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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 11, 2006, part 2
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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 11, part 1:
Patrick Lefevere, "The media knew before I did", A couple of questions , Distribute
the testing, A possible scenario for Landis, A real Tour, Anti-doping transparency,
Anyone hear Jack Nicholson?, Are we fighting doping or not?, Bad for cycling
- are you kidding?, Best way to deal with doping, Can some one please tell me...
, Case thrown out, CIR and T/E tests, Collect samples every day from everyone,
Complaining about drugs in cycling, Corruption in the system
I'd like to suggest an alternative theory to the hypocrites who blame the riders and assume their guilt without knowing the facts. It's my belief that the administrators of the sport are the ones dragging it into the dirt. They are ever more zealous in their desire to expose cheats, which in itself is fine. But zeal almost always oversteps the mark and I don't believe at all that all of the tests or processes are infallible. Yes, there is an endemic problem and yes, they are doing their best to fight the flames, but the increasingly public way in which they operate - not to mention WADA, the UCI etc. competing for credibility - is what attracts the public's notice. Hell, Floyd Landis has been interviewed by BBC Radio 4, which has less interest in cycling than I do in feminist politics. Pat McQuaid, Jean Marie Leblanc and Dick Pound will never be charged with cheating, but they are the egos damaging the sport's reputation. All of this should be handled far more sensitively and discreetly.
The sport of cycling will survive. If the organisations that provide the money walk away because they believe the sport is corrupt, a return to an amateur sport would be no bad thing. Ditto for all the other sports dying a slow death by commercialism.
By the way, the fact that fewer spectators followed the tour this year was widely reported in negative terms. Crap. It is only negative for the vested commercial interests who want maximum publicity for their investment. I bet the riders appreciated having fewer idiots on the roadsides, if they even noticed.
Press reports on the state of professional cycling have come to focus on an individual rider, as they so often do. Floyd Landis is cycling's current bete noire.
The cycling establishment has also contributed to the personalisation of the issue of doping. In today's first edition you report that
"Pat McQuaid, president of cycling's international governing body, the UCI, has told Swiss magazine L'Illustré that the structure of professional cycling may have to undergo dramatic changes in the wake of Floyd Landis' positive drug test".
Of course, Pat McQuaid is facing the highest profile doping cases that this sullied sport has yet had to face. But, by far the most insidious case, the one that truly merits McQuaid's promised audit and these 'dramatic changes' is the 'Madrid Affair', Operacion Puerto. Here we have extensive prima facie evidence of what many of us devoted to the sport have suspected for many years - that doping is thoroughly institutionalised in professional cycle racing. The network of implicated medical professionals, team directors and riders that this investigation appears to be uncovering is far more significant for professional cycle racing [and other sports?] than the one off case of Floyd's elevated testosterone ratio.
Indeed, could it be that in some inverted way Floyd is a victim of Operacion Puerto? Scarcely mentioned as a consequence of what is being uncovered in Madrid is the failure of existing testing Laboratories, particularly perhaps Chatenay-Malabry in Paris, to uncover widespread doping abuse right at the top of the sport. The top names that are coming through from that Operacion - Basso, Ullrich, Hamilton, Mancebo, Sevilla - have, it would seem, been on major doping regimes. Yet the 'laboratory of the Tour de France' has never picked them up. Instead there is plenty of evidence that the same laboratory had been determined, even fixated on, nailing a certain American rider. That effort largely failed but Floyd is the next American in line.
I take no sides in this matter except a rational analytical one. The science and the social complexities need to be fully investigated in equal measure before sides should be taken. Scientific findings point to a comfortable cause and effect analysis - Floyd takes testosterone and wins crucial stage and goes on to win the Tour. But what are the organisational and commercial motives of those other actors that are working in this milieu? I trust that Floyd Landis' case will be fully heard and that the desire for high profile scalps will not prevent that thorough understanding of the milieu within which his particular case is caught up. Let us root out the quasi-criminal doping networks in professional cycling. Let us be clear about the competencies, media contacts and 'agendas' of the dope testers. Let us deal with one-off cases such as that of Floyd Landis armed with awareness that explanation may lie as much in the organisational world of cycling as it does in a test tube.
People have been arguing that testosterone use would not produce such a great comeback. If Floyd is guilty, it is extremely unlikely that the only thing illegal that he took was testosterone. More than likely, if guilty, he also blood doped, took a stimulant, took some form of analgesia, and/or took growth hormone. These were either successfully masked or are not able to be tested for. The riders caught up in the Operation Puerto affair as well as the many riders convicted of doping but who never tested positive are testament to the fact that a negative test is not proof of being a clean rider. Arguing that he must be innocent because testosterone does not explain his truly unbelievable ride in Stage 17 is being a little naive.
Also naive is to argue that Floyd would not take the risk of doping knowing that he'd be tested if he won the stage. Riders that dope do so with the help of people like Dr Fuentes who can show a rider how to do it and still test negative. Occasionally though, stuff ups in doses or levels occur. Just ask Roberto Heras.
A further bizarre argument used has been that Floyd's aggressiveness during and after Stage 17 would put his testosterone level up. It is the testosterone that leads to the extra aggression rather than the aggression leading to extra testosterone.
Dr Patrick Charles.
It is certainly sad that cyclists feel the necessity to dope. However, the main factor which I find unpleasant is that all those found guilty through tests claim innocence, surprise, even shock. Why don't they just own up and get it over with? Better still, they should stop cheating both themselves and the public without whom there would be no great competitions. Could you imagine a Tour de France with nobody at the arrival points and no one along the roadways to cheer them on.
As I know the Landis situation is huge. Rather than add to the fodder I'd like to touch on a few things, and Floyd will certainly be one of them.
Beginning with the obvious, the rate at which tour stages run not to mention the longevity of a GT itself, we ALL know that Gatorade doesn't do the trick. As a former semi-pro (and sadly MUCH slower than Floyd, GH, LA jU, etc) I know that the differences between UCI controls and non UCI races differ greatly. Try riding a kermisse stuffed between a pack of ephedrine or 'P/B' crazed twenty-somethings with nothing more than 20eu on the barrel. It DOES happen. I've had plenty of DS's try and give me (blah blah blah) for whatever reason. My own personal doctor(s), after an injury, prescribed several things I don't care to mention but which the UCI would not be happy about because of their nature. In his (the doc's) words, as best as I remember; "You can't continue at this level without regular cycles of blah blah blah."
Now to Floyd. I happen to be one of the few who DOES believe most of the pelo is on jet fuel. Floyd, I'm not so sure. There is his background, of which I am more than vaguely familiar, not to mention his character. Sure, I remember Tyler, still a monster on a bike, doesn't live far from me, but Floyd is Floyd. Let's at least give him credit for not being DUMB enough to ride 6+ minutes off the pelo while 'hot'. He may or may not have a PhD but not one of us wouldn't be able to figure that that may attract some attention. Beyond that maybe he was using endro-testo for recovery. I don't know, nor do I care at this point. It's a sport, I've seen 8 year old kids on BMX bikes on so much MTN DEW before a stage (provided by mom and dad) that they couldn't hold still. Is it 'OK'? I'm not the one to pass judgement, but let it go.
And please, just ride your bike. These guys are just athletes, and mostly entertainers. Hot or not, he's darn tough, and darn fast ... and definitely not alone.
Why hasn't the Landis defence team suggested that his sample was tampered with after he gave the sample or while it was being tested? There is always a chain of custody issue in regard to physical evidence and the credibility or reliability of who's doing the testing (not just the tests themselves) must be cross examined. There have been many explanations and excuses for the elevated testosterone levels, but why hasn't this defence been mentioned? Isn't it the same lab that tried to discredit Armstrong? Might there be animosity by the French against another American winner of their Tour?
During my research career, I have performed post-doctoral research in analytical/biological chemistry of the kind that is used in doping tests. Although I do not have specific knowledge of the exact tests used and I don't have the test data in front of me, I have to say that this kind of analysis is based on very solid science. It is impossible to prove anything with 100% confidence (except in mathematics), but doping tests probably come as close as we can get in the real world. I have performed thousands of experiments of the kind used in doping tests and am fully convinced about this. I believe that it is totally implausible that the test is wrong and Landis is innocent. Also the fact that the result has been leaked to the media prematurely does not affect the accuracy of the test or cause testosterone to appear in his sample.
Dr Marc Roddis
I have now had time to do a little more reading on the subject of testing, and please forgive me if some of this gets a little technical, but of course that is the nature of the subject.
From what I can gather (and in that phrase is some of the problem), most small molecule drugs and their metabolites would be screened for using automated methods such as ELISA, and if a positive were found the result would be confirmed by GC-MS. GC-MS, as the hyphen indicates, is a two part method in which the GC (gas chromatograph) provides separation by chemical characteristic, in the case of testosterone primarily by it's relative polarity, and the Mass Spec provides a look at the contents of the little slice of sample that comes off of the GC column in the "testosterone" position, separating these contents by mass-to-charge ratio. You will note that the GC column does not produce a peak that is uniquely Testosterone as any other compound that is in the sample that has the same relative polarity will probably co-elute. The MS should distinguish the various contents of the peak provided the system is well maintained, proper controls are run, etc., etc., If all sample extractions, controls and so on are done correctly, total amounts of Testo, Epitesto and so on measured by ELIZA and by GC-MS should be comparable although not necessarily identical. If they are not comparable, there is a problem with one or both methods.
Some of us feel that GC is not the best method for analysing steroids since the GC column is heated to elute the analytes, and steroids are by nature somewhat heat labile. This would probably result in steroid concentration values that were on the low side in some cases. If I were setting up from scratch, I would probably chose to use microbore HPLC as my separation method to interface with the MS, although there are some technical issues here too.
Natural carbon has multiple isotopes, the most frequent of which are 12-C and 13-C. A 13-C atom has an extra neutron in its nucleus. The natural distribution is about 98.9% 12-C and about 1.1% 13-C. Certain biological and geological processes can select for one or the other isotopes, and the plant sterols used to make synthetic testosterone are relatively enriched for 12-C. Or to put it another way, the percentage of 13-C has dropped from 1.1 to about 1 or a little less. Very small differences indeed, but differences that can be measured outside of error if everything is done correctly.
The Isotope Ratio MS system is much the same except that there is an oxygen oven between the GC and the MS, so that peaks of carbon-containing compounds coming off of the GC column are degraded to CO2 plus other breakdown products, then the MS detects the ratio of C-12 CO2 and C-13 CO2. Jacques De Ceaurriz (the director of the Chatenay-Malabrey Lab) is quoted as saying the method is foolproof, but as you can see from above, any non-Testosterone, carbon containing compound that co-elutes with Testosterone would contribute to the isotope ratio, and any compound that has a different ratio than natural Testosterone would skew the result. The correct control is to run the sample on GC-MS, prove that there is only T in the T peak, then to connect the same GC to the oven/MS assembly to do the IR analysis. Using a different GC or GC column risks changing the selectivity of the system and maybe moving some non-T compound into the T peak.
In the case of Mr Landis, it would be unreasonable to expect the B sample to test differently than the A sample. The people actually working in the lab are probably decent, smart, hard working people doing their job as best they can. They will be following a prescribed procedure with equipment specified in the protocol and can presumably repeat their work with good precision. The question is whether the procedure laid out provides the correct answer under all conditions, that is, what is the ruggedness of the method? (And I'm obviously avoiding the issues surrounding the political aspects of the war on drugs, and the obvious presence of a "mole" in the Paris lab) I would feel better about the testing if I knew more about the protocols, and would feel less queasy if the B samples were analysed at a second lab using separate protocols.
Now, how do we the public find out how these tests are really conducted and how much care is applied? Well the answer is- we can't. While all these detection methods are supposed to be peer-reviewed and published in reputable scientific journals, the ones I've looked at so far have been little more than notes and the reviewers have done a very poor job of pressing the authors for detail. I would have rejected each of them. The authors would probably argue that the minimal details would make it more difficult for dopers to circumvent testing. But I think there's at least a whiff of lower-grade science here.
An example of this would be the small sample size taken in population studies- 17 controlled positives in the seminal paper for the Heterologous Blood-doping test, 8 in the Isotope Ratio paper. It's well known that the further you look in biological systems the greater the diversity you find. We know surprisingly little about human physiology despite knowing quite a lot. Testosterone in the male comes from two main sources, the testis and the adrenal gland. Testicular testosterone is by far the greater proportion of the total normally, and it's circulating concentrations don't fluctuate greatly. Adrenal steroid production would be under the control of the pituitary gland and that under control of the hypothalamus, and subject to much greater variability. Extraordinary events might shunt steroid synthesis down the testosterone pathway, but most likely adrenal testo would still be the smaller part of the total. Normally, most testo from both testes and adrenal would be synthesised from circulating cholesterol (and I'm certainly being simplistic here), and therefore would share a common carbon isotope ratio. I think. But I can't find any confirmation of this. As far as I can tell, this sort of investigation is not being done, and of course, where is the budget to do this kind of work? This is only sport, after all.
Back to Mr Landis. Assuming all the test methodologies have been correct, then he had synthetic Testo in his system for a period starting around stage 17. If he did not put it there, he needs to look around him to see who might have. It's quite reasonable to think he might have panicked when his (maybe last) Tour seemed to be going down in flames; it's also not unreasonable to think someone around him might have panicked on his behalf. It would be a lot easier to get some Testo conjugate into an unsuspecting riders system than a couple of packs of his own red blood cells. Mr. Landis says there's a zero chance that could have happened, but really, ZERO? And on a team with such a doping record?
On to the Hamilton result. While I agree with Rob Parisotto that Hamilton and Perez might have got their RBC packets switched, they would have been lucky not to get terribly sick if they had done so. Other possible explainations would be the practice of "plasma washing" old stocks of RBC (to stretch the life of a pack) where donor plasma would be used to wash away damaged cells and breakdown products, during which remaining RBCs might pick up free RBC surface antigens from the plasma, and later present as multiple, much less common, set of antigens to antibody probing. Alternatively, long term cold storage might result in cleavage or re-folding of cell surface antigens resulting in cross-recognition during probing. Of course, this possibility has ramifications in other tests, such as EPO testing of frozen urine by the current methodologies.
OK. That's more than enough. I promise not to write anymore about this.
I just got back from the Grandview Firehouse 50, a grassroots fundraiser race held in Northern Wisconsin for many years. It offers a TT, a road race and a shorter race/participation ride, some of it on some pretty rough roads. Something more than a thousand riders were there, many with families for support, some whole families competing. No prize money, some riders with team sponsors, but pretty much everyone just regular folks balancing family, job and home, but everyone hooked enough on the bike to get themselves ready for a pretty gruelling event which ends up feeling more like some kind of biking festival. I'm not going down the "We're all winners!" road here, but it occurs to me that the pros we follow, despite their dazzling talents (augmented or not), are certainly no more deserving of our admiration than all the regular Joes and Joeleens who struggle to balance all of life's demands and still make time for the bike, when the bike itself is the only reward.
So I'm going to be reading this site a little less often, and spending a little more time on my bike, if I can.
If the UCI really wanted to clean up cycling, here is a possible way:
Make it illegal for any rider on the Pro Tour (or whatever the top echelon turns into) to accept any kind of medical treatment whatsoever from any practitioner not sanctioned in writing by their team management.
Any involvement with a doctor or clinic outside his team management's list would get the rider thrown out for 2 seasons, a second one gets them thrown out for good.
Any team involved in questionable medical behaviour (easy enough to monitor with a UCI employed doctors overseeing every teams' medical programmes, two doctors per team) gets thrown out with their entire management and coaching personnel out of the Pro Tour for good.
The onus would be on the teams to manage their athletes' health without cheating.
I don't believe the pressure to cheat is coming from the sponsors. The sponsors provide plenty of pressure to get results, but the management of teams and especially personal managers of riders need close scrutiny. If Landis and co were really guilty of the sophisticated (and dangerous) medical interventions they are accused of, they deserve to be thrown out of the sport. But I don't believe they could operate without the complicity of their team management, and those guys should be thrown out too.
Testing is not the answer. Look how complex the apparent cheating has become, and how technical the tests have to be.
Cyclists would bleat about invasion of privacy and their rights to freedom, I say if they have a problem with a transparent and closely monitored medical regime, go back to their day job.
In response to the well-thought out proposal by Clay a number of issues arise. The most startling is the chain of custody, the sample goes from company A to B to C and back again to B and to multiple agencies for testing the "B" sample. That's a lot of "hands" to trust. Theoretically it could be a logistical nightmare both for a governing body to prove or for a accused to defend. Finally, the law firm may be accused of having an inherent conflict of interest in that it represents the riders. Unfortunately there is no perfect solution. A start might be reducing the Tour stages (see Tom Boonen's comments) but that was already rejected, so as long as the organizers expect the impossible it may be that "assistance" may be around.
Nicholas A. Chivily
As an occasional Tour de France watcher with no ties to cycling or any other sport I was astounded to watch [Tour Down Under organiser] Mike Turter effectively defend drugs in cycling (ABC News 10th August) by attempting to point the finger at other sports.
My message to Mike is that he would be better off supporting draconian anti drug regimes in his own sport rather than bury his head in the sand by claiming it's worse in other sports.
Maybe it is but that hardly condones relaxing the anti drug effort in cycling.
Maybe Mike just wants spectacular racing in the Tour Down Under irrespective of which rider is taking what stimulants.
Is that what we want in Australia?
Somebody step up and be a goddamned man! Landis needs to admit it if he did it. If someone else sabotaged his results or gave him testosterone without his knowledge, the same goes for you. Dragging the fans through this bullshit any longer is just "twisting the knife" a little more each day.
I am interested to read that so many people feel that the process that has lead to Floyd Landis being implicated for doping has been flawed. To me it seems quite logical:
1) You test the stage winner (a known protocol that the riders and teams are aware of),
2) The A sample comes back positive so you alert the team of the athlete who makes this information public,
3) Everyone waits for the B sample,
4) The relevant parties act on the result.
I think that certain athletes have demonised the press and the bureaucratic processes which surround the sport over the years, without remembering that these same bureaucratic initiations and journalists are the ones to give the sport professional validity and make their heroes into superstars.
I'm sorry that many people seem to be acting so illogically in defending someone they perceive as a "nice guy."
Reality check: the nice guys also let you down - something that should have been figured out during the whole Tyler debacle.
In the August 7th, 2006 Cycling News, the Directeur Sportif of Caisse d'Epargne's, Eusebio Unzue, commented that "350 controls have taken place in the Tour, and only Landis' one was positive." This has been my thought since all this started, yet not in the same way as Unzue. I find it extremely hard to believe that out of all of those tests and all of the athletes in the Tour, only Floyd was doping (which I still don't believe). Floyd had been tested all along with each Yellow Jersey and at other times, most likely, and knew he'd be tested if he won the stage or got the Yellow Jersey back. He knew if he did dope and was caught, he'd be sanctioned and probably lose his chance to ride professionally ever again.
Why is it so hard to believe in a man who carries himself and presents himself with the most grace and confidence I have ever seen, even under circumstances that the average person could never imagine? In the time it took for one press release to spread throughout the world, his life has turned into pure *$ @. Why is it so hard to believe in a man who has worked his butt off for years to reach the level he has in a sport that he loves? And he has reached that level by working his way up through the ranks and putting his time in as a nobody in the sport. He didn't all of a sudden overnight become a great cyclist. He was, after all, one of the favourites going into the Tour even before Basso and Ullrich got tossed. Why is it so hard to believe that there may be the simplest explanation for the results of those tests? Why is it so easy to believe that he would risk absolutely everything just to win a race?
I've been very disappointed in all the riders and team directors that came out immediately after the story first broke and started slamming a man that just a week before they had grown to admire and respect for what he accomplished. Was all that adulation just for show? Did they really believe all along that he must have done something funny because nobody could do what he did otherwise? Sure they could. It's called hard work, heart , determination, and knowing you've probably already lost the Tour so why not give it everything you've got. I hope none of those riders ever has to experience what Floyd is going through. I don't think they handle it quite as well.
Obviously, I support Floyd. Obviously, I believe he's innocent. I will continue to believe so until he says otherwise. That's the way it should be. To turn a man from a hero to a villain so quickly and damage his reputation probably for the rest of his life regardless of if he's ever cleared, is simply inexcusable. The Cycling Federations and the UCI and all those other organizations seem to be more concerned about how things look than to give somebody the benefit of the doubt. Look at all the riders thrown out of the Tour that have since been cleared by the Spanish Courts. They were robbed of their chance to ride and possibly win the Tour because of how it might look. Not one of them had been charged with anything and have yet to be.
I hope Floyd fights this as long as it takes to clear his name. And when he does, I hope the Tour organizers and the riders and the fans and the "experts" and all those who turned on him at the drop of a hat feel that same shame and embarrassment they've been trying to make him feel for the past 10 days.
Oh yeah, and I hope Floyd comes back next year and wins again.
Despite fines, sanctions and loss of livelihood athletes continue to push the envelope regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs in all professional sports. I think it's wonderful to have regulations that are meaningful, but who exactly is harmed when an athlete "dopes." The harm comes from the disproportionate use of resources by only those willing to "cheat."
The "level playing-field" concept is suited to amateur athletics but is found wanting in regard to professionals at the elite level. While it is admirable to have a "clean" sport, is it realistic? Shouldn't we be letting modern technology work its wonders on the human body for our viewing pleasure? If performance-enhancing drugs are being used it's because they work.
If we have to have constant vigilance of all pro athletes and doubt all performances, then isn't it the people who are paying to watch the sports the ones being harmed? Legalize all of the stuff and allow physician's to prescribe it.
If that sounds defeatist, or immoral, then so be it. Human nature is a powerful motivator. Do we really want nothing more than an endless parade of "bad apples." I didn't use to feel this way. If you invest your soul, time, and money into a sport you begin placing value on historical records. When drugs come into play then all the numbers that were produced become suspect. That creates undesirable mental tension. When your enjoyment of sport is replaced by tension and doubt what is your alternative?
We live in a world where the rule-of-law is an important part of keeping our civilization together. It is easy to try and transpose law-enforcement procedure useful to society onto the sports world. But I'm not so sure it's the productive way to go. To be continually holding human nature hostage we are ruining it for the spectators. Instead it has become a power-play between the organizations and the elite athletes who pay their salaries in their quest to police doping.
The only way to accomplish a level playing field is to allow doping by qualified physicians. We can continue the path of resistance which leads to scandal, or we can start being adult about real-world implications. To try and legislate human nature is a tricky game. It's right to seek the higher ground, but if it is unrealistic then society needs to face the facts.
It's interesting to note that the concept of an illegal drug is a 20th century invention. Before 1914 there was no such thing as an illegal drug in the U.S.. Maybe it's time to reconsider our current policies. They're not realistic, and as such, they are useless. Ideals are fine things in abstract but when they continually butt up against a very different reality they need to be seriously reconsidered.
Whether it be in business, sex, or politics, people will always strive to increase their level of performance and satisfaction. The real problem becomes when the benefits to be gained are recognized by only a small number of individuals. Legalizing doping with supervision by a physician is the only realistic way out of this mess. Making them optional instead of illegal might be the better way to go.
We seek solace in sports. The attempts at micro-managing by agencies such as the U.C.I., MLB, NBA, and others are counterproductive. The Sports pages need to once again be a place of refuge. Instead what we get in the 21st century nothing but politics and unenlightened policy. If society insists on a drug-free sports world it may turn out we end up with neither.
Jim Liva, Jr
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