Drug test costs see cycling tour canned

The fallout from the Lance Armstrong drugs scandal has hit Manawatu with the cancellation of cycling's Women's Tour of New Zealand in February.

The event was again expected to bring the world's best female riders to Manawatu roads but last night organiser Jorge Sandoval said increased costs of policing drug cheats meant it had to be canned.

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said the outcome was disappointing but he understood Mr Sandoval's position.

"It is disappointing because it has been great to have that event here the last couple of years, but it becomes a tough call for organisers like this when they are faced with considerable costs."

In an effort to clean up the sport, cycling's governing body - the UCI - has tightened doping controls around the world.

That meant more requirements for the women's tour in New Zealand and the men's New Zealand Cycle Classic, which he also organises, at a cost of $30,000 each.

Previously he had paid Drug Free Sport New Zealand $8000 to $10,000 to run drugs testing at his events. He had not had a positive test returned during his 26 years organising cycling events in New Zealand, he said.

Next month's men's tour will continue as scheduled, with Mr Sandoval hopeful of bringing the women's race back in 2014.

A conservative estimate by Palmerston North City Council put the economic benefit of hosting the two national cycle tours in Palmerston North at more than $500,000.

Under the new regulations, the UCI wanted to send its own inspector to Mr Sandoval's races, import testing devices and then have samples tested in Australia.

With teams and riders having paid to ride the men's race, Mr Sandoval is committed to staging it. But paying an additional $30,000 for the women's event, at short notice, was too much.

"I totally agree with the UCI trying to stamp out drug cheats but everybody, in every sport, knows those people are at the top, not the bottom," Mr Sandoval said.

"We target New Zealand and Australia's best up-and-coming riders [for the men's race] and none of those guys have ever been found positive here.

"I agree with the UCI, but all those resources should be used where they're needed most.

"New Zealand is a little country and the UCI is treating us like any country in the world and that includes great cycling nations like France and Spain and Italy, but we are not."

Mr Sandoval's men's event is the only race in the country with full UCI status, so he has to be careful exactly what he says. But he is not impressed at having to pay its new testing fee at the expense of his women's race.

He hoped he could generate sufficient sponsorship to be able to reinstate the women's race in 2014.

"I'm a battler and I don't give in ... I've worked really hard to get the event where it is today and I won't go backwards," he said.

Fifteen riders at this year's women's tour went on to compete at the London Olympics.

The Manawatu Standard