Everyone agrees that confidence in professional cycling has to be restored after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report revealed the sport’s sordid underbelly: the rampant blood doping within Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service team and the ease with which riders fooled the anti-doping authorities (and the cycling community) at the height of the EPO era. And everyone—from the fans to the teams, from the riders to the organizers, from the officials to the media—knows that cycling’s longtime culture of doping has to be eliminated before the sport can truly move forward. The question is: How do we do it?
At the last count, three significant initiatives were on the table: the first, proposed in late October after the UCI’s acceptance of USADA’s decision to suspend Armstrong for life from Olympic sports and give the whistle blowers the minimum, six-month suspensions, was the Manifesto for Credible Cycling (MCC). Launched by five major European newspapers, the MCC focused on restructuring pro cycling, stiffening penalties and adhering to the anti-doping regulations in a similar way to the “clean” teams’ Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC), an association that has gained greater acceptance and more members in recent weeks.
The second initiative was made public last week by Change Cycling Now (CCN), a group founded by Australian Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the Swiss-based compression sportswear company, Skins, and spearheaded by campaigning anti-doping journalists, Irishmen David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The group’s Charter of the Willing has a similar agenda to that of the MCC, except it first seeks the resignation of UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen—with CCN putting forward Greg LeMond’s candidature as a potential interim UCI president. The group also posited the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an idea that the UCI Management Committee considered and voted down a few weeks ago.
The third initiative has come from the UCI itself. Its Stakeholder Consultation, first announced a month ago, is now seeking feedback from the sport’s major stakeholders prior to a comprehensive review of the best ideas in the first quarter of next year. The UCI has already approached CCN for its input, and it has sent letters out to riders, teams, race organizers, national federations, administrators, sponsors, industry representatives, anti-doping organizations and sports bodies, asking for comments on a list of topics such as anti-doping, globalization, riders and the racing calendar—including the UCI’s potential joint venture with a group headed by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala to strengthen the pro cycling calendar that was announced this week. Among the goals are wider participation in cycling and identifying ways to make the sport even more interesting for spectators.
All these initiatives are in addition to the recently formed Independent Commission that is looking into the contentious issues revealed by the USADA report—including allegations that the UCI turned a blind eye to Armstrong’s alleged positive drug test at the 2002 Tour of Switzerland. Sir Philip Otton, an eminent British appeals judge who has extensive experience with similar cases in other sports, heads the commission. He and his two colleagues on the commission’s panel have already begun work and are due to host a three-week hearing in London next April before submitting a report to the UCI by June 1, 2013.
The necessity for a redirection in pro cycling was best summed up by Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the five journals that launched the MCC, which wrote: “The entire fabric of cycling has been rotten for too long. From the mid-1990s to today more than 400 professional cyclists have been disqualified or embroiled in doping investigations. The Lance Armstrong affair and the disturbing news coming out of the current investigation in Padua (Italy) show that the entire world of cycling has come through an extremely long and dark time. But we believe that the sport can start afresh—as long as a few rules are changed.”
The MCC newspapers opined, “It is impossible to start afresh with the existing structure” and suggested that future drug testing be instigated by WADA and administered by the national anti-doping agencies, and that penalties for doping be made more severe. In fact, WADA has already proposed doubling suspensions for “heavy” drugs and blood doping from two to four years in the draft for its new code that comes into effect in 2015.
As for the MCC’s demand that WADA spearhead future drug testing in cycling (rather than the UCI), that would be difficult to implement because WADA’s mission is to establish its all-encompassing anti-doping code and ensure that there is “a harmonized approach to anti-doping in all sports and all countries.” So if cycling-specific testing were added to its responsibilities that policy would have to apply to every other Olympic sport—which would be too costly for WADA, whose limited funding is split between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and national governments. And its budget already has to cover such things as code compliance monitoring, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, drug-detection research, accreditation of testing labs, maintaining the ADAMS whereabouts database, coordinating regional anti-doping organizations and education programs, and athlete outreach.
Currently, drug testing for the sport of cycling is shared between the IOC, WADA, national anti-doping agencies, and the UCI. It should also be noted that a major part of the UCI’s anti-doping efforts is its pioneering biological passport program, started five years ago, which now monitors a pool of almost 1,000 pro racers—and gleans information from all the relevant anti-doping organizations. And as UCI medical officer Mario Zorzoli said recently, “Essentially, we are moving from the toxicology approach … to a more forensic science approach.” This means that there will be even greater emphasis on collaboration between the IOC, WADA, national agencies and the UCI—while WADA is keen to step up its coordination with international criminal agencies and national police forces in countries where doping is already a criminal offense.
What all this means is that it is getting more and more difficult for athletes who are doping to avoid detection, not just in cycling but also in all the sports that are adopting the passport program. Cheating cyclists had a free run in the 1990s because EPO was undetectable, and the USADA report showed that blood doping was rampant (along with micro-dosing with EPO) prior to the implementation of the UCI’s biological passport program in January 2008. The “forensic approach” is the way forward, and the success of that policy depends on the input of such things as establishing stricter anti-doping codes within every team, self-policing among athletes, and continued (and stepped-up) collaboration between all the various anti-doping agencies.
Considering the discussions that have already taken place between the ProTeams, the major race organizers, the Athletes Commission and the UCI, and the feedback being sought in the Stakeholders Consultation process, it seems that all parties have the intent to work together to rebuild the sport. Obviously, there are some issues that need greater consideration than others, especially the thorny one on whether (or how) to integrate past dopers into a cleaner future. One route toward that goal is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that could be a gigantic, highly expensive undertaking that might take years to complete.
It so happens that the co-owner and manager of one of the teams affiliated with the MPCC, Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Sharp, who also chairs the pro cycling teams association, tweeted this last Friday: “I hear and understand the ‘clean the house out’ argument. Problem is, if we do it, with honesty from all, [there] won’t be anyone left to turn lights off. I might also add that without total honesty from all, instead of ex-dopers running business, you’ll have lying ex-dopers instead.”
Perhaps a better way to go is for teams to renew their clean-up efforts and perhaps conduct their own truth-and-reconciliation processes. That is what is already happening at Team Sky, though some critics (including Vaughters) are saying that the British squad has gone too far in its “zero tolerance” campaign, in forcing staff members to resign if they admit to any past connection with doping.
The major catalyst for restoring confidence in pro cycling has to be the independent Otton Commission, which must fully resolve the unfinished business of the USADA report, including a verdict on whether the UCI administration acted corruptly in regard to ignoring (or not taking seriously) the warning signs that doping in cycling was systemic. The commission’s findings will determine whether the next steps forward should be undertaken by a new, independent entity, the UCI’s current administration, an interim president, or the president who’s elected by delegates from the world’s 170 or so national cycling federations at next September’s UCI congress.
Whatever action is carried out, it’s the hope and expectation of everyone concerned, including proponents of the MCC, MPCC and CCN, that the public’s confidence in cycling will be restored and the sport will be in a position to begin building toward a brighter, cleaner future.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
This seems to be the week of doping news. First, Armstrong’s investigation is dropped. Then Contador’s case is overturned and the rider is suspended and stripped of wins he accrued while apparently riding clean. Moments ago it was announced that Jeannie Longo Ciprelli’s home was the subject of a doping raid. And what will tomorrow bring? Well, the proverbial other shoe will finally drop in the Jan Ullrich case. Ullrich? Remember him?
Whether you believe Lance Armstrong raced on bread and water or was as supercharged as a Corvette, the case wound to a close with nothing like a conclusion. What we’re faced with is a succession of doping scandals with finishes that can’t be called resolutions. No matter whose side you’re on in any of these cases, you’re probably not happy with the outcome.
In any discussion of doping and cycling the conversation seems to take an inevitable turn. “What if there were no rules against doping?” It’s impossible to discuss the toping without something electing to remove the moral implications of cheating and just asking the obvious question of what the ramifications might be if we simply allowed professional cyclists to take oxygen-vector drugs, anabolic agents, amphetamines, pain killers and—holy cow—even cortisone.
It’s the ultimate parallel universe fantasy for cyclists. No ethical dilemmas. No charges of morally repugnant cheating, just a scenario in which the absolute fastest guy is the winner.
Allow me a brief digression if you will. While I consider myself an athlete and someone interested in many forms of physical fitness, body building has always creeped me out in the same way that shows on surgery do. I’m fascinated at some visceral level, but before I can examine anything truly interesting I get so grossed out I have to flip the channel.
Some years ago I found myself in the curious circumstance of dating someone who worked for a bodybuilder in his 60s. Yes, you read that right. Body builder. Sixties. He could have bench pressed me for an hour, maybe two. He, and his numerous friends, were “naturals.” No, don’t think hippy commune; he and his friends used no anabolic agents. And the funny thing was that they didn’t need testing to tell the difference. It was readily apparent in the physiques of competitors. The “naturals” didn’t have the crazily herniated muscles that seemed to bulge to the point of an unprotected astronaut’s head in outer space. Pop!
Here’s what surprised me, I found the physiques of the naturals interesting to behold. They had arguably done the same amount of work to get to the competition and for the guys in the open categories, you’d see someone rather Incredible Hulk looking alongside a guy who wouldn’t frighten children. It was a juxtaposition on the order of eagle and pterodactyl. Yep, both birds, but….
I could identify with the naturals at some elemental level. I suspect looking at the juiced up guys had the same effect on me that looking at kiddie porn would. It just felt wrong, not something I wanted to continue to gaze at.
Okay, with that out of the way, let me pose a scenario: Suppose that two different Tours de France were run in 2013. Let’s imagine that WADA folds and Pat McQuaid throws in the towel and allows the rise of a top-fuel category. On July 1 there are two different pelotons ready to roll. Both have adequate TV coverage ensured for the three weeks of the race.
And let’s pose yet another hypothetical: Suppose for an instant that you had time enough in your day to watch as much of both different races as you wanted. Say four hours or more.
Would you really watch all of both races? Or would you favor one over the other?
I know what I would watch.
Sure, I’d tune in to the top-fuel race. But I’d do it for the prologue, a couple of sprints and then the odd mountain stage. At a certain level it would be kind of like watching top-fuel dragsters. It’s cool at first, but after a while that straight track gets boring. I find grand prix and touring car racing much more interesting. And World Rally Championship? Whoo-ee! Put real-world challenges in a race and that has a big effect on my interest level.
So, I’d be glued to the natural race. I can identify with those guys. They are me with more talent and discipline. I understand the choices they’ve made. The guys in the natural race have a similar, if not the same, moral compass I do. That matters to me.
You see, I don’t think you can ever completely repeal the taint of doping. There will always be a threshold you’ll have to voluntarily cross. Some of those willing to cross it never saw it in the first place. To some, cheating is a semantic point, a distinction of no great import. Racing, after all, is about winning and losing. Right?
Let’s try this a different way: I couldn’t ride with a guy who was a bike thief. Similarly, someone who will do anything possible to be as fast as possible isn’t someone I understand. That inability to see how respecting a social contract is an important part of how a community derives strength by creating bonds between people means that he and I simply won’t connect. If that part of the social contract is meaningless, then what about the other bits? Is my car safe? Is he going to try to seduce my wife? Where does it end?
So those guys in the top-fuel division? I’ll never really understand that thinking and as a result, I’ll never really understand those riders. But understanding them isn’t even really the issue.
Drug testing, after all, was a response to a PR nightmare that makes the current flaps over Armstrong and Contador seem like spelling bee cheating. The major events that have led to overhauls in drug testing were deaths. No scandal is worse for the sport than a death. One need look back no further than the 2011 death of Wouter Weylandt at the Giro; there wasn’t a news outlet that didn’t cover the tragedy that day. Instantly, our non-cycling friends asked us why we participated in such a dangerous sport.
And that’s the rub. Any time an athlete dies—no matter the cause—sport is scrutinized. This isn’t specific to cycling. In a world where all doping is okay, rider deaths would surely increase. Given the blind eye and lip service Hein Verbruggen paid to the heart-attack deaths of Dutch cyclists in the early 1990s due to EPO, it’s unlikely the UCI would feel any great motivation to address the issue. That leaves the audience, teams and sponsors to deal with the fallout.
When you consider the devastation that a rider’s death plows in his family, his team and through the company personnel at each of his team’s sponsors, it wouldn’t take long before family, fans and sponsors would begin to cry out for an end to the deaths. But as we know from the studies performed by researcher Bob Goldman, more than 50 percent of Olympic athletes have said they would take a drug that would ensure they would win a gold medal—even if it was guaranteed to kill them within five years of taking it.
While we don’t know if you can transpose those results 100 percent to the pro peloton, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that if that drug was available something like half of our living Tour de France champions would be dead today.
Hannah Arendt wrote, “No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.” And if death is not a punishment, then nothing is. We can’t depend on the athletes to choose sanity, so we must do it for them.
Is testosterone therapy the fountain of youth? If so, WWWD? (What Would WADA Do?)
As a retired lawyer and long time cyclist, I thoroughly enjoy your column.
Here’s one that might be arising more in the Masters’ ranks, which have had their share of doping positives, recently.
Doctors are increasingly treating below normal testosterone levels with (and Big Pharma is increasingly promoting) testosterone replacement therapy for older men. The therapy is based on research that tends to show that below normal T levels lead to various premature aging symptoms, low energy levels and low sex drive.
For those who race in the masters’ classes, is a TUE available for this therapy, with or without limitations? If not, is there any effort by WADA to consider it?
Given the threshold method of triggering tests, the ratio of epitestosterone to testosterone, would it even come up in testing if the therapy resulted in levels in the “normal” range?
Your hypothetical for the day.
First off, let me thank you for your kind words. Given my relatively short time as an attorney (I’m just three years out of law school), I am always nervous when other lawyers – especially the experienced ones – read this column. Like anyone, I appreciate the kudos, but I do want to encourage anyone to send me a note if they notice a bone-headed mistake. I will correct those and make note of them.
Now, to your questions. The quick and simple answer regarding testosterone is yes. The World Anti-Doping Agency does make an allowance for the therapeutic use of testosterone. However, before we see the entire middle-aged masters’ peloton veer off to the doc’s office, you need to keep in mind that according to the rules, a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for testosterone is issued under the narrowest of circumstances. Most of us would probably not qualify.
Under the current WADA Code, a national doping agency is permitted to issue a TUE for testosterone only after an athlete has been diagnosed with primary or secondary “hypogonadism.” In other words, the testes are not producing enough of the hormone to bring the level of what is considered “normal.” (NOTE: While testosterone replacement therapy is offered to women in rare cases, WADA has concluded that there are more effective alternatives, so no TUE for testosterone will be granted to females under current rules.)
The definition of “normal” is based on several factors, chief among them age. Measured in nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), normally blood testosterone levels in the general population of adult males run anywhere between 300ng/dL and 1000ng/dL. Of course, a 24-year-old with blood levels of 300ng/dL would be a cause of concern for his doctor. That same level in his 85-year-old grandfather might be considered to be within normal parameters.
Generally in a healthy and relatively young male, a serum testosterone level below 350ng/dL is considered to be a cause for concern and would make the patient a candidate for treatment.
However, it’s important to note that low testosterone levels due to the normal aging process are usually characterized as “functional” hypogonadism and would not qualify for a WADA-issued TUE. What would qualify is hypogonadism that is the result of a medically defined cause.
Rather than get into an analysis of each contributing factor recognized by WADA, I am simply including the causes of primary and secondary hypogonadism for which the agency says it would consider a TUE:
Klinefelter syndrome, bilateral anorchia, cryptorchidism, Leydig cell aplasia, male Turner syndrome, Noonan’s syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
panhypopituitarism, idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, Kallmann’s syndrome, constitutional delay of puberty, LH deficiency, Prader Willi syndrome
That’s the general list and there are other contributing factors for which WADA – or a national anti-doping agency – could consider a TUE request. The bottom line, though, is that anyone seeking a TUE for testosterone must submit a detailed diagnosis, with supporting medical evidence, to justify the claim that his low serum testosterone levels are due to one of the medically recognized causes.
In the words of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), “It is extremely unlikely that a Therapeutic Use Exemption will be approved for ‘functional’ hypogonadism (a diagnosis of hypogonadism based on low testosterone levels but without a defined etiology).”
Getting old sucks. Is there a cure?
So let’s assume that the members of our hypothetical field of masters racers are not suffering from any of the aforementioned afflictions, but merely “functionally” hypogonadistic. The theory is that these men, too, would benefit from testosterone replacement therapy and you’re right, Larry, there has been an increase in interest (and marketing) in recent years, especially as we Baby Boomers get older.
Aging is a key factor in reduced testosterone levels in men. According to one study (Vermeulen A and Kaufman JM  “Ageing of the hypothalamo–pituitary–testicular axis in men.” Hormone Research 43, 25–28) about seven percent of men between the ages of 40 and 60 have serum testosterone levels below 350ng/dL. That number increases to 21 percent for men between 60 and 80 and 35 percent for men 80 and older.
The symptoms of low testosterone levels – even those due to aging – are not pretty. There is the whole diminishing libido thing. (Of course, if that’s a problem, then the other common symptom, erectile dysfunction, probably won’t bother a guy as much.) But beyond those, there is a decrease in muscle mass, fatique, increased abdominal fat, loss of bone mass, frequent urination, high cholesterol and depression (probably caused by all of the other symptoms).
Like the Stones said, “what a drag it is getting old.”
So, would restoring those levels back to the way they were when you were 25 help reverse some of the symptoms of the normal aging process? Some studies say yes … and some studies say no. There is a big study going on right now, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, which involves tracking 800 men over the age of 65 who are using a gel-based testosterone supplement. So, we may have a more definitive answer once all of the data is reviewed in the next year or so.
One thing is for certain, though. While there may be benefits that accompany testosterone replacement therapy for functional hypogonadism, there are risks, too. One key concern is the effect testosterone supplementation will have on the reproductive system, especially the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can contribute to an enlarged (but non-cancerous) prostate, a problem known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BHP) and some studies indicate that it can also contribute to the growth of cancer cells in the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can also result in a decline in the production of natural testosterone, as the body adjusts in response to unnatural increases in serum levels of the hormone. That can also result in decreased production of sperm to the point that fertility may be put at risk.
The natural conversion testosterone to estrogen can also contribute to the growth of the much feared “man boob,” with men experiencing enlarged and tender breast tissue.
Indeed, the aforementioned side-effects are to be considered so potentially serious that any male with high risk factors for prostate or breast cancer (hey, it does happen) is automatically off the list of potential candidates for testosterone replacement therapy.
There are other side-effects, including liver toxicity, sleep apnea, fluid retention and increased risks of other cancers.
On a somewhat positive note, doctors also warn of one side-effect that would actually play pretty well with our little peloton of aging cyclists, though: Polycythemia. Yup, that’s an increase in the production of red blood cells. Unfortunately, that is also accompanied by an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke, not something you want to toy with in an age group whose cardiac risk factors are already on the increase.
Gee … this “therapy” sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
Since we’re in hypothetical mode, though, let’s assume that the NIH study comes back with stellar results and all of the 800 test subjects emerged from their two years with the strength, energy and looks of a 25-year-old. As a result, our masters all opt to take the chance and go with the therapy …. USADA be damned.
You asked if they might test positive in the rare event that USADA’s testers show up to request samples from the men’s 55+ field. The simple answer is yes. The initial test is based on the famed T/E ratio, the same test that caught Floyd Landis at the Tour de France. That test, for all of its flaws, is based on the assumption that the body produces testosterone and epitestosterone at about the same levels. WADA allows for some wiggle room, and the Dope-O-Meter™ isn’t tripped until the T/E ratio exceeds four-to-one (Landis, by the way, was 11-to-1).
Further study – using the Carbon Isotope Ratio test – would show that the elevated ratio is due to the presence of exogenous testosterone and that could result in a two-year suspension. In other words, that lucrative masters’ racing career could be at risk.
So in conclusion, testosterone therapy should probably be considered by a relatively small number of those for whom it might prove beneficial, especially if you want to live by the rules of our sport.
For the rest of us … well, I always like to remember the words of Mark Twain, who observed that “age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The Explainer is now a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
“The body or the face?” the loan shark’s muscle asks, a droll query from a guy with a square jaw and a fist like a cinder block. The clear implication is that, no matter the choice, it’s gonna hurt. A good outcome is no longer an option.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the place sports’ governing bodies go to when they’ve failed to govern effectively, might as well be giving pro cycling a choice between the body or the face right now. With a verdict coming in the appeal of Alberto Contador’s non-sanction for Clenbuterol doping, it’s important to recognize that, no matter the outcome, cycling’s gonna take a haymaker.
The 30 second version of the story is this: Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) opted not to suspend him. The UCI and WADA appealed that decision to CAS based on the WADA code of strict liability, i.e. that the athlete is 100% responsible for what goes into his or her body. Simply stated, if there’s dope, they doped.
Let’s not go any deeper into this case and it’s details than that. The details and the extremely long timeline of events only serve to obscure the underlying truths here. (If you need to play catch up, Padraig has written about the case extensively here, here and here.)
CAS is going to do one of two things. They’re going to uphold RFEC’s non-sanction of the rider, or they’re going to impose the standard two-year suspension that every other rider who’s tested positive has received. The body or the face.
If CAS decides that strict liability doesn’t pertain to Contador’s case, then a long list of suspended riders are going to have a serious grievance against the UCI. Think of Tom Zirbel or Fuyu Li, for example. Neither of those riders ingested a substance that anyone would argue helped them to win races, but they both served their suspensions. Strict liability, morally nettlesome as it may be, has been the law, so the possibility of CAS somehow striking it from the books, at least from a judicial point of view, will be bad for pro cycling. If an “I didn’t mean for it to be in my body” defense is allowed to stand, it then becomes open season, not just for Clenbuterol positives, but for any adverse analytical finding that might be attributed to contamination.
If, on the other hand, CAS follows precedent and suspends Contador, then we’ll have to vacate the results of two Grand Tours, the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro, not to mention a whole host of individual stages and smaller, albeit not-insignificant, races. There will be history books to correct, riders to promote, prize money to redistribute, legends to be recast. Because of the stature of the rider, the damage to the sport will be massive, complicated and long-term. The sport’s reputation, which already sucks, will get worse. Sponsorships will be affected. People not named Contador will lose money and opportunities.
There is a third way, I suppose. The CAS could take a hybrid approach, crafting a sanction for Contador that takes into account the minute amount of Clenbuterol that appeared in his system, but still pays some respect to the strict liability rule. Quite what that would be is hard to imagine, and if not a full blow to head or gut, still a stinger for a sport already on the ropes.
In fact, news out of Paris this week suggests that the CAS is not confining itself to issues of strict liability, that a partial examination of Contador’s tainted beef excuse IS being aired, and that the levels of Clenbuterol, minute by all accounts, are playing in front of the tribunal. If the CAS only concerns itself with the amount of the substance and its net effect, rather than possible reasons for its presence, we are likely headed for acquittal and all the fallout such a verdict will cause.
After all, these are the issues that have been examined ad absurdem by the UCI, WADA and RFEC over the last two years. “Did he dope?” is a different question than, “Did the doping help him win?” None of the answers are good ones.
The Contador case, as most in modern professional cycling, has gone on and on and on. The temptation to see the CAS verdict as a resolution is strong, but given the possible outcomes on the table, we should expect this mess to continue on for years to come. Shortly, we should know what the consequences are for Contador. The body or the face. But pro cycling is a long way from paying its debt to this particular loan shark.
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Bashing Floyd Landis has become something of a past time for cycling fans. Even before his first implosion he was a rough-hewn character, the Crocodile Dundee of the cycling world. Within the US Postal Service Team he was Oscar to Lance Armstrong’s Felix in the boys in blue’s production of “The Odd Couple.”
From his first explanation for his positive test (Jack Daniels) he showed a capacity for the unexpected that could take even a fortune teller by surprise. His book, “Positively False” showed a rebellious, impish spirit designed almost perfectly to clash with Armstrong’s iron fist management. As an expression of spirit, it was an entertaining read and fairly complete in its examination of his career—with one not-so-small omission: his pharmacy.
I wrote several posts concerning Landis’ defense and read the entire transcript of the CAS appeal at Pepperdine University. While the UCI acted on an understandable “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” premise, I’m convinced they never actually caught Landis. The initial test was so poorly performed that the case against him should have been dropped. My problem with the case wasn’t that I wanted a cheat to win, it was that I didn’t want to see the same tactics result in the suspension of an innocent rider.
In a spectacular variation on the “guilty but not responsible” defense, I can see how he might have thought, “I’m accused of something I didn’t actually do. I can beat this, because they didn’t catch me at what I did do.”
Who wouldn’t think that?
Landis’ career and life were utterly destroyed as he pursued his defense. Many people are angry that a guilty man took money from them to mount an extraordinarily expensive, but ultimately fruitless, defense. Viewed through the mindset outlined above, an argument can be made that he wasn’t cheating anyone.
But for those who didn’t provide for his defense, an understandable outrage remains: Landis’ doping case cost USADA so much to prosecute that they ran other efforts on reduced budgets. In short, Landis’ defense impinged on other anti-doping efforts.
Since changing his story, cycling fans and the media have seized upon his story as either the raving of a lunatic or the smoking gun necessary to bring down Big Tex. What’s amazing is how often I encounter people who didn’t believe he was innocent when he first tested positive and yet don’t believe him now that he has confessed to doping.
Which is it, people? It can’t be both.
While it is logically possible that both stories could be complete fabrications, that’s highly unlikely. A lie is told to serve a larger purpose and if Landis is lying now, we have to ask the question: ‘To what purpose?’
If what he says isn’t true, the ramifications for him could include jail time, which is perhaps the only meaningful deterrent for him as he is essentially without assets at this point and what lawyers frequently refer to as “judgement-proof.” And I don’t think Landis would willingly choose jail as an alternative to unemployment.
Still, Landis hasn’t made this easy for himself. While he has given investigator Jeff Novitzky a variety-pack of allegations that the dogged and successful investigator is chasing, he has also handed us gems like the suggestion that the UCI protected some riders.
While I can name instances—for which I was present—where the UCI’s application of its own rules was highly irregular, I never saw anything that bordered on protecting a doped rider. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened; Landis has yet to provide anything stronger than a rumor and his other allegations suffer for it.
Now, Landis has asserted that cycling is the Superfund Site of sports, an endeavor in which doping is so inextricably entwined that cleaning it up is less likely than man traveling at the speed of light. His solution? Open a top fuel division: allow doping.
Look, I believe that Landis has seen things and knows things that could help to shed light to investigators on the doping front. Think of him as first mate on the Santa Maria. His eyewitness accounts of Columbus’ voyage to the west would be invaluable. We need him to talk.
However, every time he opens his mouth on something he didn’t personally do or see, he gets into trouble. What he doesn’t understand is that his usefulness to cycling does not extend, currently, to suggestions such as eliminating the doping code.
Here’s something that is not a newsflash: Doping will never be eliminated. In any population there will be those who cut corners, push the bounds, cheat. Those few should not cause an entire society to capitulate. Just because people are murdered, should we all carry guns?
Because so much of what Landis has to say seems to be based in the same variety of nuttiness that led the Octomom to become the world’s only single mother to 14 children, many people simply write him off. It’s understandable, if tragic.
Years ago I knew someone who would buy Lucky Charms cereal and pour small bowls of it and pick the marshmallows out, leaving behind the cereal, which was just Alphabits. I always thought of it as a waste of cereal. Landis has given me the capacity to see the merit in just extracting the tiny bits of gold that are presented. Maybe it’s unfair to compare him to a marshmallow, but not everything that comes out of his mouth is crazy. In dismissing everything he says as a fabrication from whole cloth, we lose an opportunity to learn from his experiences as a rider, and we do that at our own peril.
What he knows could provide an invaluable education to both the UCI and to WADA.
What Landis doesn’t seem to understand is that the UCI can’t be treated as an adversary if your purpose is to help expose the doping problems inherent in cycling. Unfortunately, Pat McQuaid is Floyd Landis’ doppelgänger, and in that he is no less likely to make statements of such sweeping irresponsibility that we have little use for them except to fertilize the whole of the plains states.
This week, with little surprise, Landis announced his retirement, effective immediately. It’s easy to turn his announcement into a joke about the obvious—that he really had no career currently—but the sadder truth is that it was an admission on his part that it was time to let go of a dream.
Landis knows things, helpful things. We should hear him out and we should show him some compassion. He’s lost everything he worked for. Is that really the just result for his transgressions?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Forgive my candor, but I write today about my pee.
You see, like our canine and feline friends, after every pee, and poop for that matter, I inspect the contents of my toilet bowl. Mind, you I don’t stick my head all the way in there to put my nose right up to it, but I do give a good look and take in its aroma. I do this for this same reason dogs, cats, and I should imagine other mammals do, chiefly, as a gauge of my health. Bodily excrement says a lot about the state the state of one’s health, and from the yellow and brown stuff, I can get a good idea about if I am well hydrated and have sufficient fiber in my diet, among other things.
Then, the other day, something odd happened. My pee didn’t smell they way it should. I knew instantly that something was off, but what? I stood above the bowl with furrowed brow, and exhorted all the powers of my olfactory. Like a sommelier detecting the flavor profile of a Pinot Noir, I inhaled attempting to distill what had tainted my pristine pee.
I was flummoxed.
My first thoughts went to asparagus, which always adds it own particular bouquet. However, I counted back to realize that I had not eaten any for four days, so it couldn’t be that. I went to bed with the mystery unsolved.
The following morning, upon returning to the loo, I duly peed, and again my nose was accosted by this offending aroma. Determined, I took a deep whiff, and processed it through the data bank in my head. The olfactory nerve is closely tied to the amygdala and the hippocampus parts of the brain where much of our long term memory is stored. My pee had smelled like this before, but when, and for what reason.
Some hours later, it hit my like a ton of bricks. My pee smelled like it would if I had taken a dose of antibiotics.
How could it be? I had not taken any antibiotics, nor medication of any kind for nearly three years, but I distinctly recalled the smell of my pee during a round of penicillin to clear up an infection before having some teeth ripped out.
I soon realized when and where I had been unintentionally doped.
I don’t eat out often, or at least not as often as many people I know, and when I do, I make every reasonable effort to eat healthy, wholesome food. At home, all meats and produce are strictly organic, or at least all-natural. (For those who don’t know the difference, foods can only claim to be organic if every step in the chain is certified organic, whereas natural means that the primary food product has been raised or grown without the aid of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones, etc, but the soil or food from which it was nourished may not have been without these additives.) Which leads me to my lunch out.
It happened at a popular and otherwise pretty good ( 3 out of 5 stars on yelp.com ) restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I ordered a turkey / avocado club sandwich on toasted sourdough and a pale ale to drink. I was proud of myself for abstaining on the french fries. Aside from that, other than water, organic oatmeal, fruit and some leftover, homemade spaghetti and meatballs made with all natural ingredients, I ate nothing else during the day in question.
So how convinced am I that I had been unintentionally doped with a healthy dose of antibiotic courtesy of the turkey who gave his life for my lunch? Well, I have no scientific data to back it up. I did some research to try and discern how prevalent the use of antibiotics is in poultry production and was unable to find a specific number; however, the FDA recently published guidelines to ween farmers off of the use of antibiotics on their livestock. The FDA is motivated by the fact that the population as a whole evidenced developing an immunity to antibiotics through food consumption, the results of which could pose an unintended health risk in the form of higher infection rates and the inability to treat them in the acute phase. I also learned that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in the non-theraputic treatment of livestock. I take it, then, that my hypothesis, while unproven, is highly probable. It made me wonder what else I have eaten without my knowledge, despite being more careful than the average bear.
While this has nothing to do directly with Alberto Contador, Li Fuyu or any other riders who claim to have been unintentionally doped by innocently consuming a food or supplement, it does serve as reminder of what we non-professional athletes seemingly take for granted every time we eat or drink. It highlights how so many years of hard work, suffering and sacrifice can be wasted by just one bite of something tainted. Imagine the next time you go out for dinner, you arrive to work the following morning to find a Controlle Dopage awaits you at your desk. Though you have done nothing intentionally wrong, you could be fired from your job and your reputation publicly, and forever, sullied because of a turkey / avocado club.
For me at least, it was a sobering experience.
By the way, I consulted WADA’s 2010 list of banned substances and antibiotics are not on them.
When I woke this morning, the first thought I had was, “What other bad news will be revealed today?” I’m not one to experience ennui, but this morning, I didn’t have any energy to go for a ride, didn’t want to look at the news and really only wanted to hang out with my family and enjoy a leisurely morning.
None of those things happened, mostly because I did look at the news. For those who aren’t keeping score:
1) The Tour de France champion tested positive.
2) The president of the UCI denied that Contador was being investigated the day before he admitted the existence of said investigation.
3) The Vuelta’s second place and a teammate tested positive.
4) The home of Riccardo Ricco has been raided and unless Italian police don’t know what aspirin looks like, something suspicious was found in a cabinet belonging to a guy who has been convicted of doping once before.
5) Oscar Sevilla has tested positive yet again.
6) The sister of the winner of the Giro d’Italia isn’t permitted to attend sporting events because of her role in the distribution of doping products.
7) Ex-Oakley employee Stephanie McIlvain put her finger in the dike against the many accusations against Lance Armstrong.
8) Allen Lim told a grand jury that he wasn’t hired to help Floyd Landis dope.
9) Operacion Puerto is to be closed and all the evidence destroyed. The truth won’t out.
The only good news for a jingoistic Yank rests on the shoulders of the world’s third-most-popular Taylor (let’s not forget Swift and Lautner), a 20-year-old who we all must hope never comes to the attention of the Eugenics movement. (If you can breed dogs, you can breed people, right?) Taylor Phinney’s gold and bronze medals in the U23 World Championships aren’t news, they are simply confirmations of his talent. With two more years in that category at the world championships, he could wind up the most-medaled U23 rider in history.
Let’s cover this in reverse order: The blood bags are going to be destroyed and we’ll never know the true depth of Fuentes’ business, but it a way, it’s such old news suspending a rider now based on that case seems kind of irrelevant. What’s significant here is the lack of institutional will to get to the truth and clean up sport. This is going to haunt us like a drunken kiss at a New Year’s Eve party.
How often does a job description reflect the job as performed? Who hasn’t had additional had additional duties thrust upon them out of necessity. The subtext here is that Allen Lim may not have admitted all the ways that he assisted Landis. Lim told ESPN.com, “When I worked with Floyd, I repeatedly told him that he didn’t need to dope and should not dope, and I was absolutely not hired to help him to do so.” Okay, so you weren’t hired to help him dope … but did you? Landis may seem kinda desperate and crazy, but no one has suggested that he’s trying to slaughter innocents. Are we really to believe that Landis would screw saint? That doesn’t fit the bill.
Despite the existence of an audio tape made my Greg LeMond in which Stephanie McIlvain reveals that she did hear Armstrong admit to using performance-enhancing drugs, the former Oakley employee—whose husband is Oakley’s VP of sports marketing—testified to a grand jury that she had no knowledge of Armstrong’s use of drugs or that she heard him admit to using them during a meeting with doctors at which Frankie and Betsy Andreu were present and which they claim she was present as well. One wonders what other questions she was asked besides those two; presumably it shouldn’t take seven hours on the witness stand to say “no” twice. While McIlvain has certainly protected Oakley’s (and by extension, Armstrong’s) interests, investigator Jeff Novitzky has secured perjury convictions against athletes who lied to a grand jury.
Elisa Basso, sister of Giro winner Ivan Basso and wife of former pro Eddy Mazzoleni was snared along with her husband as part of Operazione Athena. Mazzoleni was given a suspended sentence for his role in the drug dealing, while Elisa received a ban that stopped just shy of saying she can’t watch sports on television. Not only can she not work for CONI or any of the national governing bodies for sport in Italy, she can’t attend the events or even enter a place frequented by athletes or their coaches. And competing herself? No chance.
Oscar Sevilla, who tested positive for the EPO masking agent hydroxyethyl starch (HES) has been allowed to return to racing until his B-sample analysis is returned. Technically, the product isn’t banned, but its only use is to mask doping and it can only be administered by transfusion, which itself, is not permitted. Sevilla told Cyclingnews.com, “Let’s say that justice is done because there is no reason to suspend me. There can be no direct doping case, as with a forbidden substance, since hydroxyethyl is not on the banned list.” Even weirder, he added, “I take all the steps and face the situation. Ideally, the B sample will be negative. But if not, then the cycling federation will meet to decide on my case.” Ideally? Methinks the rider protest too little.
Some 50-odd tablets of unknown composition were found by Italian police in a cabinet at the home of Riccardo Ricco. Naturally, Ricco—let us not forget Ricco’s previous suspension for CERA use—claims they are nothing elicit.
Ezequiel Mosquera—the darling of the 2010 Vuelta—and his teammate David Garcia have both tested positive for HES—the same stuff Sevilla tested positive for—a substance of use exclusively to cyclists trying to hide evidence of transfusions or EPO use. Hmm, every positive for HES happens to be with a Spanish cyclist. Coincidence?
Credit or blame (depending on your outlook) that we know anything about Alberto Contador’s positive test can be given to German journalist Hans Joachim Seppelt with the news organization ARD. He specializes in doping stories and learned of Contador’s positive (presumably from the Cologne lab that did the testing) before the UCI had announced anything. When he approached Pat McQuaid, the UCI president denied knowing anything, yet less than 24 hours later a press release was issued. Based on what we know of the case—that clenbuterol and traces of a plastic used in transfusion bags were found in Contador’s urine—there seems to be ample evidence that a suspension is in order while the case is adjudicated. The question is why two months passed since the end of the Tour de France and the public is just now finding out; even Contador knew of the test result in late August.
Of course, the big news of the week is how Alberto Contador not only tested positive at the Tour de France, but the UCI gave him time to prepare a defense. While Mosquera and Garcia found out about their positives through the media, Contador got the bro’ heads-up.
Add to this the just-announced positive of Margarita Fullana for EPO. Fullana would have us believe she only used EPO this year, in which she got virtually no results, and not in previous years when she was blowing by the competition like the Road Runner going by the Coyote. Totaled, we have four positive tests announced in less than a week. Curiously, all of them are by Spanish riders. This little detail seems to suggest that Spain has a bigger problem with doping on a cultural level than any other nation in cycling. While it’s impossible to say that there is a permissive attitude toward doping in Spain, that nation is the highest ranked in cycling according to the UCI with 1868 points, compared to Italy’s 1071 and Belgium’s 882—and that’s even after points were subtracted following Alejandro Valverde’s suspension.
According to a poll in the Spanish paper Marca 78.5 percent of the Spanish people believe that Alberto Contador is innocent of doping. But that figure isn’t quite right. Newspaper polls are notoriously unrepresentative of the actual population; it’s much safer to say that of cycling enthusiasts who read Marca 78.5 percent believe Contador is innocent. Theoretically, this group is better educated about doping and ought to feature a higher percentage who accept that it’s very likely Contador received a transfusion during the Tour de France. Given the number of American cycling enthusiasts who can’t even contemplate the possibility that Mr. Big Shot doped, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by this.
Based on last week’s news, I’ve drawn three conclusions:
1) Clenbuterol is the red herring in Contador’s doping case. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Contador didn’t intend to dope using clenbuterol, as well as a reasonable argument that strict liability is an absurd standard by which to judge an athlete. However, the plasticizer present in Contador’s sample cannot occur from an unintended source. He got a transfusion and this, ladies and gentlemen, should not surprise us. This is how the game is played currently. I hate re-writing record books and results, but if we want a clean sport, chasing brilliant leads like this is how we’ll get there.
2) McQuaid is a bigger problem than I thought and the UCI needs to clean house. Of course, that’s like suggesting to a hoarder that what they should do is toss out the junk and sweep the floor. There’s a fundamental problem with the UCI’s mission. It is charged with governing the sport by overseeing the promotion of races. If the sport of cycling suffers as a result of poor race promotion, the responsibility is the UCI’s. However, it is also charged with disciplining athletes who dope. Punishing your biggest stars is a conflict of interest if ever there was one. Clearly, WADA should have jurisdiction over informing the riders of positive tests and disciplinary proceedings should be turned over to CAS. After all, if WADA was charged with disciplining the athletes they tested, there would never be another false positive or flawed administration of a test. They would bat 1.000 against riders, which is pretty much where things stand.
3) Something’s rotten in Spain. Again, it’s impossible to say where the root of the problem lies, but it strikes me as cultural on some level. Writing that troubles me. I’m not a bigoted guy, but we’ve seen statements from the head of the Spanish federation defending Valverde, an unwillingness by the Spanish judiciary to get to the bottom of Operation Puerto, Spanish cyclists testing positive at a rate far higher than cyclists from any other country. Of course, while it’s nice to have someone call out the Spanish federation, even if it is Pat McQuaid, what we need is a dog with some teeth to go after them.
And now Alberto Contador is threatening to quit the sport. Isn’t that like saying you hate the movies after being grounded? Seriously, though, has he read the Wikipedia entry on Jan Ullrich? Changing nationalities and retiring didn’t really end the scrutiny of his activities.
Lingering in the background of all this doping news is a thought I hadn’t been willing to articulate until now. The French are the only nation of cyclists incapable of producing a rider able to stand on the podium of their national tour. I’ve come to the conclusion that French cycling (ranked 14th among nations) sucks because they—more than any other cycling superpower—really took to heart the whole no doping thing. Remember, we haven’t seen a Frenchman on the podium of the Tour since the Festina Affair.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
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