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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 10, 2007
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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Smarter Drug Testing
I have a few novel ideas that if put in practice could help to eliminate drugs from cycling.
1. Establish an independently run testing company that is free from the UCI, ASO and all federations - and only follows guidelines established by the IOC or WADA without any direct involvement from someone like Dick Pound or McQuaid.
This new anti-doping group would be free to test at any event and any category of racers even beginners, masters, elites, juniors and pros. The idea is to make it probable that you might be randomly tested at anytime as a bike racer in any country, and at any level. The key is that not all of the samples have to actually be tested - thus lowering the expense of the program, but making every racer worried about being tested. A portion of the racers license fees and race entry fees would go into a testing pool. Fewer samples would be collected from lower categories and more advanced tests could be run on the pro fields and from samples taken at the larger races. Collection of the samples doesn't mean it has to be tested by the lab.
2. Send all A samples to one lab and all B samples to another lab, with all testing of A or B samples would be done by random selection, and both labs would be notified electronically to test a particular sample number and what type of tests to run simultaneously. An independent scientist would then compare the actual test results at the same time, and only then would a positive be announced. This would create no delay between A & B sample testing and the test results from each lab would need to be the identical for a positive result. The appeal phase should be much quicker and with independent safeguards in place and independent verification of positives there shouldn't be any reason to have a trial - CAS could be the next and final step for any appeal - otherwise automatic suspension.
After reading numerous reports about the "alleged" sighting of Rasmussen in the Dolomites by ex-pro and RAI commentator Davide Cassani, and a CN reader's letter asking why Cassani chose to reveal the info when he did, I thought it opportune to relate in its entirety the story of how Cassani's revelation came to be. It is common knowledge of anyone who was watching the RAI coverage of the Tour.
Last spring, Cassani and a film crew were in the Dolomites, shooting segments for a DVD series on legendary climbs. On one particular day, when it was raining, cold, and miserable, Cassani was surprised to meet another rider, and when they stopped to exchange greetings, he discovered it was Rasmussen. Thus, Cassani didn't "allegedly" see Rasmussen, or see a rider he thought resembled Rasmussen--he actually spoke with him, and there was no doubt as to the rider's identity.
During the Tour broadcast, Cassani recounted this incident to viewers. His purpose in doing so was to express his wonder and admiration of Rasmussen's dedication, sacrifice, and work ethic. He stated that Rasmussen had told him that he'd trained several hours on that wretched day. (After the news of Rasmussen's deception broke during the Tour, RAI replayed that segment during the stage broadcast).
Cassani's account was also heard by a Danish journalist who was following the story of the missed tests and the questions about Rasmussen's whereabouts. This eventually led to the fact of the sighting being brought to De Rooy's attention. He contacted Cassani and asked him if he were sure it was Rasmussen, and sure of the date. Cassani was sure of the date because he was there working on the video segment. Thus, it was not a case of Cassani volunteering the information at a critical time, for the purpose of catching Rasmussen in a lie. He could not possibly have known that Rasmussen was supposedly in Mexico in that time period. His mention of the chance encounter in the Dolomites was intended to enhance the Dane's image, not destroy it.
All of us know, for cycling to flourish and prosper to reach its potential we need to rid ourselves of the drug issue. The sport is in serious jeopardy to the point of our Olympic status being threatened. That means ridding ourselves of the old attitudes. That is why I am very disturbed by Discovery Team Director Johan Bruyneel's answers to legitimate and serious questions on doping. I transcribed one of them from the Tour de France:
Member of the Press:
"Johan, allow me to ask this question. Today, a lot of the French press are saying "The Death of the Tour de France", "The End of the Tour de France". It certainly couldn't stand another big shock like this. Alberto's a young rider, he's a talented rider, and he's a fine young man. Tell us we can 100% trust this young yellow jersey."
Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel:
"Yeah, I'm mean, what I can say is that he's a rider that I've been following since he's 18 years old. He's always been one of my preferences. I have always wanted him on the team. I've seen great things from him. He's one of the best climbers. I know how hard he trains. He's only 24, but I also know how mature he already is for a young guy, and I think he has a bright future. And I have every reason to believe that he's going to be a very big champion in the future."
That answer and many of his other evasive answers to drug questions would be amusing if cycling's drugs issue wasn't so serious. Being that Bruyneel has now won 8 of the past 9 Tour de France's he has a responsibility to take on a leading role on the fight against drugs. We cannot let him off the hook because he's the Team Director of a US team. The future of our sport depends on asking the tough questions of everyone. There are no sacred cows.
Ok, colour me cynical but the Discovery Channel team seems very tolerant of doping.
Firstly Basso was hired when under a cloud, yes the court case was closed but the suspicion hadn't gone... lo and behold Basso admits he's doped when the DNA samples were going to be compared.
Now it's Contador under investigation. With the team manager leaping to his defence.
Is it just me or are the Disco boys more tolerant of their team doping than others. You don't see them implementing their own tests. I suspect it might be a bit harder for them to get a sponsor and if Discovery Channel weren't going anyway they might be a little more brutal about ensuring that Bruyneel put some measures in place to combat it.
The letter from Theo Schmid mirrored by own thoughts concerning the lack of follow through with all the evidence collected during Operation Puerto. When Contador was allowed to race in the Tour I was astonished at how he could have been cleared without adequate explanation as to how his name got plastered throughout the evidence that was collected.
I remember where Fuentes had made a statement that he had "clients" in sports other than cycling but somehow there was no Op Puerto evidence to support this. Spaniard Nadals name had appeared in a French paper in connection with Op Puerto but there seems to be no evidence left to support the papers allegation. Where are the investigations that would either support or refute those claims by Fuentes of clients in other sports? I wonder if most of those "clients" were Spaniards.
I'm highly suspicious of conspiracy theories but someone has to step forward and explain what happened to all the evidence collected during Op Puerto and why all Spanish athletes seem to be as clean and pure as the driven snow.
After this year's exciting Tour de France, and the disappointing drug test failures of a number of well-known cyclists, I've been wondering if we're missing some of those who are to blame for cycling's current embarrassment regarding doping
I'd like to add a couple more suspects to the list of who's to blame: how about Dick Pound and Jean-Marie LeBlanc?
Both were well known for their suspicions about Lance Armstrong. After all, "How could someone who suffered from cancer ride like that, unless he was cheating?" And both focused a lot of efforts to catch Armstrong through many unannounced, random tests as well as in competition tests. Of course, all of these tests were negative.
But why was no one else caught in that era? I've been wondering about this: could it be that Pound, LeBlanc, et al. were so focused on catching Armstrong that they ignored everyone else? And as a result, it became easy to dope in cycling - as long as your name wasn't Armstrong.
What is obvious is that this year they expanded their testing to a lot more riders, and a lot more were caught than any year since 1998. What if the powers that be had put more effort in the years after 1998 into checking everyone not just that blasted American who kept winning? Perhaps cycling would be a whole lot cleaner had they done so.
It's certainly a thought worth pondering.
Bill Kinkead's letter of July 29, 2007 echoes my sentiments exactly. Quite simply, I don't care one iota what LNDD has to say at this point. I feel like the anti-doping authorities are on a crusade and are beyond caring if they wreck a few careers in the process. I don't trust them, and I think their positive results are as suspect as some riders' wins.
I find it absolutely incredible that the same lab is responsible for both the A and B sample testing. If I were on the jury of a criminal case and a lab was counterchecking its own work, I'd acquit based on that alone. Considering the stakes at hand, I'd expect nothing less than two chains of custody in the case of anti-doping controls.
In the case of LNDD in particular, this is the lab that can't seem to keep from leaking test results. If they cannot follow simple protocols such as confidentiality rules, then how can they be trusted to properly perform complicated anti-doping tests?
Unfortunately, nobody seems to be asking these questions at the right levels. I'm disgusted with cycling and I didn't watch the Tour this year, but not because of doping, but rather anti-doping. I can't bear to consider the possibility of one false positive wrecking a career.
I believe that the riders need to organize and demand more fairness, counterchecking, and transparency in the anti-doping process. As a fan, I'm demanding that. I've lost interest in bicycle racing because I don't trust the authorities. I also believe that the riders need to start conducting their own anti-doping controls through some trustworthy third party.
I hope that Vino had blood drawn immediately after his ejection from the Tour de France and has had it examined in a trustworthy lab.
Regardless of the final outcome of Landis' or Vinokourov's cases, I will never know if they doped or not because the system that checked them is simply broken and untrustworthy. An untrustworthy anti-doping system is no better than untrustworthy victories.
I was shocked to read that Ryan Cox's death might potentially be due to him hastening his departure from the hospital due to concern over the expense of his surgery. Even more to learn that he and Robbie Hunter had financed the surgery in the first place.
Don't top-level professionals have health insurance provided by the team they race for? Especially since his illness was caused by his profession, why wasn't Barloworld more involved in paying for his surgery?
This makes me wonder about collarbones, broken bones, etc. suffered in competition. Are those paid for by the team?
As a weekend warrior amateur racer, I know first-hand how expensive injuries like this can be. I had just assumed that top-level professionals could go out and risk everything in a sprint or descent without seeing dollar signs in the back of their mind like I do.
I find it interesting that so many positively labelled doping tests are denied by the athletes to having used illegal substances. My question is - Would these testing techniques be utilized if there is such a high degree of false positives?
It just seems odd that every single positive result is denied as being untrue. From a scientific standpoint, this can't be true or else the techniques involved in testing and analysing the samples would not be considered standardized testing procedures. It's common sense really.
I guess if you don't have the correct judgement, morality, or ethics - which enables you to use illegal substances - then you probably don't have a problem in being able to lie about it, either.
What's amusing about the doping farce that is unravelling within cycling is that when the riders get caught the management (yes those guys who organise the doping) act with instant surprise and then come out with the classic, "well this proves that the doping controls are working". Surely if the doping controls were really working, this would result in nobody being caught since nobody was doping! The amount of people being caught would suggest that the system is an ongoing failure.
I was at two stages of the Tour this year, the Col de l'Aubisque and in Paris. I was there in the midst of the scandals; in Pau when the gendarmes were going through hotel rooms. I found it all quite a three ring circus. It was handled so poorly. If the Tour de France is concerned about its reputation, then the situation was handled exactly the wrong way. If the test results are to be believed, then they should have been handled in private and without huge hourly press conferences. As a result of the way the spectacle was handled, even average Americans that know nothing of the Tour de France knew that there was a huge doping scandal.
I've enjoyed the Tour de France since I was in junior high school. My closest friends live in France and take great pleasure in making accusations toward Lance, then Floyd & now Discovery, etc... The bottom line is that the French people that I come in contact with all seem to take great glee in any other country's athletes being accused of doping. How many years has it been since a Frenchman has done anything to speak of at the Tour de France? How many others find it more than a little bit suspicious that French athletes are not testing positive? Are we to believe that the French are the only ones honest enough not to participate? I find it hard to believe. Or are all of the other countries athletes being targeted.
The lab in France and the Tour de France are clearly not following standards by leaking test results after only test A has come back. Until they begin to handle testing properly and stop treating every "test" result as a photo op, I for one will not buy anything that they are selling.
Brenda L. Bradt
I guess we could just rename it too. Maybe the tour of the Midlands. The Tour de France is what it is. The difficulty makes it what it is. If you don't like it don't watch it. If a rider can't finish it then maybe he needs to train harder. Changing the race is not the answer. Remember guys are cheating to win the 100m.
Less mountain stages #2
Less mountain stages? No.
Just get rid of the doping. Ensure all teams have a clear doping control as per Telecom, CSC and Slipstream, monitored by the UCI and in place at least six months before the next Tour.
That combined with the rider monitoring of the UCI, using the British UK Sport monitoring system, would give us a clean tour. A slower tour and I suspect a more competitive tour as the leading group would be more equal.
Less mountain stages #3
I think we are seeing the best riders winning the TdF. Contador started the Tour in support of Leipheimer and was not considered a team leader.
The Tour just worked out well for him and Discovery. Cadel Evans did not have a team built around him to support his GC aims. Evans and Leipheimer are more all-round riders: they are good but not excellent climbers, and decent but not specialist at the time trial. Hence, having more flat stages is unlikely to be the answer because this does not represent the best all-round cyclist (although I would love to see the likes of Stuey O'Grady or Jens Voigt get the just rewards).
However, one positive step forward would be to ban race radios. This would give the breakaways more of a fighting chance and the sprinters' teams would have to employ more tactical skills to counteract the breakaways. This would make the traditionally more boring stages in the big stage races more exciting for the viewers and fans. It made Di Luca's win in the Giro more special for his ability to read the race and not reply on race radios.
It's not completely accurate to say that no one has ever won their case against doping charges in the USA. Possibly no cyclist has, although I would be a little surprised even at that.
In the 1990's a number of prominent track & field athletes won doping cases, including Butch Reynolds, Mary Slaney, and Dennis Mitchell.
Butch Reynolds actually won a judgement from a US court against the IAAF (track & field's equivalent of UCI). There were problems with the process with these athletes, and they might not have been let off with today's better procedures, but it has happened before.
Team Telecom are doing a great job and I for one hope Telecom will see the job through and continue their support.
Along with Telecom we have CSC and now Slipstream with plans to be able to demonstrate their teams are as clean as can possibly be proven.
It shows the way forward giving the ASO and the UCI together the answer. ASO simply demand all teams in next years Tour have at least as good testing regimes in place as Telecom, CSC and Slipstream and for at least six months before the next tour. All tests to be fully up to date for any rider participating. All testing should be carried out with either UCI or WADA approval and monitoring of the testing programme. The ASO together with the teams and UCI go over the team lists the week before the event confirming all the testing.
The UCI can also assist by introducing the British UK Sport competitor monitoring system - it makes it easy and reliable to know where competitors are. It would ensure no more of the "Rasmussen" type problems.
These two measures would finally change the face of cycling. It would set the bar for the future.
This needs to be declared now to give teams time to gather the resources, get approvals etc. It would be the ultimate step towards a clean Tour. We might still get the odd positive but we would also get some very different names on the podiums to join a few of the current top riders who would still be there.
Sinkewitz positive #2
As a rider of the team, whose leader is Bob Stapleton, I can confirm and underline what was stated in the letter by Ali.
We have been doing great things, impossible to do without the environment created by the team management, who is leaded by Bob. I understand that after the last years event people can be confused and they don't know who to believe in anymore. I am sure of one thing: cycling and sports in general need persons and managers with his quality, passion, long term vision, strong will to change the things.
Joe Horton is hardly the first person to propose the criminalization of doping as the solution to cycling's doping problem; doping has already been criminalized in some jurisdictions. Even so, it is doubtful that there is any merit in this idea. There is the problem that it flies in the face of all available evidence: criminalization of alcohol did not eliminate alcohol, criminalization of prostitution did not eliminate prostitution, and criminalization of betting did not eliminate betting, and so on. In fact, criminalization of an activity is more accurately interpreted as a sign that the activity in question is endemic and will exist for the foreseeable future.
Beyond this, criminalization is likely to actively impair the fight against doping. That is because the standard of proof in criminal cases, generally something like "beyond reasonable doubt", is higher than the current standard of proof in doping: "the preponderance of the evidence." For instance, I think that most people would agree that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that Vinokourov is guilty of blood doping. But in its own piece on the subject, Cyclingnews suggested that the incidence of false positives in homologous transfusion testing is unknown. A defence lawyer in a criminal trial would have a field day with this fact. As a jurist, how am I supposed to be confident of guilt beyond reasonable doubt if the expert prosecution witnesses cannot say how much doubt there really is? There is a real possibility, then, that Vinokourov would be acquitted in a criminal trial.
Not every type of test has the same degree of uncertainty, of course. Also, we can hope that our confidence in all doping tests will be increased in the future. But that is not the end of the problem. The current standard of scrutiny of the chain of custody within testing laboratories is deplorable. Rules of disclosure and confidentiality are broken routinely; how many recent doping results have not been leaked before the official announcement? Criminals will commit the easiest crimes, not the hardest. If, somehow, we could make the tests themselves 100% perfect that would simply make it easier for an athlete to cheat by framing his competitor rather than enhancing his own performance. People bet on cycling; what is to stop someone from fixing a bet by bribing a tester, if testing authorities regard their personnel as above suspicion? Certainly these scenarios are unlikely. But they are obviously not impossible, because similar events have already occurred in other sports. Both could plausibly be advanced as reasonable doubts.
Adrian Grose states:
"It is now patently clear which performances are suspect rather than supreme"
Really? I believe one of the biggest tragedies of having cheats in the peloton and complete, bumbling idiots (WADA, LNDD, UCI, ASO, l'Equipe, et.al.) trying to catch them, is that it is now patently *unclear* which performances are suspect rather than supreme.
Thanks to the prevalence of dopers, if a rider puts in a truly supreme performance, everyone automatically assumes he's on dope. Thanks to the gross incompetence of the anti-doping authorities, we have no way of definitively proving otherwise.
I find it absolutely astounding that the farce continues. What farce am I talking about? The farce whereby the results of tests are published by the old stalwart of the French, L'Equipe before anyone else hears about the result from the laboratory, including the dumbfounded riders.
All I have read over the past 18 months is how the riders must "obey the rules" or the teams must "follow the protocols and manage the procedure" when the so called "authorities" who are so vocal in their consternation over the "state of cycling" continue to allow this most fundamental aspect of the entire reporting procedure to go untethered and unquestioned.
How about the ASO, UCI and every other self promoting "manager" and I use the term extremely loosely, get the most fundamental rule correct before they start blaming others.
How do the reporters at L'Equipe know about the results before anyone else?
Why is it that when the report "breaks" the riders are immediately and unceremoniously chopped without the chance to even request a confirming test?
Who is actually running cycling anyway?
If we ever get to a perfect world where every rider is clean, and every team is answerable, managed correctly and punished accordingly if not managed correctly, then where will the "authorities" go to find a good scandal? If I didn't have more faith in human kind and I were a sarcastic individual I would suggest that the first stop would be L'Equipe, they seem to be able to run their own race and are the unquestioned judge, jury and executioner when it comes to riders guilt, whether deserved or not.
It's almost as if holding the race is simply not enough for the French, they have to spice it with scandal, timed to inflict maximum damage to the competitors, managers and shock to the spectators in order to make a "memorable event" out of what some would consider "just another bike race"
Just have a look at how they publicize the searching of team hotels as if it's Osama Bin Laden they are after and not a rider who has had a blood transfusion in a bicycle race. He's cheating in a sporting event, not conspiring to terrorize the world or commit mass genocide.
And on a brighter note, Bob Stapleton must be extremely proud of his daughter Ali. I would be Bob.
Vino response #2
I'm struck how in all these doping cases, the "innocent" athletes do not get themselves retested, especially when in important races, the results are available within a couple days.
Tell me why Vino didn't use his press conference on the rest day to bring in two bonded couriers and a doctor to draw four blood samples, two for each courier, and have them hand delivered to the UCLA and Montreal labs. And draw samples from 5 reporters to mix in with the real samples for true blind testing. The press could witness and film the drawing of samples (but not the sample codes). Heck, they could catch a flight with the courier to witness the chain of custody. This pays homage to the pursuit of truth rather than paying money to a bunch of lawyers whose job can only be to cast doubt.
If there's something funny in the blood chemistry, there will be study. More facts will come out. It'll be much more productive than a year plus of obfuscation. I have little doubt athletes' body chemistry could be unique. Exceptional stress can do exceptional things. But if all the tests come back positive and a range of experts don't see much room for wiggling, the athlete could just drop off the face of the Earth and get out of the news, our lives and their sport.
This is especially applicable in Vino's case because it might take a month or more for all traces of the second blood cells to be replaced. A blood sample drawn after two days would be fine.
I absolutely agree with Steve Brandt's letter and it goes even further than that. Several years ago, American Major League Baseball finally started testing, with an announced test. If over 5% of the players tested positive, then they would institute more tests. Even knowing it was coming more than 5% tested positive. Compare this to cycling - out of tens of thousands of random and in-competition tests every year, far less than 1% test positive. Track and field (my main sport) has testing that is strong but not quite as strong as cycling and it's an even smaller percentage of positives. Yet even knowing it was coming, more than 5% tested positive in American baseball.
Or let's look at other sports like football (soccer) or American football. These sports have far inferior testing programs, but does anyone truly believe that with all the money at stake that somehow cyclists are all dirty and these other sports are clean because no one gets caught?
The fact that other sports do it is no excuse. But it's galling to watch the Tour broadcast and hear the American commentator Al Trautwig speculate whether the sport can be saved. Let's do the same kind of testing for these other sports and then we'll compare notes. I'm glad to see these scandals in cycling, just as I was glad to see the high profile track & field cases a couple years ago. It means that the testers are catching more of the dopers.
I have no respect for Eric Zabel. His honesty and token integrity is many years too late and was probably calculated with lawyer in tow. Now that he's fooled us all and taken his spoils, depriving other riders of many opportunities. Think of all the cyclists he impeded in their progress to make it to the top.
Cycling at the top is tenuous; a small difference is all the difference. There are so many things beyond the rider's control. After years of hard work a cyclist can have his best day stolen by a crash, a cold, a bad breakfast and many other circumstances but do we really need Zabel to be added to this list of negative circumstances. Zabel robed many of a chance to elevate their status.
I will respect (a little) Zabel and some of the "others" if they give back every dollar they stole from the riders below them on the results sheets. I'm sure some of these riders owe in the millions.
In response to the LeMond accusation by John Daigle of Atlanta, clearly you know little of the training methods used by the endurance athletes of the late 80s and those that are currently competing. There have been no "revelations" or incredible mind boggling breakthroughs since Greg quit competing in '93. In fact if anybody should recognize the rapid increase of pace and recovery time in the peloton it would be Greg as he retired partially because of it.
Greg worked harder than anybody at training and used the same methods most still use today. Periodisation.
In fact if you take his power output and other physiological data like his 45 % Heamatocrit level 95 vo2 max (13 points higher than Armstrong's) it remains abundantly clear that had there been no doping in the peloton he would have won for many more years.
In your argument against LeMond you fail to realise that he wasn't on a level playing field to begin with. His genetics were far superior to anyone he was competing against. He could compete and win against guys using steroids and methamphetamines but the introduction of EPO gave his competitors an edge that even Greg couldn't overcome.
Wake up and smell the coffee everyone! Merckx thinks 25% of the peloton are not clean, and I reckon he's about right. Shame we can't catch the rest. At least we know about the Telekom team's years of doping, that explains Ulrich's total collapse of form the day after the Festina raid in '98.
Why was Landis stupid? He wasn't clued up on the new test. Why was Vino stupid? He didn't know that the French lab could now test for autologous transfusions (the test does exist Bill) not just the Swiss lab. WADA and the labs are not vigilantes; they are there to protect the livelihood of the 75% that are clean. I don't suppose the dopers thought about the rights of the clean riders did they? No, they are selfishly in it for the money and damn everyone else.
I would kick them out for life, and the organisers should sue them for loss of earnings and damage to reputation. If suing became standard practice I think that this and the threat of a years salary loss would bring a quicker end to doping as would removing the huge disparity in earnings between the good and those with good results!
Can any rational person believe these pro cyclists would take a chance? Yes, with all that money at stake (Rasmussen reckons he's lost 13 million Euros!). A good percentage of the human race are natural gamblers, the last cycling batch have just lost the bet and good riddance.
As for Rasmussen's whereabouts, I recommend reading the full article in the 29 July Sunday Times. Cassani didn't just see him in Italy, they had a conversation.
And as for boy wonder Contador, wonder indeed! I wonder how long it will be before the existing evidence is used to nail him. I don't think we will be waiting too long.
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