Mountain Bike Champion Paola Pezzo Tests Positive for Steroids
Inquiry Could Result in Suspension

Pezzo tested positive soon after getting the World Cup in Annecy, FRA
(photo: Brent Brookler)
Thursday, January 8, 1998

Paola Pezzo, mountain biking's current World and Olympic cross-country Champion, tested positive for the presence of steroids following her victory in the Annecy, France World Cup finals in September.

While a hearing is the only formal action taken so far, it is believed that, depending on the outcome of the inquiry by the Italian Olympic Committee, Pezzo could face disciplinary actions by her federation, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) or both. Disciplinary action taken could range from a six month to a two-year suspension. A resident of Italy, Pezzo races for her home country under the U.S. sponsorship of Gary Fisher Bicycles, a Trek-owned bicycle line based in Waterloo, WI.

According to Team Gary Fisher spokesman Jackson Lynch, the specific substance which Pezzo tested positive for is Nandrolone, "a long acting anabolic steroid often used by body builders to build muscle mass." The tests were administered by the Chatenay-Malabry lab in Paris.

"I've never taken this stuff — I've never taken anything. I am innocent... and despite the difficult situation, I'll come back and race in 1998..."

The incident comes to light amid growing concern in road and mountain biking about possible drug use by athletes. Four male cross country racers were removed from their World Championship events for high haematocrit levels - typically indicative of Epogen use. Pezzo, for her part, had passed 10 drug tests last season and passed anti-doping controls at Houffalize a week previous, then two weeks after Annecy at the Worlds in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland.

"I've never taken this stuff - I've never taken anything. I am innocent... and despite the difficult situation, I'll come back and race in 1998," Pezzo, speaking through Team Gary Fisher from her home in Boscochiesanuova, Italy, stated. She also alluded to the fact that, if not cleared of these charges, she may retire from racing.

According to a statement released today by Team Gary Fisher, the UCI notified the Italian Cycling Federation on October 29, 1997 that Pezzo had tested positive for Nandrolone at the World Cup Finals in Annecy, France. On November 27, the analysis of Pezzo's Annecy sample was declared positive again after a second test by the Chatenay-Malabry lab. The results, which were supposed to have been kept secret until a hearing scheduled for January 3, were leaked to the media by an individual at the Italian Olympic Committee.

As a result of that Jan. 3 hearing, Mountain Bike Magazine reports the Italian Olympic Committee's Medical Control Commission has chosen to send her case to the Italian Cycling Federation's Discipline Committee. The federation is supposed to make a decision by January 17, where the commission can enter into a penalty phase. When asked for a statement, Anne-Laure Masson, the Medical and Anti-doping Coordinator for the UCI Antidoping Commission responded that they do "not give any statement on positive cases."

Team Gary Fisher's statement continues:
"Paola Pezzo has been a member of the Gary Fisher family for over five years. We have a very close and abiding relationship with Paola, her family and her trainer and at no time have we ever thought or been given any indication that Paola was using any questionable performance enhancing substances. It is our belief, given the history of the lab, the steroid allegedly involved, and her testing history, that Paola's positive test result is a lab error. Gary Fisher and Gary Fisher Bicycles remain steadfast in their support of Paola Pezzo and we're certain that whatever happens Paola will successfully defend her rainbow [World Champion] jersey in Mont. Ste-Anne, Quebec this fall."

The Fisher statement concludes with the following points which suggest possible erroneous lab results. These claims, though have not been confirmed by The Mountain Zone.

"Nandrolone is a steroid used to build muscle mass - a logical choice for body builders or offensive tackles, but not for cross-country cyclists. It also stays in the body for a comparatively long time, which makes it unlikely that Paola would have used it between the last two World Cup races and just weeks before the World Championships."

The Chatenay-Malabry lab is quite controversial. Last summer, the lab reported positive tests, also for Nandrolone, for several French soccer players. Like Pezzo, the soccer players protested vigorously, pointing out the unsuitability of Nandrolone for their sport."

Regardless of the findings or discipline imposed, Paola's World Championship status is not in jeopardy. Any discipline will involve only the Annecy race and the World Cup standings."

Also included in the team's statement is the following medical opinion, which we have included for your edification and further information regarding Pezzo's specific case.

Discussion Of The Specific Case Of Paola Pezzo
Prepared By Dr. Guido Norbiato, Interdisciplinary Research For Clinical & Experimental Advancement:

Milan-"The UCI has declared that Paola Pezzo was positive for Nandrolone use at a race in Annecy, France on 6 September, 1997. The quantity of norandrosterone found in 1ml of the medical control sample was 7.1 nanograms and that of noretiocolanone was 12.4 nanograms. The urine in the medical control sample was highly concentrated ( specific weight 1026-1026 ), which shows that Pezzo did not drink and was dehydrated; the worst condition to perform an accurate medical control (the concentration of Nandrolone could be 3 to 4 times that of urine in a normally diluted sample).

The reference standard used for Pezzo's test was flawed; -the grade of purity was not known - the level of hydration was not known. Only one point of reference was used for Pezzo's test, not a standard procedure of using a reference curve for the sample test. So, in any case, the medical control test that resulted in a finding of positive for Paola Pezzo is, without a doubt, imprecise. If, by hypothesis, the concentration was not stated by milliliter, but by the quantity of urine produced in 12-24 hours (or by milligram of creatine ) and not stated in the imprecise manner, the values of Paola Pezzo's test would have certainly been within any base standard as decided by the IOC.

Pezzo's World Champ form
(photo: Brent Brookler)
Another important consideration regarding Paola Pezzo is the negative result of her medical control tests both the week before (30 August 1997 - Houffalize, Belgium) and two weeks after the race in question (21 September 1997 - Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland). This will certainly exclude the possibility that the athlete was injected with Nandrolone, which has a prolonged duration in the body and would have certainly resulted in positive tests in either or both races cited.

And it seems absolutely improbable, if not completely crazy that, taking into account the slow anabolic action of Nandrolone, that Paola Pezzo would have voluntarily taken norandrosterone orally (a hormone that is transformed in the liver into Nandrolone) in the few days between 30 August and that of 6 September, the date of the positive test. In fact. Pezzo stayed in Belgium until 4 September and may have eaten meat which contained high levels of steroids (Belgian meat is notorious for high levels of hormone treatment).

For these combined reasons, I consider it reasonable that Paola Pezzo did not voluntarily take Nandrolone in the race in question. The low levels of norandrosterone and noreticolanolone that were found can be attributed to imprecise procedures and processes on the part of the testing laboratory, as well as the involuntary ingestion of food that was contaminated with Nandrolone, which would produce the hormone byproducts that resulted in the positive test on 6 September, 1997."

Go to Update

Ari Cheren, Mountain Zone Correspondent Follow-up Stories:
[Doubts over Guilt] [Charges Cleared] [Pezzo Exonerated]

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