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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 31, 2006, part 4
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity; please stick to one topic per letter. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.
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Massive response to Landis situation
Over the last couple of days the Cyclingnews letters Inbox has been flooded with an unprecedented number of emails about 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 today, and meantime the rumour mill has been working overtime. And so have you. Two hundred emails in three days on one subject is an all-time record.
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
July 31, part 1: I
will prove it, Stop the complaining, Public perception, The process - flawed?,
Courage off the bike, Dallas on wheels, Surely not, Sick & insulted, Mitigating
factor for Landis, Landis... it is a shame, Landis' abnormal (supernormal) results,
Travesty, Who's watching the henhouse?, Could it have been the result of the
bonk?, I'm sick of this!, One toke over the line
There is a gold standard when it comes to detecting testosterone doping: carbon isotope ratio testing. It can detect differences between natural and pharmaceutical testosterone. Forget the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio check, let's see the real results.
We have a saying here in the heart of NASCAR... "that just makes you want to drink hard liquor straight from the bottle." After July 16, Landis no doubt felt that way. And I heard him say on the radio today that in fact he drank Jack Daniel's whiskey that night.
I have been in honky-tonk bars on Saturday nights. When men drink whiskey, their testosterone levels skyrocket. And it don't matter what she looks like.
It was the whiskey.
I'm just an avid cycling fan and have no expertise other than my gathering information because of my personal interest. However, I am familiar with investigation and interrogation techniques, and approaching Landis' situation from this manner, I'm going with my intuition and holding at this time that he is appearing truthful.
Basic investigation tells us that a crime was committed by a person(s) with a motive and the means. Landis rates high in motive potential as the yellow jersey was on the line. This is enough to gather suspicion as to a possible doping charge. For an athlete at his level, the desire to win the Tour could easily motivate one to the dark side of the doping world.
However, the doping method (means) he tested positive for absolutely does not accomplish the goal of the crime; to increase endurance and recovery in a very compressed amount of time. If he had tested positive for blood doping, then done deal, no further discussion as to whether he's a doper or not. But synthetic testosterone at the end of a three week tour? Let us not forget that he was tested with all other Tour riders at the beginning and was found to be in the normal range. After the Tour began, the press conference was held notifying the public of his hip condition and stated that he would be receiving hip replacement shortly after the Tour's finish. In short, this meant that he had no post Tour aspirations so his post Tour fitness was no longer a concern. If his fitness was no longer a concern, then why would he be injecting a training enhancing drug that would not provide benefits until weeks later.
This fact is why I'm not convinced. The interrogation component lends me to initially believe him. He has not used the common tactic of deflection used by the guilty. He has not offered out of the ordinary explanations for the finding. A guilty person often tries to control the information and explanations during this initial phase, Floyd has not attempted this at any level. Some who are evasive do use the "I don't know" as a tactic, which Floyd may be doing, but I return to the fact that the drug being discussed doesn't appear to accomplish the goal of the crime.
Jon M. Holmes
I want to believe that Floyd is innocent. I hope and pray that the B Sample does not confirm the A Sample. However, I share the same view as Floyd that one cannot be optimistic about a different result.
I agree that the UCI should not have announced that an A Sample was positive. I don't blame Phonak for releasing the information that it was Floyd. In fact, they did not have any choice once the rumour mill started.
Everyone knows that a rider cannot race after a positive A Sample test. Once the UCI made their announcement, it did not take a rocket scientist to put 2 and 2 together regarding Floyd's absence from the crits he agreed to race.
Floyd should consider a lawsuit against the UCI if there is a protocol for releasing information regarding a positive A Sample prior to confirming the B Sample. It is the direct actions of the UCI that led to Floyd's identity being revealed before the B Sample was tested.
From what I have read about testosterone levels, I believe that Floyd is innocent. However, I also believe that he will have a difficult time proving it if the B Sample confirms the first test.
My one thought is, something in all of this doesn't add up. Testosterone, as I understand it, doesn't produce spectacular 1 day performances like we saw on stage 17 - EPO would have been a much likelier candidate. In fact, this was pointed out by Gary Wadler, a doctor with WADA, (WADA is one of the fiercest of the anti-doping agencies). Moreover, if Landis were a user, he should have shown abnormal T/E ratios in all the tests during the race (he had several others), not just after stage 17 (at least according to what I have read). Finally, knowing that he would be tested if he won stage 17, why would he take a drug that wouldn't help him and would be easily detected?
I don't know Landis and am not defending him personally, and given the recent history of the sport, nothing surprises me at this stage. But doesn't something about all this seem odd?
Probably I am just naïve...
Landis - Say it ain't so!
I feel the same way! However, I have a problem with the media using the term "doping" and "tested positive". Does anyone actually think the B sample could show a different ratio? Pee is pee! And who is going to share the information from his test earlier in the Tour regarding his testosterone level? If his level is always higher than an average ratio wouldn't the earlier test be higher also? Shouldn't someone look at tests from other races? Wasn't he tested in the Tour of Ga and the Tour of Ca?
Will anyone tell us how testosterone injections could positively influence a rider. My question is what would the motivation be? Perhaps there is one. I am curious.
I have only followed cycling since Lance's first Tour win but in those few years I have really gotten attached. My 10 year old son thinks Barry Bonds sucks and is, as we speak, out on his bike. His bedroom wall is covered with Lance Armstrong posters..
I must admit, after the news conference today, I believe Floyd. I hope it ain't so.
Well, I'm about to give up on the whole thing. Not the riding and the racing, but the watching and the passionate support. The L-B-L poster has come down from over my desk and I've become more reticent to admit my devotion to the sport to non-cyclists. I have a creeping suspicion that I'm the fastest clean cyclist left, and I'm a pokey-slow 50yr old. So this is what it has come to.
Now on to the testing. The notion that a scientific test can have no false positives is patently ridiculous, and anyone claiming that for his or her test should not be allowed to call themselves a scientist. We all know that things can and do go wrong in a lab, just like anywhere else. Lets take Mr Hamilton's heterologous RBC infusion positive as an example. I initially was ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, but when I found out about the on/off test variations over the course of the season I was quickly convinced of his guilt. Positives by two methods are much more robust than positives by one. But then the Operacion Puerto, and we find out that his program (purported) was autologous doping (by far the smarter way) augmented by drug use. Now, he was found guilty of having two different sets of blood cell surface antigens as detected by antibody probing and flow cytometry in a method that Dr Ashenden has claimed to produce no false positives. And yet if Mr Hamilton had stuck to the program, and there's no reason to believe that he would not have, the result is by definition a false positive (as pointed out in the letter pages last week). It does not change the fact that Mr Hamilton is probably guilty as sin, but means that he was probably caught more by luck than judgement. I have a couple of theories as to how he might have ended up reacting to two sets of antibody probes, but that's for another time.
Now the news about Mr Landis, and my initial reaction was crushing. Against my better judgement I'd been rooting for the guy, hoping that somehow this Tour would be better, that things were on the upswing. But they are not. After about 24hr I had become resigned to it. But then the scientist kicked in. One of the dirty little secrets of antibody-based testing is that the test is only as good as the specificity of the antibody, and that is sometimes not as good as we would like. The T/E test would be done by ELISA, an antibody-binding based test. Mr Landis's team need to make sure that what has been detected as testosterone is actually testosterone and not something else that cross-reacts with the Anti-T in the ELISA. They need to insist on a second method used in parallel that will give a more authentic identification of the testosterone, as well as an independent measure of the level. I would recommend Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) or High-Performance Liquid Chromatograpy-MS if there is enough sample. The chief suspect for cross-reactivity in my opinion would be plasticisers (probably phthalate esters) and the most likely source would be those 70 bottles. I'm sure the team mechanics didn't carefully soak and wash them before use, the phthalate esters can be absorbed through the skin as well as through the gut, and I've personal experience of these compounds interfering with steroid assays (although it wasn't an ELISA test). Only when the high testosterone value is confirmed should there be a search for the reason for it, and Mr Landis may be doing himself a disservice with all this public speculation (now there's Jack Daniels as well as the beer?!)
I'm not really expecting him to be innocent given everything past, but I believe he should get a fair shake. With the first positive out there already, I imagine that the political pressure to get a confirmation could overwhelm the scientific imperative to find the truth.
I'm not sure of the most useful forum to get these thoughts out, but I thought I'd start here. Maybe one of the Landis team might see it.
Having spoken to a number of people within the medical community, there are a number of questions that need to be explored. First, what is baseline for the average person is not baseline for elite athletes. Why not periodically test them to establish a long-term baseline for comparative results in the future? The teams should be able to do this with approved through Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). The CLIA program is to ensure quality laboratory testing, which must be certified by government or industry entity. Second, the shoot first and ask later, is a really poor way for the UCI to operate. If the UCI are not careful about this, then sponsorship will dry up and hence the interest in the sport slides away. There are huge contracts involved here as well as advertising and marketing sales at risk. Discretion is the better part of valour.
Third, this is testosterone which takes weeks for the body to derive benefits from. Incidentally, if alcohol is consumed it has a tendency to lower one of the data points thereby boosting the ratio into above normal areas.
Fourth, no one has talked about dehydration and its impact on such ratios. Clearly with less water in the body after a hot, hard ride, concentration of just about every electrolyte, protein, enzyme, etc. are elevated. Fifth, and I will say it here, there is no assurance of tampering with the samples. Lance Armstrong took extraordinary care in what he ate and drank to the point of being called a type A nut. He also challenged several entities who performed urine and blood analyses rigorously, as was able to get a lab to admit to poor procedures. Again, I mention CLIA, the treatment of chemicals and analytic procedures utilized have to be exact, uniform and certified. The samples have to be anonymous while testing, so no "special" consideration is paid to them.
In nothing that I have read are there assurances that the riders' best interests are being served. The samples could be deliberately tampered with at any point from the taking of the sample until the analysis. Or in a rush to get the samples analysed, a lab clinician could have used the same pipette on two different samples with or without control component, thereby tainting results. There are no representatives for the riders to make sure that analytic procedures and guidelines are being strictly observed. If this sport is to survive, then third part entities (not French) need to be involved and a sign-off procedure from collection to analysis made mandatory.
While there has been some information on T/E ratios provided now that Floyd has shown to have a high ratio, an article from an expert in the field would be a good idea to help us understand it in more detail. Unanswered questions that I have are:
Pro cyclists are on their bike four to six hours a day, even when they are not racing. This makes me think that their bodies have to rebuild muscle at a greater rate than the average person. Consequently, I'd guess that they would have higher levels of testosterone and human growth hormone levels than sedate people. Is this a correct assumption and, is so, is this accounted for in the testing of cyclists?
I've read that not one case of high T/E ratio has gone against the rider when appealed to the CAS. Given the variability of the ratio in individuals, and the others things that can influence the ratio (dehydration, fatigue, alcohol, etc.), it's seems no wonder the cases don't result in "convictions" at CAS. This begs the question of why test for it at all or, if you're going to test for it, why strip the rider of his title until the appeal to CAS is concluded?
If you have anyone that can address these questions, I think it would benefit us all in understanding what's going on with Floyd and help us decide whether he's being treated fairly.
The article attached to Deborah Hunter's post says it all... There is a huge difference between testing for a foreign substance and testing for a naturally occurring substance. It appears that the likelihood of a false positive is quite large, and that the proper level for this test is a huge open issue. The recent switch from 6:1, which was argued to be significantly too low in the Berry article, to an even lower 4:1 will generate even more false positives.
As the article explains, the sad part here is that unlike testing for foreign substances, a "positive" test (> 4.0) for the elusive testosterone / epitestosterone ratio proves little or nothing. Excessive reliance on a flawed process leads to bad decision making and the inaccurate appearance of addressing the problem. For the good of the sport, WADA and UCI can't afford to look like they are willing to abandon proper scientific methods in exchange for quick fix answers and a rush to judgment.
I am curious about the samples from the other days Floyd Landis was tested. Have they been used to confirm that the samples have not been tainted in any way whatsoever? Analytically speaking is there a drug that would provide any benefit to a rider that would produce not only the result generated after stage 17th, but that result in light of the results on previous and subsequent days. Put another way, what were his test results for the day before and the two days after the positive A sample, and is that series of results within any sort of reasonable scientific range.
The prohibition against cheating in cycling through the use of banned chemicals is well established and broadly accepted as being in the interest of cycling. Operation Puerto exposed the clearest examples I have seen of proof of violating this prohibition, and painful as it is, the consequences have been handled appropriately. As Floyd Landis' reputation continues to be decimated, potentially irretrievably, in the world press on a daily basis, it would only seem fair for the press to do a better job of distinguishing between the absolute proof of Operation Puerto, and the circumstantial and potentially inconclusive nature of evidence against Landis. Furthermore, it would also seem only fair to mention that the test, depending on the actual level reported, has a margin of error that can be substantial.
In the end, is Pat McQuaid destined to play Javert, (Victor Hugo's overzealous policeman from Les Miserables who would follow Jean Valjean to the death for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread), or will balance and reason rule the day? There is nothing wrong with punishing a rider when science produces incontrovertible evidence of a violation. However, when science produces questionable results, we need to accept that some guilty riders will get away with the violation until a more accurate test is devised. In the mean time, perhaps a positive test for this particular ratio should lead to a material increase in the scrutiny of the rider in question including significantly broader daily testing. That would seem like a more balanced response to a potentially faulty test than what is currently being employed.
Even if the B sample matches the A sample, it doesn't mean much at all. People seem to forget that testosterone is a natural body substance. Hello? If Floyd's natural ratio is 2:1 or 3:1 and then he peaked up to 5:1 or 6:1 on the day of his incredible performance. Testosterone increases with anger and rage and it increases with extreme large muscle exertion. Floyd seemed to have both going on Stage 17. The "tipping" point for testosterone should be more like 15:1, according to researchers mentioned by others in these letters. That 4:1 is the ratio used, with such a high naturally occurring rate, is simply a joke.
This is ridiculous. It seems to defy a) logic b) science and c) justice. If bicycling wants to clean things up they need to overhaul their testing system to give us some confidence. At this point I don't know whether to believe just about everyone does it but few get caught, or only a few do it and they are getting caught. Hey Ulrich give us a damn DNA test. Let's put your innocence to bed.
This Landis incident gives me little to no confidence in the testing system at all. I want to know the results of Landis' other tests. He took tests as Yellow Jersey wearer two days earlier and also two days later. Now if these aren't positive someone explain why? Did he only take performance enhancer on one day. Had he been taking it in the lead up to the alps and it finally caught up with him. Here's the logic part, if he really did dope for this one day would he have
Second, science. Everything I'm reading is about the inexact science of testosterone testing. Lookup what happened to Mary Decker Slaney. These are elite athletes. Their bodies aren't at the same level as yours and mine. They're a little better - genetics, countless years of training, etc. They have more horsepower, they have greater VO2 and probably greater testosterone. If the science is so questionable, how can we convict based on one failure.
And justice. We've leaked this info to the public and pretty much labelled him guilty. It makes me so angry that they are constantly finding people guilty based on one item but we the public don't really understand that much about the testing system. But here's the crock, we find these athletes guilty based on one test (yeah two tests of one sample but it's still one sample at one point in time).
It's time that controls are explained a bit more. I want to know what the procedure
is for handling the urine/blood samples. They should be at a minimum handled
and sealed by the governing body and the athlete's team and sent off to two
separate facilities. There's a lot at stake here. I want to know if there's
a unique failure (fail one day but pass every other day) that we can have confidence
in the testing system. Let's make sure there is absolutely no possibility of
fraud or human error. Why not get samples from every rider every day. They don't
have to test them all. They store all of them but they can still use the present
system of which samples they test. Then if a failure shows up they can compare
the athlete's other samples. If you're not cheating then you shouldn't have
a problem with the possibility of giving samples everyday. But you know that
you can be tested on any given day.
It just leaves you sick in the stomach to think that these extraordinary feats may be the result of predefined illegal advantages (doping) and not as great as when you watch them. But honestly the thing that makes me even sicker in the stomach is that after witnessing one of the most amazing, motivational, inspirational moments in sports history that these feats may be incorrectly stripped away from an innocent man.
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