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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 4, 2006, part 1
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity; please stick to one topic per letter. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.
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Massive response to Landis situation
Once again the Cyclingnews letters Inbox was full of discussion of the situation of Phonak rider Floyd landis, who returned an adverse analytical finding for testosterone after his solo win in stage 17 of the Tour de France. The result of Landis' B sample analysis is expected this weekend, and meantime the rumour mill has been working overtime.
Over these four pages we present a sample of your opinions, ranging from outrage to humour and scepticism to resignation. We're sorry we're not able to publish them all, but we believe this is a representative sample.
- John Stevenson, letters editor
August 4, part 1:
I will prove it, Doping, Landis, tests, Why process matters, Robbie Ventura,
Rubbish!, Leadership & cleansing, 21st Stage, A few minor thoughts, Stage 17
water consumption, Was it a recovery prep?, Anti-doping transparency, Bad for
cycling - are you kidding?, Best way to deal with doping
I will prove it
I for one am willing to believe it that not every professional rider is doped, and have no reason or expectation that you are or have doped. Kudos to all the clean riders who resist the temptation to indulge in such practices.
As to how to prove you have not doped, I am sorry but it is impossible to prove a negative. You must continue to ride to the best of your ability and hope for the opportunity to succeed at the highest level.
Unfortunately the world is full of arm-chair experts who struggle to ride 50km, then collapse over a cafe latte to boast of their exploits to their friends, without having any understanding of the professionalism, character, sacrifice and effort required to succeed in cycling at the professional level.
When one sees a performance where known climbers of World Championship ranking getting dropped off the back by other riders who have never won a National, let alone a World Championship whilst not appearing to suffer, one has to question the performance. It is these performances that always make those "wannabes" come out and cry that "everybody" in the pro peloton must be doped.
Hopefully the sport can be cleaned up, and once again become the essence of "man against man" battle for sporting supremacy in what must surely be the toughest of any professions. I look forward to the likes of yourself and other riders who have suffered under the dark cloud of doping, simply by association through your chosen profession, to succeed and be Champions, at whatever level or discipline you choose.
I can’t possibly understand how anyone can claim that ALL cyclists take performance enhancing substances. It is like saying NO cyclists do, or no athletes in any other sport. The truth must be somewhere in between. And while I think most people would agree that it is impossible to completely eliminate doping in sport, there are also actions that can be taken to reduce it to a minority.
Take the Balco case, Dr. Fuentes, and even the Cycling News item on the Phonak “legacy”. All of these episodes suggest there is often considerable organisation behind the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, and so it is there we need to concentrate. It seems that the people who come out worst from these episodes are the athletes: nothing will probably happen to Fuentes, while Basso will be tainted for his career even if he proves himself to not be involved. So we should focus more on punishing those around the athletes - teams, and even national federations.
Say a team (e.g. Phonak) has a certain number of riders test positive, or be implicated in doping, over a season, the team should lose its license. The same goes for any national team - in the same circumstances, it would lose the chance to compete at the world championships, for example. This would make “organised” doping (or tacit approval of such) even riskier and put extra pressure on the teams and federations themselves to carry out an effective testing program.
I can't speak for everyone, but most cycling fans I know want to believe you.
It's getting harder, though.
If you don't know to prove you're clean, here's a suggestion:
Let a skeptical journalist follow your every movement -- I mean that quite literally -- for the next year. You'll train with him in tow, every meter on the road and every rep in the gym. He'll shower with you. He'll accompany you to the WC every time. You will eat food that only he has purchased and he'll be at the table for every meal you eat. He will personally prepare every snack you consume and every water bottle you drink. Nothing will be allowed to pass into your mouth that he has not inspected and approved. Nothing will touch your body that he has not certified.
He'll listen to every one of your conversations, in person or on the phone. He'll attend every meeting you have with team members, support personal, and managers. No one will be allowed to talk to you unless they make an appointment through him. No one will be allowed to hand anything to you directly; it first must pass through his hands for his own inspection.
He'll sleep in your bedroom, preferably in the same bed with you, so any unusual movements can be documented and investigated. Love making? Get used to the extra set of eyes. Any potions, lotions or creams will first be analyzed in an approved laboratory. Your partner's mouth will be subject to inspection before it can be placed anywhere on your body. He'll accompany you on every night out. Nothing, from a simple morning cappuccino to a formal night on the town will be beyond his gaze.
I could go on and on, but I think you now understand.
OR, you could just live your life the best you can, and not worry about morons who try to paint everyone and everything with the same brush. Good luck.
Guilt by association is a pretentious and dangerous card for Mr. Jaded to play. Well done, Marco. Well done.
In response to Marco Pinotti's letter
I admire your response and apparent openness, but actions speak louder than words. Please will you and your fellow professionals campaign for blood tests to be done on every rider throughout the year. Ask for theses samples to be tested and their results published in a rider's health profile available for inspection by the relevant national and international organisations. Ask for these samples to be kept in storage for retrospective testing. Agree to other tests, and be prepared to to have the findings made public.
With this sort of openness, this great sport might be able to recover its credibility in the eyes of the public and set the standard for other sporting organisations to follow. However without this type of openness you and your peers will (rightly or wrongly) be viewed as probable sporting drug users by the general public.
You can say you are not doped. You can say you'll do anything to prove it. But what can you do really? Even if you have never failed a test, you could still be doping. Masking agents are available, and probably alot of other products to keep you ahead of the testers. And if you don't dope, then you must know who does. Break the silence and expose the cheaters of the peloton. Surely you, or Gibo, or David Miller must know who the cheats are. You and all the other supposedly "clean" riders should band together and get the dopers removed. Stand up for your sport, your fans. Stand up against the real cheats. Otherwise, you'll be considered a cheater just like them.
Mike says say that in relation to Tyler Hamilton and Operacion Puerto... 'we find out that his program (purported) was autologous doping (by far the smarter way) augmented by drug use. Now, he was found guilty of having two different sets of blood cell surface antigens as detected by antibody probing and flow cytometry in a method that Dr Ashenden has claimed to produce no false positives. And yet if Mr Hamilton had stuck to the program, and there's no reason to believe that he would not have, the result is by definition a false positive'.
The other point of view which tends to confirm Tyler's guilt is that although the blood may have been for 'autologous' use, perhaps there was a 'mix up' and instead of infusing his own blood, he had actually infused someone else's (perhaps Perez's blood and vice versa!) and therefore it produced a TRUE positive (and not by your definition, a false positive) test. Also he tested positive to three foreign red blood cell antigens, not two.
The most common cause of 'incompatible' Blood Transfusions (ranging from mild to fatal reactions) in the 'real' medical setting, under reasonably controlled conditions is due to 'clerical errors'. The potential for the similar errors in a clandestine and uncontrolled environment is perhaps that much greater!
If I'm understanding the WADA web site correctly, the tests for epitestosterone and testosterone are done by GC and mass spec. I was wondering the same thing as you, regarding the validity of the test. I heard in the media that the test was outdated and inaccurate, and I wondered if it was some ancient RIA from the 70s or something, but when I checked the WADA site, it looked like that wasn't the case. I must say though, that detailed descriptions of actual test protocols are missing from the site. It would be pretty interesting to have those released to the public.
Mike Capp's theory may be wrong, I'm not qualified to know, but at least he appears to be applying intelligent thought and detailed knowledge. What a relief amongst all the hysterical, ignorant b.s. that has poured out on all sides of this issue over the last week or so.
Many thanks also to Geoffrey Kauffman (Bad science and a possible solution, Letters, July 28) for his clear-eyed view of the doping issue.
Put simply the problem with performance enhancing drugs and doping is that the athlete appears to be dishonest. At a high level, this whole debate is about truth in sport and our ability to recognise it.
Informed scientific comment seems to accept that there will always be a chance that the anti-doping tests are always going to produce some false positives. This means that an anti doping program always involves the chance that some athletes will be wrongly barred from competition. If the underlying issue is truth in sport then wrongly labeling a rider a cheat may do just as much harm to the sport as does cheating.
Policy making about doping should require the anti-doping authorities to be satisfied that the chances of false positives are sufficiently low that the testing program in place does more good (stopping cheating) than harm (barring innocent riders and generating bad unwarranted bad publicity for the sport). At the moment there seems to be a consensus that the anti-doping programs in place are not stopping cheating. It also seems clear that the publicity about alleged cheating is damaging the sport, but it seems possible that not all of the tests are reliable.
WADA, the UCI, ASO, the media etc etc do not even seem to acknowledge that there is any balancing exercise to be carried out. In public, at least, they seem to regard every test as infallible and every rider who returns a positive A sample as a cheat even before the B sample is analysed.
There is a dearth of information about the anti-doping tests. What are the false positive rates of the tests used? What is the range of scientific views about the effectiveness of the tests? It is important to remember that you cannot rely on the scientists who develop or implement tests to be entirely objective about the tests' effectiveness. Their reputations may ride on the tests' effectiveness, or worse, they may have a financial interest in the test's effectiveness. Laboratories do not do tests for free. Scientists who invent test methods may be able to patent the methods and/or set up companies that sell testing kits.
There does not seem to be any scientific panel representing riders and athletes whose job it would be to make sure that the test methods used are sufficiently accurate.
Even worse, WADA now seems to be trying to set the agenda for what conduct should be regarded as cheating (eg. proposal to ban oxygen tents). Their job should be to enforce policy not make it. It is like the police having the power not just to investigate crimes but to decide what is a crime. The more crimes you have, the more police you need. It's the same with WADA, who cannot claim to be disinterested about what is cheating. This issue is about sport, not about WADA and the egos of the people who work there. They give the impression that they are on a crusade to clean up sport and do not care if there are innocent casualties along the way. Their mission should be to develop and implement tests, not to get in the newspapers or to keep their empire growing.
Rather than just carping, here are some positive suggestions to clean up the image of sport: there seems to be a need for more robust challenge about what test methods are reliable and appropriate. There should be no publicity about the tests on athletes until they are concluded. The chance of false positives should be honestly identified. Athletes who test positive should be prevented from competing, but because they might be a false positive they should not be vilified. Where possible, as with the EPO/hematocrit, tests should be done for abnormal parameters before events, and athletes restrained from competing (that Landis has to try to show his T/E level is normal after having been labeled a cheat is a joke). WADA should shut up and stick to its business.
If your readers disagree with these suggestions, they should make and explain their own. No matter where people stand on the doping issues, we all seem to agree that the current situation is not good and needs to change.
I'd like to know what Robbie Ventura has to say about Floyd's Stage 17 ride. He's been awfully quiet.
The Floyd Landis affair is troubling to say the least. But whether Floyd did or did not cheat, there is a related issue that has been less addressed, and that is the matter of process.
We the greater public should still have no idea that a positive A sample was found, should never have heard anything from McQuaid about the "worst possible scenario", and should never have heard damning statements form Dick Pound of WADA. Why? Because the process is supposed to be anonymous until the B-sample is tested or denied as an option by the rider/team. With the labs ignoring the processes set forth in their bylaws, they introduce tremendous bias into the situation by knowing who's sample it is they are testing and by hearing statements of condemnation from their leaders (i.e. WADA, UCI). As it stands, the French lab sold the A-sample results, and knows it is testing Floyd's B-sample in front of an audience - such bias is preposterous. This cannot happen. It is difficult to have faith in a system when the system cannot even follow its own bylaws, nor have the decency to hold information in confidentiality, and potentially succumb to graft (e.g. L'Equipe's consistent knowledge of A-sample results from this lab).
The process should run in an independent manner so that zero bias is introduced - independent in appearance and fact. The UCI and WADA would do well to understand and adopt this principle. That means sacking those in the lab that leaked the results, past and present, responding "no comment" when questions arise (not "it's the worst possible scenario"), not accepting money from athletes/members of any team under its purview (see Lance Armstrong's donation of a significant amount a few years ago), testing b-samples mixed with other A-samples so that the lab does not know specifically what is in their hands, and taking the high-road when it comes time to make comments to the press. As it currently stands, it is a disgrace.
Again, whether Floyd is found innocent or guilty, it is hard to believe the system is functioning if it operates as if process does not matter. It does.
All the doping issues of the summer are disappointing, and it seems that where there is smoke, there is fire. But at the end of the day, all of us would do well to remember those fine words - shut up and ride. That's exactly what I'll be doing this weekend and remembering fondly my 260km ride through the Hell of the North this past June at Paris-Roubaix Cyclosportif.
I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the comments from the UCI and its ex-President, Hein Verbruggen. I read on your website that he said to the Gazetta dello Sport that “cycling is doing all that is possible”. Comments like this only demonstrate either how behind the times the governing body of our sport is, or how for it is going to cover up the problems cycling has.
Yes, the UCI has brought in drug testing procedures that are on some of the most stringent around. But this is only because the sport has been riddled with institutionalised EPO abuse.
But to say “cycling is doing all that is possible” saddens me. Thanks to your website and other sources, I’ve known for years the stories of how riders can avoid the early morning “UCI vampires” by delaying the time between the arrival of the testers at the hotel and the time when they give the blood sample, enough time to hook themselves up to a drip to get themselves under the 50% haematocrit limit. Yet today, the riders are still given 30 minutes to come downstairs and roll up their sleeves. Busting down the doors might be too dramatic but why not a 5 minute warning? That’s enough time to get up and come downstairs, no?
And more recently, there have been rumours of blood doping going on inside the team buses, behind those in tinted windows, just before the start of the race. Reacting to this, pro cyclist Thomas Voeckler called for blood tests “literally on the start line” in an interview with L’Equipe but I haven’t seen the UCI doing anything here. The same methods exist today as they did in 1999.
These are just two examples of where the UCI isn’t doing everything possible. The proxy war between the UCI and Dick Pound is unhelpful. But so is the self-satisfied attitude of the UCI. I don’t just want to criticise the UCI. Let me propose something, why not offer banned riders the chance to halve the their ban from two years to one year if they name those who advised them, sold them and administered the banned substances? Likewise, if they explain the methods they used to avoid testing positive. Only once the riders themselves come clean can the sport gain in credibility.
The current vogue of blaming everything (the lab, beer, family dog, food supplements, freakish endocrinal systems… ad nauseam) instead of assuming responsibility for their actions only makes our champions look like childish brats.
Leadership is prominently to blame. It begins with parents, then teachers, mentors, work leaders, public personnel and officials, and in cycling - team leaders and owners. Ultimately, each individual must be a personal leader, with skills and character acquired throughout their lives. Seldom do we reinforce the do's and don'ts. Rarely do we see enough emphasis on manners, let alone 'doping'. Proper leadership speaks and demonstrates good character and morals. It is easy to observe a lack of respect that has been learned by ongoing generations of people. People spit their gum on sidewalks, throw cigarette butts out car windows, yack on cell phones for all to hear. We need to care more, individually. Express concern for those around us. Too few lead by example, top to bottom. Thankfully, Landis is friendly and courteous. I am hopeful he's also clean. Cycling needs such leaders.
For cycling to improve its image, it will first have to endure a cleansing process. In my opinion, DNA test and get it over with. Should positives appear in an athletes blood profiling, control the information (evidence) and collect numerous samples that can be revealed in due course to the team management, in the presence of officials - then boot them with two strikes. One = 2 years. Two = life. Create a reverence for the essence of cycling, which is the limits to what an individual can endure. By stiffening the procedures and subsequent penalties, all those entering in will see it is no place for those lacking ability or character. This way sponsors are enabled to continue with their supporting role. Theirs is an opportunity to show support for a great sport, rather than just an emphasis on a winning team.
Be a leader, lose the apathy, support the sport, and do as Freddie Mercury said, "Get on your bikes and ride"...
J.D. Howell, Cyclist
Modern Grand Tours usually have 20 stages, plus one. Only after the test results are completed, leaked to the media, confirmed, discussed, argued and adjudicated over can the race results be finalized. Only then can the racers, teams, sponsors, organizers, and media have a confirmed winner. Hence, the 21st stage.
I have had the good fortune of traveling to Italy and France to watch portions of the Giro and Tour. In Italy, we rode Bondone, Fedaia, Gruppa di Sella, and San Pellegrino and the finish in Milan. A memorable trip with friends and family riding the climbs and watching Basso lap the field. Two months (and counting) the results are clouded with suspicion and the potential to be overturned as in the 2005 Vuelta are real.
Whether or not Landis (for that matter Basso, Ullrich, or even Armstrong) are finally declared guilty of abusing performance enhancing substances unfortunately no longer matters. What matters is that it no longer makes sense for an organizer, sponsor, media outlet, or fan to waste time, energy, or money on a sport when the final result is not known until the 21st stage is completed days, weeks, or months after the actual racing is completed. Does anyone believe that Mapei, Once, US Postal, or Liberty Seguros regrets their decision to withdraw their sponsorships, or that the German TV station that has publicly questioned wether they will televise Pro Tour events is serious?
Instead of risking precious time and money traveling to Italy or France, or viewing a race on OLN, I think I'll just go RIDE MY BIKE!
Do riders sign some kind of release that allows medical labs to release the results of their tests? I can't even get copies of my tests from the labs without some serious hoop jumping.
If Landis is stripped of his title, how will we know that Pereiro didn't dope on that stage, too? Maybe they should always test the second placed rider as well, just in case.
Who would have been harmed if the process was allowed to go forward as it's supposed to: in private, following the protocols, with none of the wild speculation and outright mistakes being made by the media? Who stands to gain from all the inexcusable leaking? We all know who loses.
I don't know the answers, but since nothing adds up all I ever end up with is more questions.
Yes I agree. I have never seen anyone drinking water in the quantities Landis did on the road to Morzine. Yes, it was a pretty hot day and he might have suffered partially from dehydration on the stage to La Toussure, but even so the quantities of water from the team car were staggering - and he wasn't squirting all of it over his head. Of course if you have taken something that may show up in the urine test you drink as much water as possible to dilute it, especially after it looks likely that you will win the stage and have to submit a sample!
Landis looked absolutely shattered at La Toussure, and he said himself that he didn't think it was just a glycogen bonk, because he had felt bad from the first climb that day (up the Galibier). The next day he uncorked a ride that even Eddy Merckx rarely matched - and Landis is no Merckx, even in perfect condition. Apparently Landis's personal trainer says his power output on his winning ride to Morzine was no different to what he does in training. Well, if that's the case, why has he never ridden like he did in Stage 17 in his entire career in any actual race? He rode the TDF peloton off his wheel, the other leaders couldn't follow him either, and he time trialled about 100km to win by over 5 minutes. On the last climb he was still gaining time on some of the leaders, and some of the climbers, and these guys had sat behind their domestiques all the way to the foot of the Joux-Plane.
With the benefit of a little hindsight, it is very hard to believe Floyd Landis.
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2006 15:20:12 +1000
Everyone states that he wouldn't have doped because it wouldn't have helped him; Upping the testosterone the night before won't help the next morning. Are they forgetting that he had a time trial two days later? Maybe the Stage 17 win was natural, but he might have been trying to replenish for the time trial a few days later.
I am not a doctor, nor pretend to be, so someone can dispute this thought.
Allen Taylor Jr, Landis Believer,
As others have written, one of the big problems with the WADA and the anti-doping industry is that there is little transparency or accountability (though much arrogance). Further, with regard to testing procedures and development of "norms," it appears that the databases used involve the aggregation of many one-day results from athletes in various sports. Yet, the Tour is a unique event - with essentially three-weeks of high-level performance. Thus, what is needed is time-series data for all of cyclists participating in the Giro, Tour, Vuelta, etc. While this is undoubtedly expensive, there is no other way to gather the data necessary to set appropriate control limits.
Further, as suggested by others, the process by which samples are collected, stored, transported, received (the chain of custody) needs much more transparency and control. For example, as suggested, the idea of simultaneous and independent sample collection and testing by different labs would also go far to alleviate the skepticism that many have that the samples have been "spiked" or that the tests of certain labs (e.g., LNDD) were biased. Again, instituting such internal controls in the testing process is very expensive - but there really isn't any choice. Without major changes, NASCAR, the PGA, and the world-series of Poker will be the only "clean" sporting events around.
Tour de France winner positive! 200 letters in 3 days. Front page news across the globe. Every man and his dog talking about cycling, le Tour, and drugs. This isn't bad, it's bloody great! Why? First of all because a cheat and a liar has been caught. Second because every cyclist (or athlete) that thinks about taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is going to think about what happened to Landis and Basso and Ulrich, and that in itself will act as a deterrent. Third is that you cannot buy this much press! And it's all about cycling and le Tour, and when the 2007 edition starts there will be more people watching, more people there, and even more excitement because it will be clean athletes racing with real human frailties. Fan-bloody-tastic!
It is absolutely vital we respect the laws, policies, and testing protocols that have been well established for many years now. Every cyclist and athlete knows them, understands them, and clean ones respect them. We can only hope that when justice is finally dispensed in the Landis case, it puts the fear of god into anyone thinking about using PEDs in the future. Congratulations to the ASO, UCI, WADA, and all the other anti-doping agencies throughout the world, ignore the whining and moaning, and keep up the fight to keep it clean.
The best way to deal with doping is to test the first 10 riders to finish a race. If values of testosterone, hematocrit, etc. exceed the established limits, a time penalization should be given proportional to the exceeded values. If both testosterone and hematocrit are high, then both penalizations should be added. Such penalizations should be assigned to whatever abnormal levels of whatever are found and added if multiple abonormalities are found.
So, if a guy really wants to dope, he can dope, but know that if he wins he will loose a lot of time.
As you can see, this is the best way to DEAL with doping, not the best way to erradicate it (to me, they will always dope). At least, racers will standarize their values to the established limits.
Races will be very interesting because everybody will race for 11th place!
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