Friday’s Short Takes

by Rant on April 27, 2007 · 8 comments

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Tour de France

Circling The Wagons

Over at Trust But Verify are copies of the infamous Hacker/Whistleblower documents, spirited out of LNDD sometime last November. Remember those? TBV now has translations of the documents, and runs some interesting commentary about the contents of each.

The documents aren’t directly related to the Landis case, and their provenance is not well known. In speaking with Dr. Arnie Baker at the Tour de Innocence townhall meeting in March, he told me that he didn’t know if the documents were authentic. LNDD was quick to point out typographic errors in the letterhead, and other discrepancies that suggest the documents were made to look like they came from LNDD.

But Arnie Baker did tell me that he strongly suspects the contents of the documents are accurate.

One item of particular interest is a letter documenting some contamination of urine blanks only a few weeks before Landis’ infamous Stage 17 tests. While this type of problem hasn’t been elaborated on by the Landis defense team, the timing of the tests with contamination problems certainly point to a possibility for what might have happened with Floyd Landis’ test results.

Taken as a whole, the Hacker/Whistleblower documents suggest an overall pattern at the French anti-doping lab. At TBV notes:

The letters indicate a pattern.

  1. An error of some sort is made.
  2. It is identified after a report has been sent off to a federation.
  3. LNDD wants the old report destroyed or returned.
  4. Only rarely does WADA seem to be informed of this.
  5. And never the ISO accreditors.
  6. When WADA is informed, it accepts at face value LNDD’s excuses.

Of course, the problem in the Floyd Landis case is that LNDD’s famed leaker spilled the beans on the lab’s findings within days of Floyd’s Tour victory, which — if a mistake had been made — left it impossible for LNDD to issue one of their “So sorry, we made an error. Would you kindly destroy the evidence of our incompetence?” letters.

It’s important that some of the correspondence contained in the Hacker/Whistleblower documents was occurring just as the Landis case was going nuclear. Which gave LNDD, and the other agencies, no room to maneuver. To admit a mistake once the story had broken would have been devastating for the lab’s credibility, which has been tarnished enough even without the Landis scandal. To admit that mistakes could be made would remove that veneer of infallibility the anti-doping agencies wish to maintain regarding the testing and evaluation of samples.

And it would be hugely embarrassing to various officials who made strong, inflammatory statements in the wake of the leaks. Remember a certain person’s comments about violating every virgin within 100 miles and god damn Harleys?

So, as TBV says, perhaps they had to circle the wagons and prepare for battle. To paraphrase a certain (thankfully former) US Secretary of Defense, you fight anti-doping cases with the lab you have, not the lab you might want or wish to have at a later time.

Gettin’ Wiggy Wid It

Bradley Wiggins, the British cycling “star” who “reluctantly” speaks out about doping in the peloton, has lobbed another of his verbal grenades over the wall, telling the BBC:

“I remember when Landis launched that attack on the 17th stage news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/oth… because it absolutely killed me. I was in the “grupetto” (the pack of non-climbers that bring up the rear) holding on to stay inside the time limit (all riders must finish within a certain amount of time after the winner crosses the line to remain in the race),” he recalled.
“Landis had lost 10 minutes the day before but he took nearly six mountains out of the other leaders on that last climb. I finished 52 minutes behind him. It was not a human effort.

“And what is often forgotten is that some riders didn’t make the time cut that day, only three days before the finish in Paris. That is messing with people’s livelihoods because next year’s contract could depend on that.”

Wiggins, who holds the current world individual pursuit title and won the gold at the Olympics in the same event in 2004, is rather fond of saying he races clean. And perhaps he does. Other than his track results and his time-trial ability, he’s not exactly had stellar results as a pro. Maybe he’ll grow into the role.

But those guys who missed the time cut? They’re still employed. Landis, on the other hand, is the one who’s out of work and spending everything he’s got to defend his honor and reputation. The only person’s livelihood that’s been messed with is Landis’. And he’s been seriously messed with, to the point (according to some articles) of declaring bankruptcy.

One thing Bradley Wiggins needs to consider, especially when talking about the Landis case is this: What if Landis is telling the truth? What if he didn’t dope and he’s caught up in a bad situation not of his own making? There’s a lesson there, Mr. Wiggins. Should you find yourself in the same position, you’ll have a massive amount of egg on your face.

It might be wiser for Wiggins to be a bit more circumspect. Even attempting to emulate Dick Pound or Pat McQuaid could come back to, as Wiggins himself would say, bite him on the backside some day.

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just bitch slap me please April 27, 2007 at 12:34 pm

People forget:

1. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, 200.5km in 5:23:36
2. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 05:42
3. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, 05:58
4. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre, 06:40
5. Michael Boogerd (Nl), Rabobank, 07:08
6. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, 07:08
7. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-I.B., 07:08
8. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, 07:08
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 07:08
10. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, 07:20

11. Mickael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 07:24
12. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, 07:24
13. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), T-Mobile, 07:24
14. Tadej Valjavec (SLO), Lampre, 08:37
15. Giuseppe Guerini (I), T-Mobile, 08:37
16. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, 08:49
17. Luis Jose Luis (Sp), Ag2r Prevoyance, 09:27
18. Marcus Fothen (G), Gerolsteiner, 09:27
19. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), T-Mobile, 09:27
20. Marzio Bruseghin (I), Lampre, 09:27
21. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Credit Agricole, 09:27

21 riders were within 10 minutes of Floyd on this day. It took FL 323 minutes to do the course (if I can add right) and Sastre finished 5:42 behind him which means, over the course of the day, Floyd rode 1.5% faster than Sastre. 1.5% greater effort is the difference between doing a “human affort” and a not “human effort”?? Obvioulsy Mr. Wiggins is proof that pro cycling does not select for intelligence.

pommi April 27, 2007 at 2:36 pm

I would also agree that Floyd’s effort was not super-human. A 1.5% difference (thanks jbsmp) can make all or most of the difference, as we saw. A glimpse of his PowerTap on Col de la Joux Plane showed 367 watts @ 20.5 mph; plus Lim’s data showing that Floyd’s power output was normal compared to what he can achieve and compared to other races. Just look back at S16, where Michael Rasmussen led most of the stage, and won by a 1:41 minute margin; not 5:42 minutes, but still. Also look back at the TdG, where the peloton came in (I think) 29 minutes late. Add being a weaker rider, such as Wiggins, 52 minutes is not out of the ordinary (I would’ve come in the next day). Coverage of S17 clearly also showed the failure of the peloton to chase Landis only until they fell more than 9 minutes behind.

Sean Gillette April 27, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Rant,

Tried to leave this the other day for you during our discussion of T/E ratio additional testing done, but I wanted to thank you for your efforts to enlighten us all. I know I’m new to posting here, but thanks to the information and insight that both you and TBV provide, we all might be a little better off with more than just one side of the info at hand.

As always, more useful insight today. Appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Sean

Luc April 28, 2007 at 3:10 am

Wiggins seems to miss the point that he also finished some 40 to 50 minutes behind the top 21 riders. Were these all ‘not human efforts’. JBSMP has it right that he wasn’t selected for his intelligence.
Has anyone looked at relative improvements in performance done by other riders? For example although Wiggins finished 52 minutes behind, how did he perform the next day. Was it a super human effort? Did he stay with the pack and therefore show that one is capable of recovering overnite and still adequately perform. If i recall stage 18 was a flatter stage but there must be examples of riders who bonked on one stage to perform well the next thereby giving them a ‘superhuman’ relative effort.

just bitch slap me please April 28, 2007 at 8:53 am

And yet from a different perspective:

“”Travis Tygart, the senior managing director and general counsel for the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said, “If you’re a player that was using and receiving steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs from Radomski, I think you are pretty nervous right now.””””

This from the NT Times describing how some of the customers of this Mets clubhouse confidant….errr…pusher…..might feel today. USADA may have a fuller plate than we have considered, and as Trust/Verify have laboriously described, it may be to USADA’s interest to drop Landis’s case and move to Barry Bonds. Unless, of course, the NY Times finds a former domestique of Landis who swears he personally applied the testosterone patch to Landis’ cajones.

Sensible mind April 28, 2007 at 12:06 pm

A time 1.5% shorter than the person in second place does not necessarily equate to a 1.5% greater effort, and it is a huge fallacy to suggest that this is the case. The energy conservation from riding in a large pack is usually gauged at around 30%. Given that Landis rode the stage alone compared to Sastre who rode in the pack, that’s already a 30% greater effort. Add to that the 1.5% greater effort that we’re (bizarrely) assuming is directly linked to the amount of time Landis finished ahead of Sastre, and we get 31.5%. But wasn’t Landis’s lead almost double that at one point? Presuming he didn’t just drop all his efforts and intentionally lose four minutes of his lead, perhaps we should add another 1.5%. Oh hey, 33%.

Not that Wiggins’s argument is even remotely valid, mind. But it doesn’t take misleading calculations to understand that.

just bitch slap me please April 29, 2007 at 11:55 am

Well I didn’t mean to leave a “huge fallacy” laying on the doorstep like a ripe banana. The 30% figure is usualy used when describing effort saved when riding in the middle of a 100 person peleton, and it is amazing how effort you save by sucking in there. But I don’t remember Sastre doing much peleton sucking in that stage especially as he broke out. That day consisted of a number of climbs for which drafting efficiency is dramatically lowered. So sure, Floyd may have laid out more than 1.5% effort than Sastre but the fact Sastre could reel him in to the 5 minute range might have been the more “non human effort” than Floyd just taking off.

Rant April 29, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Interesting discussion, everyone. I’d add that there are really a number of factors that led to the way the stage played out. Whether Wiggins was hanging on for dear life, I don’t know. But he came in at 124th on the stage, with the final group at 52’13” behind the leader. I doubt too many in his group were contenders for the podium at the end. Stage 17 is rapidly turning into the most analyzed and discussed day of bike racing by cycling fans in the United States, I suspect.

JBSMP, in my opinion, has hit on an important point. For the climbs, drafting doesn’t do much as far as saving energy goes, other than perhaps keep motivated not to lose contact with the riders in your group. But that’s part of the mental game as much as it is part of the physical effort. Riding with others around you can spur you on to work harder. At least, that’s the way it always has worked for me in races. Especially the ones with a lot of climbing.

There’s many ways to slice and dice what happened on Stage 17, but no matter how you do, it’s hard to support a conclusion of Floyd having a superhuman day. He just came back from a truly awful day and followed up with an exceptionally exciting ride. Much of the result stems from the peloton being unwilling to chase for so long. Once they started chasing in earnest, the time gap narrowed. If they’d started sooner, the result might have been a whole lot different. Over the course of several hours, the peloton could have been able to catch Floyd with only a slight increase in their pace, perhaps as little as one-half to one mile per hour (although I haven’t done the calculation). They chose not to, and the rest (as the saying goes) is history.

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