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Harnett says sport of cycling has come a long way from doping era

Former Olympic Cyclist and multiple medalist Curt Harnett, and now Director of Business Developement at the Sport Alliance of Ontario. Mar. 7, 2002

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

With the cycling world reeling from yet another round in an ongoing doping saga, former Canadian cyclist Curt Harnett says he's happy that strides have been made to try to eradicate the issue that has plagued the sport for years.

"We've got to hope and be thankful that the safeguards, the checkpoints, the deterrents are becoming stronger to catch these guys," Harnett said. "I think from a sport of cycling perspective, it's come a long way.

"The checks and balances that are in place I think are stronger than any other sport."

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Cycling took a hit Wednesday when Toronto native Michael Barry admitted that he doped while a member of the United States Postal Service team. He made the admission after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said he testified against former teammate Lance Armstrong in a doping investigation.

Barry, 36, said he stopped doping in 2006. He announced his retirement last month.

The USADA said he was one of 11 cyclists who testified against Armstrong. The organization has banned Armstrong for life and nullified his seven Tour de France victories.

Harnett, who made his first of four Olympic track cycling appearances in 1984, said he doesn't want to judge individual competitors and will let them speak for themselves. He's just pleased that the sport has taken steps to clean itself up.

"I will stand back and let that all unfold and let those people explain to the general population and the public that wants to know why they made those decisions and how they felt they came to making those decisions," he said. "But for myself, I'm still a firm believer in the capabilities of humans and what we are able to do.

"And I'm going to hold true to that faith, that we can continue to go higher, faster and stronger without the use of performance enhancements and drugs that contravene whatever that ethical barrier is at the time."

Later Wednesday, Cycling Canada issued a statement saying the organization was saddened to learn of the developments involving Barry and his former team.

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"The sport of road cycling has come a long way in the last five to seven years to clean up the sport," said Cycling Canada president John Tolkamp. "The short-term impact of the launch of the Biological Passport program has resulted in a much cleaner sport as we now know it today, and today we can witness that the culture of the sport of road cycling is rapidly changing towards a clean sport."

According to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, the athlete biological passport draws upon new scientific methods of indirect detection and uses sophisticated statistical tools to interpret results. The ABP also uses tests to provide a profile for each athlete with a specific reference range for biological variables in urine and blood.

The CCES works in collaboration with Cycling Canada to conduct year-round anti-doping tests on the national pool of cyclists. Blood and urine testing is conducted both in and out of competition.

Harnett said he's hopeful the sport can turn the page and look to the future.

"I think ultimately the sport has come out of that era stronger, cleaner and more attractive to the population," he said. "Again, this seems to be, it's just this ongoing story about the same guy, and sure every once in a while somebody else unfortunately tests positive.

"But there's cheats in all aspects of society. It's kind of human nature. Some donkey's going to show up trying to be a racehorse. We can't prevent that ever from happening."

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Tolkamp said that Cycling Canada is strongly urging the International Cycling Union (UCI) to continue to step up its efforts to clean up the sport.

"We applaud the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES) and in this case the USADA for their investigation in this matter," Tolkamp said in the statement. "We encourage the UCI to follow through on its proposed 'Truth & Reconciliation' program that would provide amnesty for other riders to come forward and lay bare all the facts related to the use of prohibited substances and practices to further the goal of having a drug-free sport."

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