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Letters to Cyclingnews - December 9, 2005
I have to comment on Mr. Wilkie's comments regarding Roberto Heras's B sample test.
If we were testing the test, indeed you would expect to have a mixed population which the technicians would have to correctly identify. But the test per se isn't being tested. It was Roberto Heras's B Sample that was being tested. In fact we WISH the lab to have complete and utter understanding of the seriousness of the sample in hand.
Mr Wilkie would appear to be concerned that laboratory technicians would fudge the results of the test for one side or the other. That is addressed by the fact that Roberto Heras was allowed to have his own technical observer on hand (indeed - two) to watch the proceedings. And while I have reservations about the actual test itself I am relatively confident in the honesty and competence of the laboratories themselves with the exception of the case surrounding Lance Armstrong's B Sample test. (In that case I believe that the Laboratory in question should have lost their certification. So why didn't they?)
What I am concerned about is that it appears that false positive studies, in general, are not done before the tests themselves are approved for use. While I understand the tremendous pressure (and the profit motive) to produce a means to detect cheating in the peleton it appears to me that the effects on a rider, his reputation and career, of a false positive, are being given rather short shrift.
Some reports have it that Roberto demonstrated readings just below the limits continuously throughout the Vuelta. (Again we seem to have a lot of leaks in this supposedly private affair.) And that it surprised no one when he finally crossd the line.
If that was the case why not simply allow ALL results from doping tests to be made public and not simply those who are judged positive? If riders are on the borderline let them answer why that would be.
I have to respond to the recent doping tests where the guilty party is declared guilty before he is tried and scientific protocols seem to be taken as "nice to haves". There seem to be a string of positive test results where the "guilty", or positive, test is passed to the media before anyone else (riders, teams, UCI, race organisers). I'm thinking about the Hamilton, Heras, and now the Armstrong/L'Equipe allegations.
Now, it may seem like a technicality that the protocols aren't followed, but to me this is huge. THE TESTS ARE ALL SUPPOSED TO BE DOUBLE BLIND FOR A REASON! A&B SAMPLES SHOULD BE DOUBLE BLIND TOO! If the tests are done correctly, the lab technicians, and anyone associated with the testing procedures, shipping handling, etc. should not know whether they are testing a placebo, a horse, a runner, a Tour de France loser or winner. When they send the results in, it should be the same. THAT's the whole point of DOUBLE BLIND PROTOCOLS! So there can never be a chance to tamper with any thing. There can never be even the appearance of bias in any direction.
My wife does pharmaceutical research, where all tests (if possible) are "double blind" (in life threatening cases, sometimes it is impossible). If the results aren't double blind, or the protocols were broken, the tests are automatically thrown out. Let's put the burden of proof on the labs and the scientists. They should be more than well versed in the way this basic framework of science works. Can you imagine a big pharma company like Pfizer proclaiming in the press first that a new drug cured cancer then sending the results to the FDA after the public (there is a reason you can't do this). The FDA comes back and says "your protocols were all screwed up", but then Pfizer says, "Don't worry about that, the results are too important. Besides, everyone wants this now!" NO, the results would be thrown out right away, no questions asked.
The point here is not whether Heras or whoever is guilty or not, but that if the lab breaks the protocol the case should be over before it starts. If the labs had big fish getting off the hook right and left because they couldn't follow the protocols, they would be fired. Otherwise, you have a situation like in Armstrong/Equip accusations where it appears that some journalist from a tabloid is ordering the lab to do tests on a specific rider with the idea of selling tabloid newspapers rather than pursuing a scientific result.
Oh for the day that the snot-nosed kids running the doping show at UCI and WADA would step down and let some grown-ups take over!
The UCI claims that the Heras case gives them "unconditional confidence" in the EPO method? What a ridiculous statement. It's almost like they deliberately wanted to destroy what few rags of credibility they have left. What it is about this case that proves the method? Nothing, it's just a positive case. Now I can understand, in light of recent events, that they're incredibly relieved to have an A and a B sample that agree, but so what?
If you really think critically about this case for more than a second or two, it destroys confidence in the method. Let's say Mr Heras decided to dope his way into the history books. If so, do you think he waited until the race was in the bag to start doping? (um, that was rhetorical...). So what this case actually consists of is a string of ‘several false negatives’ followed by a single correct positive. Either that or he didn't dope and the single positive is false. Either way, this is giving me the opposite of "unconditional confidence."
At least Dick Pound was somehow able to refrain from jumping up on his public soapbox on this one. Either he's finally growing up a little, or...nah, it's more likely that Mr Heras gets a pass from being Pound-ed because he's not American.
Is there no way to reclaim our sport from the drama queens?
Heras tests positive. That does not surprise me. It doesn't disappoint me. I love to watch Roberto ride. I am confused though. Where are all of his supporters? Are his mates or previous mates afraid of "guilt by association”? Why haven't we heard from Lance or anyone about the negative attention Roberto has perpetuated on the peloton.
I believe he is not the only one. I believe this was not the first time he had ever used EPO. I don't dislike him because of his actions. He made a choice. All the riders make a choice. They race faster, look better, make the racing more interesting to watch. If the riders want to put themselves at risk by using dangerous enhancing drugs, so be it. I do feel bad for Roberto. He has had a tremendous career.
I will never think ill of you Roberto. Accept the consequences, and keep your chin up!
Roberto Heras' recent positive confirmation reinforces my comments published by Cyclingnews on September 16th, which unfortunately, raises further suspicions of multiple tour winners. The sport is quickly losing credibility and further positive results from high profile cyclists will only ensure the sport’s demise even faster. No doubt there are plenty of "clean" cyclists - however, with the likes of Heras and Hamilton proving positive the value proposition of the sport to present and future sponsors quickly diminishes and ultimately so does the level of participation at all levels (as there is no doubt the level of sponsorship dollars is intrinsically linked to the level of participation for any sport).
Given Heras' woeful performance during this year's Tour de France and his current form during the Tour of Spain perhaps some questions need to be asked of the possible use of performance enhancing substances. Additionally, why stop with accusing Armstrong. Why not Indurain (who some argue retired under suspicious circumstances amid the dawn of the EPO era), Hinault, Merckx? And not to forget Anquetil, who openly admitted drug use. Perhaps even Zabel, with record victories in the green jersey, could be seen as suspicious.
And perhaps we should all stop being so naive. Like it or not the use of performance-enhancing drugs past, present or future is a reality. The UCI needs to openly admit the failings of the sport - drug use is/was common, particularly in previous eras. Not to mention Virenque, who was suspended in disgrace only to come back with greater fan adulation. Come on, the sport which I dearly admire is becoming a joke. There should be nothing short of life bans for all drug use.
T. Colucci wonders how the leader of a Grand Tour could even consider doping, considering they get tested "every ##$*ing day". The answer is simply that to compete with others that are doping, and BECOME the leader of a Grand Tour, doping is, apparently, a must. The stupidity comes in knowing you will get tested, but not having an intelligent enough doping regimen to pass all the tests. Case in point is Lance Armstrong. He leaves nothing to chance, is impeccably prepared, so obviously would never fail a dope test because any doping regimen of his would be so carefully regulated. Heras was not the only doper in the Vuelta, he was just the most careless.
Why do people "dope" in cycling? The answer is amazingly simple, so simple that people overlook it. There is no inherent skill that needs to be performed other than you have to ride your bike harder than everyone else. Where most other sports there are more than power endurance than one must have to compete. Basketball requires the ability dribble, pass, shoot in addition to the ability to run, jump, and make quick changes of direction. Soccer (football) requires the player to be able to control the ball, pass, and handle the ball mostly while moving. Once again in addition to the basic abilities in being able to run, jump, and make quick changes of direction. The list goes on and on as far as sports that require additional skills other than the physical. Cycling requires no other additional skills. You either can or cannot sprint (being able to position yourself is not necessarily a sporting skill although in the general sense it is a skill.)
You either can or cannot TT, climb a mountain, etc. If you cannot do so you cannot compensate by having a good "jump shot", make a great "through pass", etc. Cycling is an ‘either can or cannot’ type of sport. Which is why so many people "dope" so they can become one who can. Bottom line; cycling, although it is a most beautiful sport, is relatively one dimensional. In a sport that failure is often seen as dropping out of the race or not being able to follow the speed and power of those ahead. The shame that is on many of the faces that were unable to keep up is sad and heartbreaking and a place many of us have been, even if it has only been on a training ride. Is it any wonder there is so much doping going on? If you think there isn't, you try to face the reality as a pro that after 90 miles of racing, much of it uphill, riding clean, you can't go more than 27mph while some guy who has never shown the ability to time trial goes 30mph.
Mr Delmar, I reach the opposite conclusion. I think I'm the one that should compete for a podium spot...as the biggest dope, not because I was wrong, but because I'm dopey enough to continue to believe. For whatever reason, and in spite of being a well-trained and experienced engineer, well read, and a recognised "thinker", I believe Tyler and Roberto and Lance (but not Rumsas). So, could I hijack your podium for a different kind of dope? Based on my W/kg, it'll be my only chance to get a podium smooch.
Sure, I'm a fan and have glaring biases, but I think the whole power establishment just smells and the risk of convicting an innocent man is not worth it. That's similar thinking to why I changed my mind some years back about supporting the death penalty. I never want to be responsible for executing an innocent man or participate in a process that punishes similar crimes differently.
San Mateo, CA, USA
Dr Charles wrote, "Mr Shame may well believe in Armstrong's innocence but the argument that he tested negative many times is certainly not any proof of anything." Well, now we are supposed to doubt everybody even if they test negative. Hmm, why even bother to test at all, then? Why not just believe that everyone is cheating? It will never be possible to prove anyone to be completely clean because we will never be able to test for everything on everybody all the time!
I guess it's a matter of faith in the end, just like many other things in life. You either believe it's clean or it's not. I choose to believe it's clean and some people get busted, not because I'm naive, but because it makes watching professional cycling more enjoyable. I do think it's unfair to set up rules for athletes to follow and then criticize them anyway whether they follow the rules or not.
The reason Tyler's website is used as the source regarding differing red cell populations is because the article Wire in the Blood Part II claimed that Tyler was arguing against the percentage, while he was actually arguing against the type. In essence, the same source utilised by Cyclingnews to present their argument was utilised to refute the argument.
Regarding Dr. Pat Charles’ response to the statement: "if the test was conducted correctly, then the antigens showing a 'mixed population' would be the same on all the tests; regardless of the percentage"
Dr. Pat Charles indicates the above is not accurate: "If Hamilton had had a further transfusion between Athens and the Vuelta from a different blood donor, then there would be new antigens present in the later test."
It is stated in both the Cyclingnews article Wire in the Blood and the dissent by Christopher Campbell that Hamilton's blood had a lower level of RBC populations at the Vuelta than at Athens. The following is from Christopher Campbell: "It should also be noted that Mr. Hamilton's Vuelta sample, the sample in question in this case, had a significantly lower reading of second RBC populations then the Athens' sample. Therefore, it could logically be concluded that the Athens Laboratory would also have ruled the Vuelta sample negative. If an IOC accredited laboratory trained in the Testing Method could rule Mr. Hamilton's sample negative, how can this panel be comfortably satisfied that Mr. Hamilton tested positive?"
The latter part of Mr. Campbell's statement refers to the fact that the Athens laboratory was not incompetent in the testing method and had passed all of its proficiency testing prior to the Games and that it was not until a panel was formed almost a month later, this panel who knew the sample was Hamilton's and who had a vested interest in the outcome, since they had developed the test in question, ruled that it was positive. Campbell is calling into question the reliability of the test, in essence saying, if it is such a reliable test, why couldn't a trained and competent lab be considered accurate? Why did an outside committee have to be formed?
Thus, if the RBC population was lower at the Vuelta than at Athens how would it be possible to conclude that Hamilton had had an additional transfusion? One would be lead to believe his RBC population would increase, not decrease. This again leads back to the problem of inconsistent gating that was presented during the initial hearing as I quoted in my previous letter: "In addition, with respect to improper gating, there was testimony (by USADA's expert witness) that in the case of a subjective, visual identification of a second peak (used in this case), if a test was gated in the wrong region it would also impact a peak. This also refutes any argument that if a second peak is visible the only explanation is a second RBC population."
I agree with Mr. Campbell when he states: "If the rate of false positives is not accurately calculated, whether an individual such as Mr. Hamilton is likely to have a false positive is mere speculation, a lot of which has taken place in the case."
Finally Campbell writes: "When questioned how many individuals were used to validate the subjective, quantitative approach of the WADA Criteria, the Lausanne Laboratory witness testified he could not provide an answer to that question. This is a far cry from the validation methods of the UCLA laboratory. Finally, no measurement of uncertainty has been calculated. I submit this is not a close case. The WADA Criteria has not been validated in a manner acceptable to the scientific community. It should not be used to test athletes at this time....The panel's acceptance of the deficiencies in the WADA Criteria and Testing Method establishes a dreadful precedent."
It is nuts to suggest, as does Konrad LeBas, that Marco Pantani's cocaine addiction was simply a variation of an addiction shared by all cyclists as we chase the "high" of endorphin release. And it is insulting for LeBas to claim Pantani should serve as a warning to all of us. Pantani is a tragic figure, but his problems were quite different from those of the millions of ordinary and recreational amateur cyclists around the world who manage to enjoy riding their bikes without resorting to cocaine abuse.
I ride my bike, a lot, and I love to ride and race hard. And, I've never once thought about using an illegal substance to recreate the sensations I get on a bike. To liken the physiological processes that occur naturally as a result of exercise to the morbid substance abuse of a seriously depressed individual, is to grossly distort and diminish the problems confronted by people like Pantani, and the challenge of identifying and helping them.
Pantani is well worth remembering, and discussing on this web site. And certainly the role of professional cycling in his addiction and death should be examined, just as it is worthwhile to examine the career and death of Tom Simpson on the Mont Ventoux. But let's not trivialize or confuse the issue of drug use by professional cyclists by drawing comparisons to endorphins.
I would like to inquire why there are no Labs for EPO in the USA? One other question is why they do not list the standards for this test and how the whole world cannot come up with the set quality controls for these standards?
I think that all racers in the world should demand that they release the test and how it is 100% correct. If this cannot be met, they should strike the season until the UCI and WDA can prove these test are 100% accurate.
I read with dismay the article about limiting cycling events in the First Edition Cycling News for December 2, 2005. The Colorado State Patrol's (CSP) decision to limit organized rides to 2,500 almost seems like a bizarre conclusion to the Clear Channel incidents, in which Clear Channel radio hosts encouraged drivers to abuse cyclists. Strange that cyclists have to bear the burden of a few jerks that have endangered them. What happened to the guys who threw the nails on the road? Or the drunk driver who tried to run over some cyclists? The CSP's statement almost suggests that the cyclists are at fault merely by being present.
This letter pertains to cycling races in general. I’m a big fan and would rather go to Philly for the USPRO championship races than say a football, baseball, hockey game. Of course not every one is like that but then again most US citizens haven’t been to a bike race, and one of the reasons is that racing in the states is not promoted. For instance I was in Lancaster, Pa. for the first leg of the Wachovia or FU series, and to my surprise when I opened the sports section of the local papers, (two of them) there was not one word about this fine event with world class athletes in the one and the other had a small very small paragraph in a spot I originally missed when searching for the exact starting time.
Now while reading the rest of the paper I soon discovered a rather large article on road closures for the day and how this was really going to snarl traffic jams, hurt business ,and how it was on a Tuesday. ‘How could they hold this on Tuesday?’ they asked, and quickly blamed the mayor for not having it on Saturday or Sunday. It’s like that at Trenton too but being closer to Philly at least the press has ample coverage, but again I know the Mayor there wants the race but was up against it. There are too many politicians who don't want it.
I heard one rider at the Olympic Games asked about the course and he compared it to Lancaster - I sent that and magazine pictures of the race to the mayor’s office in an attempt to say that it does showcase your city. I give him credit - he is trying to keep it and now I think they have the Sunday before Philly. I also would like to point out there are fans like me who take vacations around racing and riding. The point here is I spend money on food, lodging, travel etc, and after reading about how good and how great the city of San Francisco is, it was being considered for this year’s trip, but now some other city and the ones still hosting cycling events will get my dollars. Also, the sponsors get an F as they’re in for such a brief time and don't promote the race properly, dropping out because on paper they don't make a fast buck. I for one will not buy their products or use their banks! Sorry for all the babble but I’m sure other fans like me get the point and thank GOD for Cyclingnews!
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