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French doping lab receives backing for tighter security

PARIS (AP) _ The French anti-doping lab whose procedures are being challenged by American cyclist Floyd Landis is getting upgraded security to protect its computer systems against hackers.

The computers at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory were breached last month by hackers who stole data and allegedly sent out letters to top officials in a bid to discredit the lab.

French Anti-Doping Agency president Pierre Bordry said Wednesday that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's defense advisory council agreed that security must be improved at the lab to make the computer systems more secure.

``We have reached an agreement to bring it up to standard,'' Bordry told reporters. ``I am surprised measures were not taken earlier.''

Bordry's Nov. 7 complaint that computers were hacked into led a prosecutor's office to open a preliminary inquiry into ``theft of data.''

An article in sports daily L'Equipe claimed the hacker was allegedly part of Landis' defense team _ but Bordry said Wednesday he had no reason to believe this.

Landis' urine samples were tested at the lab and found to contain elevated testosterone to epitestosterone levels, less than a week after he won the Tour de France on July 23. Tour organizers say they no longer consider him the champion.

Landis claims the lab made crucial errors. Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong also says the lab is unreliable.

Landis will contest the test results at U.S. arbitration hearings. If found guilty of doping, he would be formally stripped of the title and face a two-year ban.

The Chatenay-Malabry lab is accredited by the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency.

It helped develop tests for the endurance-enhancing drug EPO, and Bordry said a new committee will give French researchers significant international financing.

The French anti-doping agency hopes to develop testing methods whereby an athlete's biological profile is an indicator of potential doping.

Bordry said WADA has donated US$160,000 (euro120,600) to this research, and a further US$80,000 (euro60,300) to another project designed to show how steroids can shape an athlete's biological profile.

``The scientific community is looking at the bigger picture,'' WADA president Dick Pound told The Associated Press by telephone. ``This is one of the lines of scientific inquiry that we are looking to finance.''

Pound hopes biological profiling will be an effective measure to quickly expose differences in an athlete's body.

``If there is a sudden change in the parameters you may have to say, `All right, how do you explain the sudden change in your testosterone level?'' he said.
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