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February 17, 2007

Cycling race didn't test for sponsor's product

Amgen Here's a strange story from the world of professional cycling. The Tour of California now admits that it didn't test for EPO in last year's race. The race's lead sponsor, biotech giant Amgen, happens to make genetically engineered EPO.

The company claims to be outraged by the omission:

And now, organizers of the Tour of California, who boasted after last year’s race that no riders tested positive for banned substances, have acknowledged that riders were not tested for what has become the sport’s most abused drug — the blood booster known as EPO.

That failure is more surprising because the lead sponsor of the Tour of California is Amgen, the California biotechnology company that produces the genetically engineered version of EPO, which is sold primarily to help cancer and dialysis patients battle anemia.

A spokeswoman at Amgen, which had marketed its sponsorship as a way to educate people against improper use of its drug, expressed outrage at the failure to test for it, saying that the company had been repeatedly assured last year that EPO testing was done.

The spokeswoman, Mary Klem, said that when Amgen executives were informed of the oversight, they were angry and surprised. “Our understanding going into the race was that the test would be included,” Klem said. “And we were told afterward that no rider tested positive for EPO or for any banned substances.” [NYT]

Regardless of whether the Amgen crew is telling the truth, the very idea of Amgen sponsoring a long-distance bike race should is one of the dumbest plans in the history of marketing.

Amgen makes the most abused substance in the sport. The abuse problem is not under control, and it's only a matter of time before someone tests positive for Amgen's product at the Amgen Tour of California.

For Amgen to sponsor the Tour of California would be like OxyContin sponsoring the Rush Limbaugh Show.

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Comments

"For Amgen to sponsor the Tour of California would be like OxyContin sponsoring the Rush Limbaugh Show."

...or like Cadbury Schwepps, makers of candy and soda, sponsoring programs for the American Diabetes Association...
... or like McDonald's sponsoring healthy eating programs for children...
...or like the American Heart Association promoting heart-hostile foods like Nestle's Cookie Crisp cereal...
or like junk food purveyors sponsoring breast cancer awareness...

Charities, sports and altruistic causes of every stripe have been taken over by profit-motivated industry interests for some time now. Sad.

www.breadandmoney.com

I understand your semantic argument, Lindsay, but I disagree. Cyclists by and large tend to be white and wealthy, and a large number of serious, competitive cyclists are doctors themselves. (Hang out with a racing team some time, and you'll see.)

As odd as it sounds, Amgen is actually a very good match for the ToC.

It's not so much a semantic argument as a strategic one. The empirical fact is that EPO cheating is a raging, uncontrolled problem in the sport. So, Amgen is putting itself in a lose-lose situation. I think Amgen marketing execs underestimated the scale of the EPO problem.
They didn't seem to realize that it was only a matter of time before someone tested positive for EPO in the Amgen Tour of California. When that happened, it was going to be instant negative PR for Amgen, even if they sponsored the tour with the best intentions.

This does not surprise me at all. Money does talk in alot of ways.

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