A Tale of Frankie and Floyd…

by Rant on September 12, 2006

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Frankie Andreu

It takes a certain amount of guts to stand up and admit you’ve done something wrong, especially when you don’t have to. That seems to be the case with Frankie Andreu, who admitted that he used EPO a couple of times before the 1999 Tour de France. I’m saddened by the revelation, as I’ve had a great deal of respect for Frankie over the years.

So to find that one of my cycling heroes is human and succumbed to the very real temptation of chemically enhanced performance is more than a little disappointing. I really can’t see what Frankie has to gain from any of this, except maybe to ease his conscience and do the right thing, however belatedly. One article I read, from the Detroit Free Press, suggests that he would like to set an example for riders, especially younger riders, so that they don’t get caught up in doping. I hope it works.

My suspicion is that it wasn’t a particularly good career move. Frankie’s comments in the Free Press article sound like the class act and sportsman he’s always appeared to be, and he’s to be commended for his bravery in admitting to his mistakes. I hope some good comes from it.

It takes a lot of bravery to stand up and declare your innocence when the court of public opinion so quickly convicts you, as happened to Floyd Landis. While others admit to having doped in the past, Landis has always had a reputation for racing clean. And from what I saw in the post on his web site yesterday, it appears he’s got a good shot at beating this rap. And not because he’s getting off on a mere technicality.

From my perspective, the cards his lawyer played yesterday are these:

Some of the samples used in the testing had codes on them that weren’t assigned to Landis’ specimens. If true this is a huge mistake by the lab. What it says is this: While the results may be correct (more on that later), they didn’t come from Landis. Or, let’s put it another way: It was somebody else wot tested positive, guv’nor. I can just picture Johnnie Cochran’s take on this, “If the code don’t fit, you must acquit.”

And the other major card is problems with the test results. Landis and company are saying that the testosterone metabolites didn’t test higher than the margin of error for these particular tests, as is required by WADA to declare that there’s a positive result. This is not some mere technicality, as a few comments on floydlandis.com have suggested. To understand why, let’s take a look at a hypothetical example.

Suppose that the testosterone test has a margin of error of 3%. What this means for a reading of 100% of the cutoff value is that the real result could actually fall between 97% and 103% due to a certain amount of uncertainty in the testing process itself. Now suppose that Landis’ results were only 1% above the cutoff. This can’t be called a positive test, because the actual result could lie between approximately 98% and 104% of the cutoff value.

According to WADA protocols in this example, to be declared a positive test, the result would have to exceed approximately 103% of the cutoff value. The idea behind this requirement is pretty simple: Once a sample exceeds the cutoff value by more than the margin of error, then even the lowest possible result exceeds the cutoff.

And, as I understand it, to be declared a positive test, all of the metabolites that are tracked have to show positive results. That is, they all have to exceed their cutoff values by more than the margin of error.

They do tell us that one metabolite showed a high level, but they don’t give any more information than to say it’s due to lab error. I’d like to know how they determined that. While it’s certainly possible, I’d like to see the proof.

And they tell us that the one metabolite that WADA-accredited labs consider the gold standard for evidence of doping came back with a normal result.

So I find it hard to see that the lab has presented a convincing case of doping here. From where I sit, this looks to become another case where LNDD’s results get shown to be incorrect on close inspection, and where the doping case will ultimately get thrown out.

But as I’ve said, I’d really like to see the proof (that is, the 370-odd page report). Just as I find it hard to take the assertion that Landis is guilty without convincing proof, I want to see the real proof that shows him to be innocent. If for no other reason than to swat a few individuals over the head with it, while reminding them (Mr. Pound, are you listening?) that one is innocent until proven guilty.

Unfortunately, with all the revelations and doping scandals that have hit cycling in the recent past, many people automatically assume that a person is guilty when doping allegations are made. We all want to believe in the infallibility of the system, but unfortunately it has a long, long way to go before the current anti-doping system can be considered infallible. In the meantime, whenever allegations surface, I believe it is better to give the accused the benefit of the doubt until the process is complete.

And from what Landis and company unleashed yesterday, I certainly think they’re more than entitled to that. As I said in my post then, it looks to me like they have a very strong case to present to USADA.

I hope that Dick Pound and his band of merry men enjoy the taste of humble pie, because I suspect they’ll be eating it very soon.

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