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Letters to Cyclingnews - November 17, 2006
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Saiz and Tinkoff
The suggestion that Tinkoff might use Manolo Saiz' free ProTour license is hilarious. It sounds like the kind of cockamamie evil scheme that James Bond might be assigned to: a Russian billionaire is plotting to use his wealth and power, with the help of a Spanish assistant and a small army of athletes, to take over the sport of cycling! Watch as the indefatigable Bond goes undercover in the peloton with his tricked-out Trek Madone, fully equipped with rocket launchers and the latest in two-wheeled flight technology! James Bond 007: Cogs of Justice, coming to a theater near you in summer 2007.
I know there is a lot of excitement in the air for the first world cup event of the indoor velodrome season. So why am I already thinking of the 2007 Tour? It must be winter training or my new diet. Maybe I am just sick of waiting to find out if history will remember Landis with an asterisk next to his victory.
London's prologue will no doubt be flat with a number of technical turns. So, because this will require not just speed but the ability to re-accelerate quickly, I have to go with Cancellera. I feel he will race and win in Switzerland, then follow up with a full assault on the Tour. He may fall flat and quite short in the GC list, but I expect him to show his form is top notch. Hincapie too, will want to have one last shot of glory in the Tour. He has proven he can be fast, but his finishing sprint is what cost him the prologue in 2006. Hushovd being fast and muscular will do well in third, with the best chances of gaining time bonuses for the yellow jersey in stages 1-6. Millar will follow in fourth (unless the course is straight as an arrow).
I expect Millar and the British to do everything they can to have the jersey in the following stage, but the course I was shown (unofficially) was not designed for this specialist. Nor should it be. Maybe Millar will be riding in downtown London all spring. Still, great track speed does not always measure into a victory on a course full of turns and accelerations.
That's how I see it,
A simple procedural change could improve the reliability and public perception of accuracy of doping tests: Have the A and B samples tested simultaneously at separate labs certified by different licensing organizations. I am sure that potential lab errors including chain of custody issues, transposed tracking numbers, machine calibration, and concerns about tampering would all be reduced with this change.
If these tests are indeed scientific and reproducible, then it stands to reason that independent testers at disparate facilities should return the same results. An added benefit of this scheme: there would be no lag time between A and B sample testing. No more silly leaks or public relations maneuvering by governing bodies or riders.
This is in response to John Pickens letter against Basso and Team Discovery. Don't you think you are a little quick in condemning them? You don't know if Discovery has required Basso to take a DNA test or not. If not, what circumstantial evidence has been gathered against Basso. A phone conversation between two people saying he did well in a race and notes referring to someone named Brillo, which his lawyer says isn't even his dogs name.
How would you like to sit a home without income for the next two years based on someone talking about you in a phone call? He may be guilty of something, but until due process has been served, nobody has a right to condemn any rider on such weak circumstantial evidence. Can you say "European Witch Hunt?"
We can't help but wonder why so many people are upset by Basso being signed by Discovery after the Italian Federation closed his file. While the UCI may not have cleared him yet, he obviously was going to be signed by some team. Johan Bruyneel had tried to sign him for Postal in past years, so if he can ride next year why shouldn't Discovery get there first. They have a no-doping clause in their contracts, and I'm sure he will be expected to do whatever the UCI deems necessary.
As far as DNA tests are concerned, I read that Bruyneel said that he believed the teams should wait on that until the legality of it was confirmed. From what I've read, the only connection to Ivan Basso was a code name that was supposedly his dog's name--then I read an article by a journalist who interviewed Ivan at his house. He said there was a dog, but he had a completely different name. So many don't seem to want to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
The riders we really feel sorry for are the ones who were supposedly implicated by the Spanish reports, and after missing out on the Tour de France and other races, they were later cleared with no comment at all, as if it was just a big mistake. To have teams fold up, sponsors pull out, and then to find out that almost all the riders have been cleared, it seems as if a big injustice has been done.
How much better it would have been to only release the names of those who were arrested and to have not released the other names until they were ready to charge them with something. We hate to read so many letters where people seem to still believe that everyone who was originally named is guilty, even though they have apparently been cleared.
In response to Jason's letter about Ivan Basso, I can only assume he is an ex pro who is prepared to turn a blind eye to what goes on in the peloton.
Are the biggest team in the pro peleton (arguably),CSC, going to pull Basso out of the Tour on hearsay only? Would they terminate his contract and let him ride for another rival team without some evidence? I very much doubt it.
Also I don't remember Basso arguing too much about having his contract terminated - surely their must be a case for claiming loss of earnings and defamation of character, unless that is, he wouldn't want anything else to come to light as a result.
Puerto is far from over and we could have the scenario of Basso being excluded from next years TdF as well when the case goes to court next June. If he really is innocent and has no links to Dr Fuentes - take the DNA test to dispell all doubts.
No one is forcing these individuals to submit DNA samples. If they don't want to submit, I am sure they can find employment doing something other than riding a bicycle. We really need to define what is a ‘human right’ and what is a ‘privilege’. Riding a bicycle for a living is clearly the latter and not the former!
Trying to make a comparison to athletes and their employers to a country under a fascist leader (hitlarian controls) is beyond ridiculous.
I am writing in response to Rob Huber's letter. He states that, "Forcing cyclists to provide their biological profile is a gross violation of workers' rights in any democratic system of the West. Which other occupation, of any union backing, would stand for such an intrusion?"
As a matter of fact, most employers, who deal with workers' unions, require drug tests from their prospective employees. They even reserve the right to randomly test any and all employees after hiring. Is this a violation? No. It signifies the fact that the employer is willing to take measures to ensure that his company or the company he manages has a good public image and even more importantly healthy employees.
Secondly, working as a professional cyclist, or as an athlete in any other professional sport, is nothing like working in any other unionized field such as mining coal, teaching, or being a postal worker. It is a unique situation that deserves an objective approach.
Thirdly, I would rather have no doped athletes, in any sport, with stricter anti-doping measures implemented than having "a few more doped athletes.” Are you serious? It's apparent that people haven't learned anything from Tom Simpson's death.
Having riders submit DNA is the quickest, most effective, and most objective method of proving that their blood wasn't among the bags of blood found during the investigation. While it is certainly unfair that riders are found guilty until proving their innocence, I cannot understand why the majority of the riders implicated in this affair are not more willing to help their own situations.
I'm aware of the fact that nobody likes to urinate in a cup so that other people can examine it. It is necessary to ensure a clean sport, however. I don't see how DNA testing is anything different.
I totally agree with the sentiments expressed in your letter. To not commemorate Tom by staging L’Etape over Mont Ventoux in 2007 is very shortsighted. How many more people would have been encouraged to participate in this grueling event if they felt they could also pay their respects to “Mr. Tom” when they passed his memorial on the climb up Mont Ventoux?
Isn’t this event supposed to be a way for all less gifted than the professionals to feel the challenge, exhilaration and pain of completing one of the epic stages of the Tour? If you make L’Etape less of an emotional event by just following the route it takes away a lot of the spirit that gets most of us through to the end.
Therefore I will take you advice and hope to see you on the 13th of July in Provence!
Tom Simpson was indeed a fantastic rider, and died in the most awful circumstances so it’s fitting that Brits should want to pay tribute to him; especially on the 40th anniversary of his death. Let them do so, but on their own terms - I do it by visiting the museum set up in his memory after riding the Tom Simpson Memorial race in his home town of Harworth, Doncaster.
However, no one rider is bigger than the sport as a whole, and Tom Simpson died in circumstances that were at best 'mysterious'. There is no 'supposed' about the events leading up to his death - amphetamines were found on him, and its pretty clear from all the evidence that he had taken on more than his fair share of other intoxicating substances too. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, recorded on film and print, to suggest that Simpson was far from being squeaky clean on these issues.
So, with all the current controversy surrounding cycling in general and the Tour in particular, why would the Tour organisers want to draw attention to the most high profile, if tragic, drug related episode in the whole history of the sport? Whilst his life and career can be celebrated, the manner and timing of Tom Simpsons death is best left out of the cycling spot light.
I found one part of Mr. Finch's letter top be quite interesting, "Yes, national federations have jumped the gun, but may yet get the chance to act once the trial is completed. It would be wise to hold back the castigation and haranguing of every cycling official under the sun until this trial is over."
It is not just cyclists that have been implicated by Operacion Puerto. Several other athletes from multiple sports have also been implicated. For some reason, we do not know the name of even a single athlete outside of cycling. With allegations of fraudulent documents, circumstantial evidence (including dog's names), and a swarming rumor mill, one thing has become clear: The UCI has made a laughing stock out of itself.
How much better would it have been for the UCI, along with every other sporting federation to wait until the case was closed and then proceed with concrete evidence to sanction those riders who were actually guilty. Instead we have the UCI acknowledging that many riders are innocent, but it has done nothing to clear any of them. Whether you look at this problem from the judiciary side or the rider’s side, Operacion Puerto has been little more than a display of grandiose incompetence.
Either move forward with real evidence, or let the riders ride.
Eric E Greek
I am amazed at the number of people who think it is fine and dandy to let investigators go on fishing expeditions, not only in regards to cycling, but as a citizen.
Were there a rape in my neighborhood and were the police as a result to try to coerce every male to give blood or other samples to prove our innocence, I would tell them where they could go. Midnight searches, strip searches whatever. The answer would be no. Get a warrant signed by a judge after you have shown legal probable cause.
Of course this could confuse those who would assume a refusal equals guilt, as I am quite certain there would be a huge number of such ‘guilty’ folks. And here I thought that it was supposed to be only in the US where everyone had gone bonkers and was letting the government run wild with the excuse of ‘national security.’
I suppose that professional cycling could condition a license on submitting to a DNA test. Refusal simply means that you give up your license, similar to refusing a blood or breathalyzer test when suspected of driving under the influence in the States. Prosecution by the state would still require evidence obtained under a search warrant. A judge could issue one to force a test. But the two should remain entirely separate.
Mr. John Picken doesn't seem to understand the difference between accusations and guilt. Mr. Rob Huber on the other hand seems to have a grasp of the situation when he writes, "Forcing cyclists to provide their biological profile is a gross violation of workers rights in any democratic system of the West."
For cyclists to hand over DNA would assume that it would be handled safely and in a legal and expert manner. But we are presently witnessing a horror story for Floyd Landis in which supposedly his samples were reported to be 14 to 1 when the fact is that the original test showed 4.5 to 1 and the lab deviations weren't supposed to exceed 30% errors.
This demonstrated an irrefutable case of contamination of the sample and yet not only were the subsequent tests performed but the results were treated as above dispute! To say this is shocking is an understatement.
In any sane scientific atmosphere, the presence of such overwhelming contamination would have signaled that any further testing would reveal nothing of truth or accuracy.
Further, let's look at the actions of the so-called ruling body, the UCI: We find that there is a close connection between the laboratory, ASO and l'Equipe. So close that l'Equipe was suspected of receiving confidential information and was about to print it and so the UCI released test results to the press completely against their own rules and before they even informed Mr. Landis.
It took many months to discover that the actual results aren't just questionable but if the lab results reported by Landis publicly are in fact correct, should have invalidated every result of that lab and removed them permanently from the UCI approved list.
Then Landis had to wait and ponder many months before obtaining the lab results which he should have had immediately upon such outrageous charges. This looks designed solely to force Landis and his staff to make all sorts of ‘what if’ statements that could only make him look guilty. This is a level of outrage that I hope leads Floyd to take civil actions against the UCI if at all possible.
Mr. Picken, would you be willing to hand over personal and private information about you to be used, abused and misused by what appears to be a completely uncontrolled access?
If the rider's union allows DNA testing, which would presently only allow a testing lab to 'positively' identify a specific person from a blood sample, they are simply opening themselves to great abuse.
We have also seen Lance Armstrong being accused of EPO use and somehow it never seemed to make it into print that at the time of supposed EPO use his hematocrit was 38%. After all, wouldn't that tend to discredit the tests?
I helped develop laboratory instruments that are used for these sorts of tests. During that time I worked closely with chemists who used these instruments. During this time I found that many laboratory technicians and scientists were more than a little lax at following procedures to the letter. Saying that you can detect something with great accuracy and actually believing those results are two completely different matters.
Or to put this into the perspective of the audience here, owning the bicycle that took Lance Armstrong to victory will not produce race results for anyone else.
It is becoming clear that we can no longer trust those who have been running this sport. There are political motivations behind the actions of these people and they are no longer worthy of trust.
I have no problem if an athlete donates blood for the performance benefit. It is for the benefit of society. The key word is donate. The donation is free in a controlled medical setting and available almost anywhere in the U.S. The main issue that I see is defining the level at which this is acceptable.
Obviously, there are medical limits to donating blood they could be crossed by an athlete trying to gain an advantage. Perhaps a hematologist or other MD could chime in on this topic. I am sure that Dick Pound will soon give his opinion.
When I was competing, I was concerned that blood donation would hurt my performance.
I applaud Nathan for his sense of fair play but we are talking about professional athletes, not boy scouts. What is being suggested is fortunately unenforceable and more than a little naive.
Try this one on. I like to train in the heat of summer during the off season. I can afford to fly myself and a trainer across the equator and set about building form for my next season and also have a little holiday. My competition doesn't. The summer days allow me to warm up faster and stay riding longer. I come back to the season stronger and primed.
Am I cheating? Should my passport be impounded with my bike? Am I forever banned from holidays in sunny locales as long as I'm competitive?
It’s true there seems to be some hypocrisy in the French organizations, but let’s not forget that Virenque came back clean and finished his career strong where others in the same situation crumbled under the pressure. I respect that. This is exactly what other riders who have been cheating need to do. So if the ASO wants to put their picture boy on the stage as an example of how to overcome doping, then let them.
I must thank Mr. Barclay for his letter clarifying the Spanish investigation. Now that makes sense, and affects my opinion. On the other hand, do we really know what will happen, or exactly what evidence they have?
I'm excited about Basso's transfer to Discovery, but if found empirically that he has doped, I will be the first to help kick him out. If someone fails a drug test, is caught possessing, or transferring doping products, I personally think the UCI should instill life-time bans. But they first must start testing more, my understanding is that it is currently the stage winner, race leader, and two other random riders, and how many cyclist are tested during the off season. 4 riders out of a peloton of 200 or more is not statistically significant.
Plus I think they need to reform the testing procedure, allowing several locations to double blind test, having only one lab test a certain sample is asking for trouble. If there are protocol errors, or incompetent technicians, the errors are exacerbated.
The UCI need to keep quiet until someone is actually indicted before releasing opinions, or information to the public. If they don't have a case, for one reason or another, they shouldn’t be passing judgment or sentence prematurely! I believe that handling of the doping allegations, this year, have hurt cycling more, then even the alleged doping it's self.
And finally, I think it is very dangerous to consider donating DNA samples. Sure, indirectly riders that have given blood for testing have donated DNA, but to start systematically collecting samples of what makes each of us, who we are - it's our identify.
I have undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry, a graduate degree in neurophysiology, and am currently in medical school, so I would not consider myself ignorant on DNA testing, but I would definitely think twice about donating my genetic identity. I think the UCI and WADA have plenty of testing procedures, and should focus their efforts on producing new tests, and perfecting testing protocols.
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