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Letters to Cyclingnews - September 9, 2005
Is Lance Armstrong guilty of drug abuse? I have no idea, nor do I really care. However, with these latest allegations what I am certain of, is that once again, cycling is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, of course it looks bad for Lance.
To my mind it creates a bad image of L'Equipe, ASO and Jean-Marie LeBlanc, WADA and Dick Pound, the UCI, the French Laboratoire national de dépistage du dopage de Châtenay-Malabry (LNDD), Alessandro Donati, former head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), and any other fool that wants to add his tuppence worth. Shame on all of them for not adhering to a sensible 'sporting code' and a reasonable standard of ethics.
It creates a bad image of cycling for which there will be no winners. This I find really sad, and especially when there are so many truly sporting cylists at all levels. In what is a truly wonderful sport.
Before we send Armstrong to the guillotine, lets look at a few facts leading up to his 1999 tour victory:
First, let us not forget he was a World Champion at 22. To accomplish this feat at such a young age would obviously indicate that Lance had a lot of natural ability. Wouldn't you agree?
Next he was one of the youngest riders ever to win a stage in the Tour de France. Once again, another indicator that he had a lot of raw talent.
These two significant results as well as many others showed Lance had enormous talent but perhaps he lacked focus.
Next he got cancer. Now in a sporting sense this may not seem as important but it allowed him to mature. Some would say Lance was an arrogant ass when he was younger. (Other still would say he's still arrogant and an ass) But knocking on death's door mellowed and matured Armstrong. (Ok maybe not a lot but there was a change)
I think people forget that his road to recovery was not smooth and easy. It wasn't a straight line up. He almost packed it in on a number of occasions. It wasn't until his trip to Boone, North Carolina that he rediscovered his love for the bike. Do not take this point lightly.
In the seven years of Armstrong's reign, he never really took any significant time away from the bike. He followed the Merckx edict "Ride lots." Ullrich and others were nowhere near as committed as Lance. In fact, I remember reading a story where Armstrong called David Millar in the dead of winter. Armstrong was out riding. Where was Millar? At a pub, drinking. Evidently Armstrong liked playing the game: "Guess where I am?" He wanted the others to know while they were slacking off, he was riding.
Can L'Equipe, or anyone else for that matter, produce a rider that prepared more or trained harder than Lance? But I digress, back to the late nineties. As well as maturing as an individual, Lance had a few other factors that contributed to his success in 1999. Let's not forget that Cofidis flicked him. It's been well documented that this really pissed him off. And we all know anger helps fuels Lance. We've seen it countless times. He rides better when he's mad.
Next came Johan Bruyneel. Now Armstrong had a brilliant teacher and tactician to help harness his raw talent and power. Next, people forget Armstrong finished fourth in the Tour of Spain (won king of the mountains jersey) and the World Championships (both RR and ITT) the previous year.
This is where his comeback really started. People like to say that Armstrong came out of nowhere to win the '99 tour but that's nonsense. It all started in the fall of '98 and continued through the winter til the tour. We didn't know it at the time but Lance spent the whole winter focused on one goal: Win the Tour de France.
We all thought if there was an American that was going to do well at the 1999 Tour, it was supposed to be Bobby Julich. He did after all finish 3rd in 1998. But Armstrong was poised to do something big. If you don't believe me, check out his results leading up to the 1999 Tour. It's funny I haven't looked at his results in seven years but when you compare them to the subsequent years it's just like every other year. He picked specific events to test himself. As we look back now, it's apparent but at the time - who knew? Check out his results. He wins an ITT at Circuit La Sarthe, Was second at Amstel Gold, second on the last stage at the Dauphine.'and won the last stage of the Route de Sud.
This line appeared on the Cyclingnews website: "It (Route du Sud) is considered by pundits as the best preparation for the Tour de France." I guess someone knew what they were talking about.
Throughout the spring and early summer Armstrong showed flashes but we didn't really see him unleash all his power until the prologue of the Tour. The preparation was there. Armstrong and Bruyneel had created the perfect template. But if you still believe that Armstrong doped in 1999, ask yourself this question: If Armstrong doped to win in '99, logic would dictate that in order for him to keep winning he would have to keep doping. Then, if that is the case, why has he never tested positive? Hundreds of in and out of competition tests and not one single positive - even with the more refined doping tests. None, Nada, Zip, Zero. Can I get answer?
Norwalk, CT, USA
My understanding is that the average cyclist would be expected to have a normal haematocrit upon entering a three week tour in the mid 40's. Over the course of the three weeks it will gradually drop. I think I recall Brad McGee saying his was down to something like 37 towards the end of the last Tour de France, from a normal figure of around 44.
Forget all of this talk about whether or not Lance had EPO in his sample...publish the haematocrit figures. They would tell an interesting story. They wouldn't necessarily prove or disprove anything, but I think everyone would know what is going on (and I'm sure the press would be able to make use of experts in the haematology field).
I would love to see haematocrit figures for each of the last 5 Tours. We could see how they varied from season to season, how they changed during the race, and so on. If Lance entered the Tour with a figure around 50%, as has been suggested, the figures will prove or disprove it. If it dropped after the EPO test was introduced, the figures would show it.
OK, some people might jump to false conclusions about people who have done nothing, but I always believe showing all available information causes fewer problems than hiding it. Publishing this information going forwards would also act as a deterrent to cyclists. It will no longer be the authorities who know, but also their sponsors and the general public. Let's face it, I'm sure the people in charge know who is doing what. They are probably frustrated at the fact they can't get them for it, so why not publish as much information as possible to help the fight?
L'Equipe didn't respond so vigorously to Virenque, Pantani and Miller, etc. because they didn't have to, as they were caught! Despite the admirable efforts of the drug testers, it's well known that in today's pro sport market simply because an athlete has not tested positive does not mean he hasn't doped.
The science of doping remains three steps ahead of finding out who has doped. And then the money invested in new drugs is far superior to that which is invested in detecting them, not to mention that the sport lobby, for the laws of the market, has no intention of publicizing how athletes really achieve what they do, and so confines itself to making a grand 'mise en scene' of cracking down seriously on doping. For instance, have you heard of NESP? It is a potent drug more powerful than EPO with the same properties, which has been used in the pro and amateur peloton for several years. And who is talking about it?
Does WADA or anyone else have a test for it? And then one only (who has competed before at least) has to look at the modern Jessie Owens' of the sporting world to realise that better training and diet alone, given the drugs that are out on the market and the effects they produce, can't account for the physiques of today's Apollo's, nor for their extra-terrestrial performances on the track. And of riders rights? Look, athletes have lived for decades on doping, on beating the system, which after all isn't really interested (because of the market laws) in ruining pro sports. Please, they have been used to far more privileges in society than is their due, and have been paid more than sufficiently.
So it would seem for those like you, if a popular rider has tested positive, in this case Lance Armstrong, it's because there is a conspiracy in effect, or the test is not accurate, or because of a technicality the result is not "scientifically valid." Well then, why bother testing it at all if the scientists are so fallible and legal protocol takes precedence over factual results? Come on, scientists aren't that inept, at least if the actual doping substances they have produced are of any worth. I correct myself for accusing only Americans for being naive, but it seems that the entire Anglo-Saxon world (at least in the colonies) is afflicted with this malady.
I feel in the Armstrong doping affair there are some issues of legality that need to be answered. For anyone wondering how the Armstrong doping connection was made one only has to ask "what was the motivation regarding the source of this information?" There had to be "motivation" for the L'Equipe writer to gain access to the labs and also "motivation" for his access to the UCI control sheets that disclose the identity #s of riders.
For there to be merely casual and coincidental motivation in both of these cases is obviously NOT possible. One must then ask what was the underlying motivation on the part of both a lab worker and someone in charge of records at the UCI that impelled both of them to the same unethical and illegal behavior?
The answer is obvious and simple - money. Someone was bought for the results in the lab and someone was paid off in the UCI. Who paid them off is obvious. Who was paid off is less so. This scenario is highly unethical not to mention illegal. But perhaps the editor of L'Equipe feels one form of cheating is not ok, this form of cheating is acceptable?
While Armstrong's guilt in this matter cannot clearly be defined for lack of an "A" sample, I think quite logically the editor of L'Equipe's connection to these unethical and illegal "coincidences" is obvious and can be proven. But then here we are again discussing it, helping him sell more newspapers exactly as he intended for us to do.
No matter what L'Equipe says about Lance Armstrong I seriously doubt that the reporter who wrote the latest expose has donated one euro to the hurricane victims in the Southern United States. Lance has done more good in the world than many people can say. As a registered nurse I have spoken to many cancer victims who have been inspired by him and have gone on to fight the good fight because of his story. The 500,000 dollars he donated is going to help a great many patients in need of some critical treatments. Lance, thanks for your inspiration and keep up the good fight.
Kurt H Luedtke
This 'case' is in fact quite easy to judge. Only UCI or WADA (or USADA) have the legitimacy to judge, so what L'Equipe says is really not more than one opinion.
And, of what we have heard so far, the anti-doping protocol has not been followed in this 'case'. There are no second sample, and clearly someone in the French lab' aren't following the rules (leaking information).
So this 'case' is not a real case, and shouldn't have been printed at all. The L'Equipe newspaper was probably aware of that, but hey, there are a huge amount of euros involved when you print stuff like this.
On September 6th, you reported on comments by WADA head Dick Pound regarding the Lance Armstrong 1999 Doping witch hunt. Mr. Pound said "It may be that EPO traces disappear gradually from urine, but it cannot be that no EPO should be in them and then it emerges as if from nowhere."
Does the guy actually think about how his statement sounds before he says it? Rutger Beke already showed that the urine EPO test by the French Châtenay-Malabry laboratory was unreliable. Rutger Beke did not take EPO and somehow (to use Pound's exact words) "it emerges as if from nowhere."
Mr Pound and the other testing guru's would do well to stop trying to defend a testing method that has been shown to be flawed and to start employing scientists that will fully validate tests INCLUDING determination of the rate that false positive tests occur in a give test. Without renewed validation of each of these tests, the public will continue to dismiss the claims as being a witch hunt to smear certain riders.
Dale J. Christensen, PhD
Thomas Richter's note has some good thoughts, and some misstatements of fact.
There seems, so far, no evidence that the Paris lab was doing anything unethical, and indeed, should not be attacked for conspiracies. So far, we don't really know much about procedures actually followed, and anyone familiar with science knows that errors happen, even at world-class places. The Paris lab created this particular test, which is both good (they're experts) and a possible concern (scientists are people, and they often defend their own data like a mother cat her kittens.)
The best single article I've seen so far is "Do cycling's EPO tests need a second opinion?" [Sept 5, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, in the International Herald Tribune. http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/09/04/news/lance.php]
Detecting synthetic EPO is not like reading a thermometer - it's a non-trivial manual interpretation of visual bandings, and WADA has funded several research efforts to automate it better. There are proper scientific reservations about the validity of the tests. I'd earlier mentioned Dr Christiane Ayotte, director of the Montreal anti-doping lab. The IHT article also includes Dr Joris Delanghe of Belgium and Dr Martial Saugy of Switzerland. I asked a neuroscientist who attends the same gym as I do, and he said "Five years? Are you kidding me? Given the enzymes in urine, I wouldn't trust it frozen at -80 degrees, much less at -20 degrees!"
The Web has numerous (often conflicting) research papers about the degradablity of various proteins in urine under various circumstances. People write entire books on "protein electrophoresis" and this stuff is not easy. Of course, it may be that the Paris lab just re-analysed old results (as is surmised by Dr Ayotte), but we don't know yet.
The freezing process cannot create EPO, but the problem is that the test is an interpretation of complex results, including natural EPO and other proteins, and it is not simple. See this document. One thing is clear: if, as some (credible) scientists believe, there's no way that EPO last 5 years in frozen urine, then any EPO in the test didn't come from 1999's riders. Other (credible) scientists believe that it does last. It may be that "under some circumstances it works, and otherwise not" and the issue is to understand whether those circumstances were followed here.
This confusion is natural to science, and it happens quite often early in a research process. Errors occur. Experts disagree. Data gets mis-reported. Factors thought to be irrelevant (-20 degrees? -80? Both are "frozen", but it makes a difference) turn out to be crucial. In some tests, even experienced, unbiased experts can interpret the same results in different ways. Any error that is not absolutely eliminated. Some people believe that 50% of the papers in medical research yield conclusions later proved wrong. Real science is that way, and it's not settled by voting or by editorials.
Really, it's OK to say "I don't know enough to have a strong opinion about the science."
John Mashey (PhD, but not in biochemistry)
Portola Valley, CA
If you really want to piss off the French, come back next year and ride the Giro or the Vuelta instead. Let the Americans spend their vacation money in Italy or Spain instead of France. Who knows, maybe Jan and/or Ivan want to beat you bad enough they'd also skip the Tour to get a shot at you. What could piss the French off more than taking away the spotlight and the money and adding a Giro and/or Vuelta title to your resume?
Over the past year or so, a variety of pundits have stated the following:
1 - Doping in pro cycling is rampant
If both of these are true, shouldn't there be a whole flock of pro cyclists turning up positive? I don't know the exact count, but there were only 2 or 3 guys who turned up positive at this year TdF. Out of 197 starters, only 2-3 positives? That's barely 5% of the population.
If there are tons of dopers and we have fool-proof methods for catching dopers, why aren't we catching more dopers?
I see that Lance Armstrong and associates are spouting retoric speculating a possible Tour de France comeback "just to piss off the French" I would very much doubt he would be allowed to start, even if he wanted to - judging by past arbitrary exclusions by the TDF organisers of riders involved in questionable (accurate or otherwise) doping activities.
The following is an open letter to Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor and 7 times winner of the Tour de France, and why he would be a fool if he rode in the 2006 Tour de France. So what gives me the reasons and right to compose this letter? Here are some of the reasons:
1 I am a testicular cancer survivor since December of 1975 about the time that Lance was 4.
2 Husband of 33 years and father of 2 children, ages 26 and 19, who came to us because of the cancer
3 A long time cyclist of which the cycling federation doesn't have a class for my lack of speed, and still has his yellow mountain bike bought after the radiation therapy was finished to get back in shape.
4 A PhD biochemist/protein chemist who has strived to be an excellent scientist since first being entered in the CA state science fair in the 7th grade, and who has worked in the clinical chemistry/diagnostic field his entire career. Including the areas of drug detection and measurement, such as Stanazol, electrophoretic and immunological methods used for the detection of proteins, such as EPO, and hematology techniques, such as hematocrit.
These are some of the thoughts that I have always used in my scientific and personal life that apply to the above statement:
The first is that you can not measure zero (0). It can't be measured, only a limit of detection (LOD) can be determined and over the advancement of the testing procedures that LOD will become closer to zero. And then based on that LOD and some statistical calculations there is determined a cut off value, something similar to a line in the dirt. Which means that one little bit on one side of the line a test result and therefore a person is negative and their life goes on. A little bit on the other side of that line then the test is deemed positive and that person is labelled as testing positive and the effects on their career and life are endless.
Second is that you cannot prove a negative. You cannot prove the negative of something, like proving that God doesn't exist or that you didn't do something. You cannot prove an innocence because it's a negative. It's impossible.
Third is the 80/20 rule as first developed by Pareto and how he relates to you. 20% of the people will always believe that you have never cheated, taken a performance enhancing drug, or lied no matter what is said. 20% of the people will believe that you have cheated and lied and they won't change their minds no matter how many zeros are measured or negatives are shown because you have to have cheated to accomplish what you have. No matter what is claimed or tested, they will not change their minds or even shut up about it. l'Equipe or something like it will always exist and the mind set and people associated with that thinking will also always exist and the reasons why they write and say what they do are so old that only the dirt of the Earth is older.
If you ride in the 2006 Tour then you can only lose no matter whether you win by one second or one hour and actually wear the yellow across the finish line or cross the line one second or more behind someone else. You lose because that doubting 20% will not ever change their minds when you win again but if you actually lose then more people will say that he must have been cheating and now that he rides clean he couldn't do it. Look at all of the athletics who have been accused of cheating and then after that their athletic career have gone down and even their personal ones have faltered. To the 20% of the people that don't believe you can't prove anything and to the rest you can't measure the zero or prove the negative. So give up the idea. Please.
And last there are the reasons that you gave for retiring. They include spending more time with your kids and the women in your life (that includes your mother), the kids that you wanted to see their dad do what he does and "wanted the last image of their father as a sportsman to be as a champion" You did what so few athletes have done which is to go out on the top. And for you that is to win the greatest cycling event, the Tour de France, seven times and in a row. "It's nice to finish your career on a high note. As a sportsman, I wanted to go out on top. I have absolutely no regrets. I've had an unbelievable career. I've been blessed to ride 14 years as a professional..."
I remember seeing the pictures of your kids playing with you at the Tour even
when you were warming up and then also when you were trying to recuperate at
the end of the stage, the ones of your son wanting to show you what he had in
his bag, and the tugging on that famous yellow jersey seemly asking you if it
was time to leave and go play.
Spend your cycling experiences and knowledge on the 2006 team, the cycling efforts in the States, and get a grand tour going here in the states.
Don't even waste the million or more dollars and the time on taking legal action against l'Equipe and the others. Donate the million dollars to the LAF in the name of them and let that sit in their throats. Even if you sued them out of existence they would still in their final edition be proclaiming that the great Lance Armstrong is a cheat and a liar.
They won't ever believe and that 20% won't either while I do know that the zero and the negative to be true. And that comes from a fellow cancer survivor and cyclist.
Good luck on whatever and wherever your endeavours take you.
A son, a husband, a father, and a cancer survivor
P.J. Wilkie (Ph.D) stated that there is "no valid scientific rationale" for conducting the new EPO tests on the 1999 samples. His points may be correct, but the same could be said about any drug test, anywhere, at any time. The point of drug testing isn't scientific study of EPO in human urine, it is to determine whether or not someone was using a banned performance enhancing drug.
No test will ever be completely free of the possibility of lab error, tampering, tainted samples, or even physiological anomalies unique to that particular athlete. There can never be a drug test conforming to the scientific method for the obvious reason that half the peleton can't be used as a control group and given drugs! We are stuck with either an imperfect system of drug-testing, or no testing at all.
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