been increased to R1 million in 2013 which consolidates the event’s position as largest prize purse in the world of endurance mountain biking. We also provide much greater media value output for team sponsors as this year’s event received over 4 000 hours of global television coverage. We feel that our uncompromising stance on dope cheats is another step in making not only South African mountain biking more professional, but also improving this discipline on a global scale. Obviously our actions alone can’t keep the entire sport of mountain biking clean, but I want to be 100% certain that we, as one of the most competitive mountain bike stage races in the world, are doing everything possible to play our role in the quest to eradicate doping in mountain biking,” Vermaak concludes.

*There has been only one reported incident of doping during the Absa Cape Epic when amateur cyclist Wayne Collin tested positive for the anabolic agent, Boldenone and a diuretic, Hydrochlorothiazide, in this year’s (2012) event. Collin is set to appear before the SAIDS tribunal on 24 January 2013. The Absa Cape Epic was only made aware of Collin’s positive test in December 2012 – 9 months after the positive test. Cycling SA did not notify the Absa Cape Epic according to standard protocol, and as requested by the SAIDS. The Absa Cape Epic will await the outcome of the SAIDS tribunal in January before amending their 2012 results. Collin remains suspended from all competition until his case is concluded.