Last week I got drug tested by USADA! It didn’t come as a total surprise. That is to say, I knew that this year USADA would be conducting random in-competition testing at two Pennsylvania races as part of the USA Cycling Race Clean program designed to help bring random drug testing to local amateur races. I am all for having some random drug testing in local amateur races because without this one is always left wondering whether people are truly racing clean(regardless of whether they intentionally dope or not.)
USADA was at the PA state championship elite criterium event earlier this year, and to be honest, I suspected that might be the case since it makes sense that if you are going to test, then testing at events that might be a targeted performance for some people is logical.
Last Sunday I registered for the Gretna Bikes Race Ave. Criterium. This is a hometown race for me, located only minutes from my house. The race was on fathers day and in addition to me, my brother and brother-in-law were also participating at this race(in different categories.) I had a bunch of family and friends at the race to watch and cheer me on.
At the race start, the USAC official giving the race briefing announced that USADA was at the race to conduct random testing post race and that anyone starting the race would be possibly subject to subsequent testing. Before this announcement I had no idea that USADA was at the race. There were close to 40 racers starting the race. The race started and quickly turned into an aggressive race with lots of attacks, counter-attacks and splits in the field. After 15-20 minutes of racing I bridged to a solo rider off the front of the field and we never looked back. Well, we looked back some, but our gap grew and grew. Late in the race I was starting to feel the fatigue and cramps working into my legs. On one trip up the false flat drag to the finish line I couldn’t hold the wheel and got dropped. With around a minute gap at that point, my goal was to conserve as much as possible and just make it to the finish. I ended up watching my breakaway companion lap the field. I managed to hold off the field and finished the race in 2nd place, my best result in a Category 1/2/3 race to date. I was happy with the result but drained from the effort.
After a cool down lap I went to where my family and friends were gathered under some trees near the finish line. I was quite thirsty and got some water. I was chatting with some teammates and friends when a woman in a blue polo shirt with an ID badge hanging around her neck walked up and asked if I was Matt? She then introduced herself as working for USADA and informed me that my position had been selected for testing. She had a clipboard with a form on it which she wrote my name on along with the date and time. The form outlined in writing that I had been selected for testing and that a refusal to cooperate would result in a suspension from competition for 2 years. The form also informed me that I could consume food or drink at my own risk. The woman then told me that there was no rush to get to the testing area but that she would need to accompany me until we arrived there.
We made our way to the testing area which happened to be in a garage of a volunteer’s home a block away from the race course. When I arrived there I found that my breakaway companion/race winner was also selected for testing. Coincidence? You make the call on how random it is to take the first and second placings for testing.
Next we were offered bottle water if we wanted it and then proceeded to answer lots of biographical/ID questions. This was all done via a tablet computer but also took about half of the time that I spent with USADA. I was also asked if I’d taken some specific drugs(which of course I hadn’t.) I was also asked what medications I am prescribed. Finally, I was asked what over the counter medications and supplements I’d taken in the last 72 hours. Let me tell you, it isn’t as easy as you might think to recall what all you have taken in the last three days when you’re put on the spot!
At the garage, there were several other USADA employees. After completing the “paperwork” it was time to submit a urine sample.
Having drunk a few small bottles of water while doing all the preliminary stuff, I finally felt like I’d be able to pee! The male USADA employee had me select a sealed urine specimen collection cup from a box of them. Next he had me inspect to make sure that the container was sealed and that there wasn’t any apparent contamination. After selecting the container we went into the house and I peed into the cup with the USADA guy ensuring that I didn’t tamper with anything. As a side note, getting a skinsuit to the point you can give a urine sample while you’re sweating and sharing a small bathroom with another person is a challenging feat!
Once I had the sample I was directed to put the separately sealed lid on it and we returned to the garage, sample in hand. At no time did the USADA official handle the sample. I then was directed to select a foam container which contained two glass sample containers with sealing, locking lids. I was directed on how to split the sample between the two containers and then I sealed them both, locking the lids in the process. This was checked by a USADA official to ensure that the samples were sealed tightly and would not leak. Each sample container had a printed number on it that corresponded with the other container and the shipping container. These were all sealed back inside the foam container and scanned, associating it with my information for USADA’s reference.
I was told that I would receive confirmation of the test submission via my choice of email, regular mail or both. After confirming all the information that was collected from me was correct, I was completed with the testing. The USADA officials informed me that it would likely be 8 weeks or so until I would hear anything regarding the tests.
Here’s the thing that hit me and the lesson I took away from this experience. I know that I have not intentionally taken performance enhancing drugs. I also know that I haven’t taken any supplements that would be considered “risky” such as diet supplements or anything likely to contain a banned stimulant. But I do take some supplements. Getting tested made me think about and check into just what might be in those supplements. Sure, I thought I knew what they were. I certainly knew what they claimed to contain, but what was actually in there? Are there standards that can help ensure that supplements don’t contain unwanted or undocumented substances? After doing some checking I am reasonably sure that everything that I take is legal and safe, but it took getting tested to look into this even though it was not hard to check.
What it comes down to is that I am responsible for what I put into my body when it comes to competing and regardless of whether I think I’ll be tested or not, I’m not willing to risk my reputation or ability to compete by not checking out supplements prior to using them. Of course this is no guarantee that I couldn’t consume something on the banned list accidentally but it is way better than not paying any attention and hoping that things are what they say they are. There are several certifications that test supplement products to ensure they don’t contain substances that are on the WADA banned list. You can find two of these certification services here and here.
What can you take away from this? In an effort to ensure clean and fair sport, USADA is doing a good thing and testing athletes, even amateur athletes at local races, sometimes when they least expect it. If you race under a USAC license, you are subject to testing. Research what substances are banned from any use, what substances are banned from in competition use and what substances you need a therapeutic use exemption(TUE) for. In looking at the list of recent cyclists who have tested positive for banned substances in the last year, at least one received a suspension due to not having a TUE for a prescribed medication and while this was declared at the time of testing, it was too late.
Do a little research and know what you are taking and what you are allowed to take.
Do you have a story or experience getting tested. Feel free to share it in the comments section.