Col Joux Plane TdeF 2000 Ullrich-Armstrong

When I back up and look at the news one might file under the heading of “doping in cycling” what has been published in the last six months should give us all pause.

Let’s recap a few of the highlights:

  • Christian Prudhomme thinks cycling is clean(er) because there were no positive tests at the Tour de France.
  • The AFLD says Astana got a free ride at the Tour even though they were the most controlled team there.
  • Some cyclists at the Tour de France were on anti-hypertension drugs and while not banned, no one seems to know why healthy endurance athletes would have dangerously high blood pressure.
  • Two new drugs likely to boost endurance athletes’ performance are on the market but have yet to be banned.
  • Bernard Kohl gives monthly interviews in which he teases out new details of his doping like the last five minutes of a soap opera episode that airs on Friday.
  • Jan Ullrich had Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ number programmed into his cell phone.
  • In 2009, Danilo DiLuca, Mikel Astarloza, Nuno Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal, Hector Guerra, Gabrielle Bosisio, Christian Pfannberger and Antonio Colom all tested positive for EPO or CERA. That’s eight riders caught.

I now return to Christian Prudhomme and his statement regarding doping. What Prudhomme told Reuters last summer was “Cycling has changed.”


He also said, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.”

Mikel Astarloza’s positive sample was given during the Tour, so that pretty well kills Prudhomme’s implicit belief that the ’09 Tour was clean. The fact that Astarloza’s non-negative result was announced until weeks after the end of the Tour is an unfortunate blemish on the Tour.

Those anti-hypertensive drugs? What could cause athletes in the top one percent of cardiovascular fitness in the world to be concerned about high blood pressure? Maybe blood that moves like sewage as a result of autologous blood doping, EPO or CERA? Hypertension is a recurring theme of blood transfusions.

Oh, and the fact that Fuentes’ number was in Ullrich’s cell phone? No surprise. No one with their eyes open actually thought there was a kite’s chance in a hurricane that Ullrich raced clean. Move on, nothing to see here.

As I mentioned, eight riders have tested positive for EPO or CERA this year. Some will take this news as a reassurance that WADA is improving in its ability to catch dopers. Unfortunately, there is strong anecdotal evidence that some of the riders who have been caught had been doping for a while, which suggests they had evaded some previous doping controls. If some doping controls are being evaded, then logic dictates that there must be riders who are evading detection as we speak. The question then is, what portion of the number of riders using EPO or CERA are these eight? Are they 90 percent of the doping riders? Not likely. We would be lucky if they are 50 percent of the athletes still using EPO or CERA.

So testing is catching some cyclists who are doping while others are evading detection. How do you improve upon this situation? Well, there’s one easy answer: You test every rider every day. Unfortunately, the combined operating budget of both WADA and the UCI simply couldn’t pay for all that testing. So instead, priorities are set, which means that choices must be made about who is tested.

WADA could break up the total number of tests each year and distribute those tests evenly between all professional riders. If you, like Prudhomme, believe that “cycling has changed” then you will also believe that not everyone is doping. Moving forward with that belief you are likely to decide some riders are targeted more than other riders.

So if some riders are going to be targeted for testing more frequently than their peers, the obvious choice is to go after riders who arouse suspicion. That means testing anyone who wins a race—a tactic already employed with good reason. In some parts, they call this profiling. Call it racing while juiced.

So what’s such a program look like? Well, it looks like Astana gets tested 81 times during the Tour de France and the French teams Cofidis and FdJeux were tested 26 times each and Bouygues Telecom was tested 23 times.

Is that fair? It depends on how you define fair. It certainly isn’t an even distribution of resources, but then this isn’t a resource we want distributed evenly, is it? Shouldn’t it be distributed most heavily to the teams and athletes that appear time after time on the podium? Generally speaking, there’s little risk of seeing a Cofidis, FdJeux or Bouygues Telecom rider atop the podium, whereas Astana and Saxo Bank had stellar seasons.

Johan Bruyneel doesn’t believe that the high level of scrutiny his team received was warranted. We all know otherwise. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the AFLD claiming that Astana received preferential treatment during the Tour.

This may be the single strangest piece of news as regards doping in cycling. It is surprising because it shows that there isn’t a united front involving the UCI, WADA and the AFLD. The AFLD is, in fact, a bit player in the doping fight, a service provider to WADA and the UCI, not an actual portion of the enforcement apparatus.

Allow me a moment to draw an analogy. Lance Armstrong has admitted he can’t beat Alberto Contador mano a mano. So what is his game plan for the 2010 Tour de France? He has already revealed that he plans to beat Contador’s team and leave the Spaniard isolated.

Unfortunately, the doping fight has no one winner. Even though a fractured Astana still won the Tour de France, a rift between the AFLD and the UCI only results in a weakened fight against doping. Stranger still was the fact that samples taken by the AFLD of five French riders on the same French team were sent to the lab with their full identifying information on the samples. That hardly constitutes anonymous and blatantly violates the Code and International Standard of Testing.

If you are a doper, knowing there is unrest in the enforcement camp must bring you satisfaction.

Next: Bernard Kohl and the new generation of dopers

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. grolby

    I remember when Prudhomme came out with that statement, and I thought it was one of the most bizarrely misled cases of wishful thinking I had ever heard. No positives doesn’t mean that no one is doping; it means that no one was CAUGHT doping. There are two possible reasons for no one to be caught doping: 1) No one is doping. This is improbable (frankly, it’s preposterous). 2) Dopers are still able to evade controls. That seems more likely to be. My take on Prudhomme’s statement was that, in his position, I would be very deeply concerned, not pleased.

  2. MM

    The AFLD has always had a bit of a hard on for Lance, and that boner extended to his Astana team during the Tour. 81 tests versus an average of 25 for the French teams…odd don’t you think? Kinda lends credence to the myriad assertions that the AFLD is crooked, at best!
    Can’t wait to see how many times Radio Shack gets tested. Maybe the AFLD will just assign a tester to follow their team bus everywhere.

    1. Author

      Grolby: Thanks for dropping by. I completely agree with you.

      MM: You’re right that AFLD (and also WADA) have a major issue with Lance and his team of the season, and you’re right that it’s very uneven that the French teams received an average of 25 controls each compared to Astana’s 81. However, if you consider that Astana won three stages, put two riders on the podium and took home the most prize money as compared the three stage wins between Agritubel and Bouygues Telecom and that of those four teams only one rider cracked the top 10 on GC, the number of tests seems more evenly distributed.

      Look for the fire where there’s smoke.

      It won’t seem unreasonable to me to assign one guy to follow The Shack bus around. But I’d also keep one guy on Astana at all times.

  3. Robot

    I think the main problem is that the peloton still accepts dopers. Yes, there are a few riders willing to speak out against doping and a few teams with transparent testing programs, but for the most part the peloton maintains silence.

    To borrow a phrase, silence = dope.

    On the face of it, the UCI, WADA and the AFLD want the dope out of the sport (though sometimes I question this, based on the way they conduct themselves), but the peloton is still unsure, and as long as the peloton protects its own, there will be dope.

  4. mark

    Robot, at first I was incensed that the peloton would do that. Then I remembered that in my lowly cat. 4 races, there are rumors of doping with one of the riders who went from off-the-back in practice crits to earning a cat. 3 upgrade in three races. None of us said anything to anyone, we just talked amongst ourselves about this remarkable improvement.

    Is it better to point fingers and make noise and be accused of sour grapes if nothing comes of it, or to suffer in silence trying to race and compete clean?

  5. Dan Johnson

    jza, it is nieve to think a crit at the start line will be ‘done and done’. That is one of the points made, well I might add, of this article. I practice in Internal Medicine, and these guys that dope know more about doping than a harvard professor teaching biochemistry, they know doping practices, half-lifes, and antidotes and afterall…its their profession and they want to podium. The anti-hypertensives used in elite athlestes for BP control evidences to me 2 things. One, the sophmoric attitudes that exist in the upper eschalon of cycling & secondly that indeed the cyclist are volume overloaded, which simply the volume in and of itself will increase pressure, therefore they add on these afterload reducing drugs to maintain a normal pressure and thus can run hi crits/volumes/O2 carrying capacities.

    A second point, is that indeed this is done in the wide open and anyone in the anti-doping agencies should easily recognize this practice, its intuitive, its a given. And….if they are slow to recognize this, or recognize it and are doing little about it via accepting it, what are they doing about the advanced generation dope that the riders are taking and masking with other agents which is harder to detect? There many many other things that they are possibly taking and masking. It makes one wonder.

    And nonetheless at the end of another day, with all these self-critical considerations, I for one am pleased with the scrutiny that we put ourselves through…cycling, because not many other sports do. If it were not for cycling, the other sports would not have the means of recognizing dope and the screening/testing that is available for detection. I just hope it helps us first, and others later on.

  6. jza

    It’s not drugs you can test for. Autologous transfusions before big stages, oldest trick in the book. Then dilute with IV saline after the stage. Delay testing by saying the rider is being treated for severe dehydration before testing.

    The only way anyone rides like Lance is by having a hematocrit close to 60.

  7. Brian Ignatin

    I don’t think it is fair to compare the amount teams are tested in competition without understanding the control protocol being used in the particular race. The typical minimum protocol is that the stage winner and the GC leader are automatically tested, and some riders are randomly selected for testing. Alternates are also called (also selected randomly), but not tested, unless a primary selected rider doesn’t report to the control, or perhaps if there is a duplication (Stage winner & GC rider are the same), if so described in the races Tech Guide (the race bible issued to all teams & race staff).

    Thus if a team dominates the podium and awards ceremony, they are going to be tested more than other teams.

    Some race organizations will test more than proscribed minimums, extending the placings or category leaders, as well as testing more random riders. It is up to the race to decide to do this, and the race organizers pay for the testing, which isn’t insignificant.

    A better question for in competition testing is how random are the random selections. Are they truly random, or are riders/teams being profiled? Of course no one will fess up to profiling.

    The same question can be asked for out of competition testing; how are riders selected for normal controls, and who determines which riders are to be profiled and testing more often.

    FWIW, I served as the Doping Control Officer at the 2008 Univest Grand Prix (meaning I was USADA’s contact with the race organization, set-up the control room, and selected chaperones), and was on the Doping Control Team at the 2008 Tour of Pennsylvania & Philly Week races. I can honestly report that several of the USADA Testing Staff may know how to collect a sample, but do not have a clear understanding of the doping control rules, which affects the needs of the riders and the race organizers.

    Brian Ignatin

  8. Brian Ignatin


    Not that things don’t fall through the cracks or are overlooked, but USADA & WADA rules give a rider 1 hour to report to doping control after they are notified by the chaperone; it is rare that this deadline is extended. In the era of team buses locating and notifying riders is easier than ever. Stage winners and GC leaders report directly to podium “green rooms” in all major races.

    The chaperone must stay within immediate visual contact with the rider at all times until he reports to the control, and must report any unusual activities to the Anti Doping Authorities. A saline drip would be noted.

    When you watch TV coverage of major European races, you’ll almost always see chaperones (wearing clearly identifiable UCI vests) chasing after the riders, and sometimes in the background during interviews and green room shots.

    Brian Ignatin

  9. Larry T.

    AFLD nabbed a few cheaters in the ’08 Tour. UCI comes back and runs the show in ’09 and catches pretty much nobody. AFLD says UCI did a poor job. Since AFLD nabbed more cheaters it’s hard to argue with them. TdF officials say “cycling is clean(er) because there were no positive tests at the Tour de France” which is a true statement if you insert “the general pubic image of” in front of the quotes and let’s face it, that’s what ASO cares about and has cared about since the beginning. Race promoters don’t care about doping, all they care about is doping SCANDALS and bad publicity. Does UCI really care about doping since they are as much promoter as they are governing body? Organizations like WADA, AFLD, etc. have no real interest either way, their mission is to catch cheaters. Sadly, the cheaters will always be one (or two) steps ahead of the testers. No mention was made of the 200 ml “ozone” blood treatment/transfusions which seem to be going on as well as these other techniques. Only retroactive testing (with no BS about how “my sample was mishandled”) with real sanctions applied — even years later (like criminal prosecution, giving back the prize money, names crossed off the record books, etc.) has any chance of reducing widespread cheating. Taking sanctioning duties away from national federations might help as well — Operation Puerto anyone? Will they EVER force the Spaniards to come clean on this mess?

  10. Alex Torres

    In my opinion, the whole anti-doping war is more of a soap opera. They´re playing to the audience, putting up a show: we pretend to fight the dopers, you pretend to believe. In the end, for practical reasons “not caught doping” has the same effect that “not doping”. In other words, it´s as if the game looks clean, then it must be clean. We know better, and we are the ones supporting the whole game (as consumers of the spectacle, buying bikes and bikestuff)… but we are what? 2% of that audience?

    I´m not sure this has been discussed already, but… Greg Lemond may be many things, but his proposal of doping detection based on power profiling makes a lot of sense to me. A rider can take any drug, old or new, and many may not even be detectable… but no one can increase VO² or power at VO²max by 10% in a year, or even worse year-after-year. These guys are already powerful when they reach the upper league, how come that?

    1. Author

      Hi All: Thanks for the lively comments.

      Unfortunately, as attractive a story line as the faux war on doping is, its roots are in cynicism, not the actual facts of the situation. When you begin to look at the amount of money that was spent just to form WADA or on all the testing that is done at the Tour de France each year, it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t strictly a PR battle. Were that the case, the biological passport wouldn’t be in use and research into testing wouldn’t be as serious, though flawed, as it is.

      Were the battle against doping strictly a smokescreen, it would be far less expensive and far less flawed. In other words, it would be very successful for pennies and we wouldn’t still be learning new details about Jan Ullrich’s ties to Fuentes. Maybe there isn’t as much will at the UCI to get to the bottom of this that we would like, but it is incorrect to assume that they aren’t serious at all.

      As for LeMond’s insight into power, we should be using that as part of the effort to track cyclists and determine whether we should consider a rider suspicious or not. LeMond has an unusual degree of insight into issues surrounding VO2 Max and power. We should listen to him.

    1. Author

      I’m particularly offended by Williams. People often joke about not bringing a knife to a gunfight, but in this case Williams brought a bazooka to a high school debate.

  11. jza

    I’m not quite sure how the new Ullrich allegations relate to WADA or the UCI or ASO or whatever. Seems like it only relates to Ullrich’s celebrity and a magazine’s need to sell more copies. He’s retired, he’s not coming back, who cares if he’s banned from being a PR guy for second tier pro teams?

    The UCI/WADA/ASO is purposely protecting the big boys, who generate the big $$$, and catching some smaller fish for PR reasons. It only takes 10-20 min. to dilute doped blood enough to pass protocols. Less time than it takes to have a morning coffee.

    For anyone that thinks any drug has even close to the effect of a high hematocrit, I’ve got a Pro cycling team in Kazakhstan to sell you.

  12. Larry T.

    I think it’s important to separate people like AFLD and WADA from UCI, ASO, RCS, etc. The first two are anti-doping agencies who get no benefit (at least that I can see) from positive tests or the lack thereof. The fact they were created by folks who may object more to scandal than to actual doping doesn’t destroy their integrity in my opinion. The bike racing promoters (including UCI) have a serious conflict of interest. They want to at least appear to be doing everything possible to combat doping but they well know doping SCANDALS are what harm their commercial efforts. The purely anti-doping folks (including AFLD) should not be messed with by the promoters/UCI, instead they should get complete cooperation. The current AFLD vs UCI spat is doing nobody any good except for the dopers who continue to get away with cheating. The IOC should demand this mess get cleared up or they should toss cycling and the UCI out of the Olympic programs. I still believe UCI could go do some good by taking sanctioning duties completely away from the national cycling federations and reserve it just to WADA. If WADA wants to hand it off to the national anti-doping folks (like AFLD) that choice should be left up to them. It’s probably time for a revised licensing procedure where the riders agree to be sanctioned by anti-doping authorities regardless of what their national cycling federation says and agree to be liable for cheating detected years after the actual incident. Once one or two guys have to give back half a million euros, the trophy and have their names removed from the record books, new guys coming up might think again when it comes time to cheat.

  13. Mick

    To clarify, Mikel Astarloza’s positive sample was provided in an out-of-competition test on 26 June 2009, not at the Tour…so technically Prudhomme’s assertion of a clean Tour (due to no positive tests returned during the Tour) stands as correct…hollow, but correct…

    1. Author

      Mick: Yes, you’re right. Technically, yes, that’s correct, but his positive test will invalidate that Tour stage win, so we’re back to a not clean Tour. It’s only a clean Tour if all the results stand the test of time. So Prudhomme is smoking something.

  14. db

    Padraig, I’m confused by your analogy in the Williams case. Could you add some detail there, such as what is the particularly offensive part of the story? Not trolling, I’m just kind of late to the conversation. Thanks.

    1. Author

      No worries DB. I’m offended by the simple fact that a masters racer was doping. The phrase “stealing candy from a baby” comes to mind. Friends who were in the hunt for medals at masters track nationals told me several competitors registered to race suddenly got called back to work after they found out there would be testing. Anyone who is doping at the masters level needs to reevaluate his life and stay out of an activity that is meant to be recreational, not professional—and anyone who is racing at the masters level and trying to make it a profession needs a large-scale clue.

      Some folks have praised Williams for his forthright apology, but I think it’s bunk. He used a broken collarbone as a justification for his doping—he blamed the doping on a broken collarbone. Right. I think his apology was self-serving and probably written by someone with some experience in crisis management. Why should we believe this was his first effort at doping? It’s not like he’s been tested routinely in the past. It makes one wonder.

  15. jza

    For KW to expect people to believe he was only on DHEA is absurd. DHEA has shown to be completely ineffective as a performance enhancer in multiple double blind studies. The only time it would be used by a ‘serious’ athlete is part of a hormone replacement regimen, most likely when cycling off stronger anabolic agents.

    I would applaud KW for coming clean and apologizing. But he hasn’t. Not even close. He’s just looking to coast by on the same excuses he has for years.

    But really, for anyone looking for clean athletes on the second tier, American pro track racing circuit: my totally clean Kazakhstani TdF team is still for sale.

  16. Larry T.

    Can’t help but notice how many folks imply the team from Kazakstan is/was doped to the gills while their Texan former “team leader” gets no mention as a doper. This fellow claims the secret samples taken way back that showed he took EPO were somehow tampered with. I remember once as a juror the instructions were if a guy sat up on the stand and lied about even one thing, the juror should assume everything else this person said was also untrue. How does the Teflon Texan continue to escape any serious questions regarding his past behavior? I guess Radio Shack figures whatever he’s been doing since 1999 (except for the above mentioned deal that he’s managed to dodge ever since — along with the other allegations of cheating) works and will remain undetected in the future, even if it just happens to be against the rules?

  17. velomonkey

    If you’re really surprised and shocked that some master racer is doping then you’re just not riding and talking to enough people. I will bet my house that there are guys on my weekly training rides who are taking something. Let’s also remember, not all dope is equal and it’s not just doping or not doping. Taking HGH that is under the guidance of chiropractor is one example, making a cocktail is another – there are many levels. Has anyone ever been to a cancer treatment center? EPO is dished out like penny candy and inventory control is next to naught. You don’t think there are nurses scamming that stuff and selling it to some cat III. Come on.

    Here is my take: the majority of the pro leagues are taking something. Again, not all this stuff is equal and the side effects and damage range on what you’re taking. Some guys will do whatever just to be a pro and some guys will codify what they’re taking to ensure not as bad effects even if it means you go from winning TTs to top ten. As for amateur racing and some CAT IV, III II or whatever, guys who will never, ever be a pro no matter what they do or put into their body – yea, they’re out there, too.

    The elephant in the room – my bet is LA got cancer from taking crap. You start young and your body gets a synthetic hormone what does it do – it says hey I don’t need to make this stuff anymore. Coincidence it was testicular cancer – I think not. I agree with Greg – if he’s clean, greatest story EVER – if not, and my bet is he’s not – greatest fleecing EVER.

    1. Author

      Velomonkey: Thanks for joining the conversation. I can’t say I’m surprised or shocked, but I am VERY disappointed that masters racers are doping. I don’t know what to call it other than lame. However, I don’t agree that not all dope is equal. While not all dope has the same affect on an athlete, the line between what is and what isn’t dope is very clear.

      Here’s a challenge to you: find a someone, anyone, selling black market EPO and I’ll co-author the piece with you. It will make big news.

      As to LA, you’re not the first person to arrive at that hypothesis, but the man remains innocent of such charges and no responsible journalist will assert anything like that and hope to keep his reputation intact.

  18. jza

    LA’s great career is nothing more than a testament to the effectiveness of a professionally operated autologous blood transfusion regimen.

    My Astana theory is that when Lance retired, Johann picked Contador as the heir to his system. Lance seemed to have no interest in cycling after his retirement, so no problems. Turns out, LA wasn’t done, and Contador is not stepping out of the spotlight for a couple years for LA to have another go. Whoops.

    Contador is a double-edged sword. He can beat Lance, or tell-all.

  19. Da Robot

    I honestly believe that doping will out. Lance Armstrong is more marketable than a Megan Fox sex tape. And I don’t think you can draw that sort of interest (and the resulting scrutiny) for so long, without giving up the truth. There are just too many people around the guy to hide an organized (which means supplied, supervised, administered and covered up) doping program. People have been hucking wet spaghetti at that wall for ten years now, and nothing has really stuck yet.

    Call me naive, but at some point, you gotta buy in. You don’t have to like the guy or how he does things, but at some point you have to believe in what he’s accomplished.

    Or not.

  20. velomonkey

    Padraig – you got it. I’ll make an effort to find it in a week or so. You can get that stuff easy on the legit. Did you ever read the article in outside where the guy went to a doctor who prescribed HGH and other stuff. The guy gave it to him with ZERO medical benefit. Watch the documentary Faster, Stronger – he tells you how to get it black market and legit. All very easy.

    Da Robot – I think even the Simeoni incident by itself proved the LA is not only a doper, but you can’t cross him. Frankie, Landis, Tyler – you think for yourself you get buried. People have kept secrets for way, way longer – deep throat, anyone. I honestly believe that if you look at all the circumstantial evidence, its naive to think he’s NOT doping.

    Last thing, journalists want to scrutinize LA. One, there is no investigative cycling journalism. Just not there. Two, a few mainstream journalists, ESPN, have said his halo effect cancels all finger pointing or even exploratory possibilities.

    1. Author

      Velomonkey: Remember, your assertion is that nurses are selling EPO on the black market. I can find a doctor of questionable moral fiber myself.

  21. Da Robot

    @ velomonkey

    I don’t know if LA is doping or not. I haven’t seen any proof.

    There is no investigative cycling journalism? Have you been to France? Have you been to Italy? You’re six kinds of wrong on that one. There are dozens of European journalists working to bury Armstrong. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Christian Prudhomme himself wasn’t talking about LA in pejorative terms. Don’t you think that Christian Prudhomme could dig up a legitimate, dope-ridden piss test on Lance if there was one? If the French and Italian labs that do that work can’t come up with the goods, I just don’t believe the goods exist.

    I’ll tell you. I’m not a big fan of the Lance. I appreciate what he’s done. I appreciate the attention he’s brought to the sport, but he’s not my cup of tea. Still, I keep faith with the basic standards of proof. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t do the trick in court, and it doesn’t, for practical purposes, do much for us in cycling either. If we followed the circumstantial evidence we would long ago have cancelled the racing season and retired to our country manses to farm, like Hinault or Anquetil, the latter of whom readily admitted to using drugs.

  22. big jonny

    The type of hypertension medications I would expect to see are the ACE inhibitors. Generally speaking, this family of drugs works to dilate the arteries and thus decrease the resistance to blood flow. It is easy to see how such a medication could be beneficial to those who have recently increased the volume of blood in their bodies.

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