All Quiet on the Doping Front?

by Rant on August 16, 2011 · 17 comments

in Cycling, Tour de France, UCI ProTour

Well, not quiet, exactly, but subdued. Now that the Tour is over and the silly (a/k/a transfer) season is underway, let’s see what we’ve got. (Props to readers MikeG, Jeff , Larry and William Schart for providing links to the articles cited in this post.)

Contador hearing postponed

Color me not surprised that CAS case involving Alberto and the magical mystical beef was postponed until November. With a couple of other high-profile cases involving small amounts of clenbuterol working their way through the system, WADA seems to be edging closer to a threshold level for the drug. Given that at least some labs claim to be able to detect ever more minute amounts, and that in some places environment exposure and not purposeful cheating could lead to a positive test, this seems like a good idea. Which is to say that WADA will probably give the idea some consideration before returning to their previous stance that any presence at all constitutes an anti-doping violation.

Unless WADA actually does set some sort of threshold, look for more countries and teams to do what the US did in Beijing three years ago — travel with and prepare their own “drug free” food so as not to fail any anti-doping tests.

Alberto’s Ain’t The Only Spanish Case Dragging Along

Who’d’a’thunk it? Turns out that not only is Alberto Contador’s case moving at a positively glacial speed, the case involving Ezequiel Mosquera seems to be suffering from an underwhelming lack of velocity, too. Mosquera tested positive for the blood plasma expander hydroxyethyl starch at last year’s Vuelta a Espana. Seems that the case has a small problem, as CyclingNews.com explains:

Hydroxyethyl starch is a blood plasma volume expander that can serve to dilute the blood without decreasing the amount of red blood cells present. It may be used as a masking agent for EPO, for which he did not test positive.

However, the product is prohibited only if administered intravenously. It can also be taken orally. According to the Spanish website Biciciclismo, the AEA has submitted information to the ongoing hearing that it is not possible to say which method was used.

According to the AEA, while the tests showed the product in Mosquera’s urine sample, it is scientifically impossible to differentiate the method of use. “The methods of laboratory analysis detected selectively acidic decomposition products of the substance itself, there is no chance of defining the route of administration from the results.”

So WADA’s own rules seem to leave this case in a sort of legal limbo. If using hydroxyethyl starch is only banned when taken intravenously, and the urine test can’t differentiate between how the product got into the athlete’s system, there’s a loophole the size of a battleship that Mosquera’s lawyers can waltz through. Hmm. If only there were a test. Wait! What about that supposed test for plasticizers that has been talked about with Contador’s situation? Surely that could yield some interesting info. Assuming that it’s been approved for use. Which it hasn’t, as I recall.

Someone Hacked in to WADA?

Strange, but apparently true enough that WADA felt they needed to issue a statement. McAfee, the anti-virus company, recently claimed that a number of companies and organizations were victims of hacking attacks. One story suggests that the hackers were based in China. WADA, of course, denies that the hackers had the run of their network for 14 months. Why on earth would someone in China want to hack into WADA’s computer system anyway? Since most PCs and laptops come from their, why not just put Trojan Horses onto WADA’s equipment from the start? Why would some shadowy organization want to find out what’s going on in the anti–doping world? Well, my inner cynic wonders whether it was a government-sponsored infiltration, with the eye on learning about new tests and testing techniques ahead of time, in order to find better ways of beating the system.

There are easier ways, though. The East Germans set up their own anti-doping lab and then used the information they gleaned from tests of their athletes to devise ways to beat the tests. The East Germans, through their access to information about the tests themselves and through their own devices were pretty successful in gaming the anti-doping cops. Seems a whole lot easier than hacking into WADA’s network. And it’s not like the Chinese haven’t hired people from the former East Germany in the past.

Then again, maybe the Chinese wanted advanced warning before test results were announced to the rest of the world. I’m sure someone has already suggested that Floyd Landis was behind this latest security breach. But with Landis off to the world of NASCAR, I can’t imagine why he would want to hack into the agency’s computers, or even why he would care.

The Bio Passport Shuffle

Seems there’s a bit of a dust-up on Twitter and elsewhere over this article in which Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo and Michael Ashenden, the Australian anti-doping researcher, raise concerns about the UCI’s much ballyhooed biological passport. Predictably, the UCI isn’t too happy about the criticism. Again, from CyclingNews.com:

On Thursday the UCI also issued a stinging press release claiming that 1074 blood passport tests were done in 2010, with a further 1577 done so far this year. The UCI said this includes out-of-competition controls, pre-competition and in-competition controls on all major events during this period and team training camps.

The UCI criticised Vroomen’s assertions as “misleading, irresponsible, mischievous and clearly show a very weak understanding of this complex subject, an area which goes well beyond financial questions alone.”

Rant regular William Schart pointed out in a comment to the previous article that the number of tests, when one considers the number of professional racers, is pretty paltry. At best, the average number of tests per rider is in the range of two to three per year, assuming there are between 500 and 800 pros subject to the testing program between all the riders on the UCI ProTour, Pro Continental and perhaps the Continental teams.

Some time ago, I spoke with a person who has knowledge of the testing programs at a couple of well-known teams. The concern he raised was that the number of tests that need to be taken from each rider in order to gather sufficient data for the passport program to be effective is staggering. Rather than a few times a year as the current numbers suggest, more like four or more times per month. Perhaps, my source said, one might be able to get by with only a couple of tests a month. That still means 26 tests per rider per year. So let’s do the math. For the “maybe we can get by” standard, that works out to 13,000 to 21,000 test per year. Or for the more rigorous standard, 26,000 to 42,000 tests per year.

That would be a logistical and financial nightmare. So, while the UCI’s press release might have been meant to bolster their argument that the passport program is effective, going by what I’ve heard, I think that Vroomen and Ashenden are right to raise some concerns about how the program is currently being conducted.

Did I Say That? What I Meant Was …

Gotta love this one. A former rider for the US Postal Service squad gave an interview in June to NUsport, a Dutch sports magazine, and gave details of an organized doping program on the team. Then he changed his mind and didn’t want to be quoted. Too late, though, the horse done left that barn already. VeloNews.com (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) published a brief article about it a couple of weeks back.

Memo to Max Van Heeswijk (the rider who wishes to recant): Before you speak to a member of the press, you’d better be prepared to live with the consequences of what you’re going to say. Once you’ve told your story, it can’t be untold, so to speak.

The”Just How Stupid Can They Be?” award goes to…

David Clinger, an American pro cyclist currently serving a suspension for an anti-doping offense, who tested positive for clenbuterol, of all things. Clinger admitted to using the drug, according to various reports, saying he used it to boost his performance. Really? Doing what? Not racing bikes, I presume. Clinger was given a lifetime ban for his second offense.

And Lest You Think I’ve Forgotten…

A belated congratulations to Cadel Evans for winning the Grand Boucle in style, pulling out a great time trial performance on the penultimate day to claim the yellow jersey just in time for the mostly ceremonial ride into Paris. Evans has chosen to either stay above the fray or obey the omerta (take your pick) by not commenting on who might be doping in the peloton. Glass houses and stones, don’cha’know, given that some reports say he worked with a rather infamous doctor earlier in his cycling career.

Farewell to HTC-Team High Road, who will be closing up shop at the end of the season. Bob Stapleton says he couldn’t find a title sponsor going forward. Sad, but not unexpected.

And besides that Russian rider (Kolobnev), no one has tested positive for anything at the 2011 Tour … or have they? Probably too early to say, given how the tests from the 2010 Tour played out.

And then there’s the curious case of Thor Hushovd not going to the Vuelta. Quite the dust-up between Jonathan Vaughters and some of the usual suspects on Twitter over why Hushovd won’t be on the squad. Maybe it has to do with the screwy UCI team points system. Or vindictiveness over the Norwegian leaving Garmin-Cervelo. Or maybe it was planned this way all along. We all saw how well Alberto Contador did by going to the Tour after having done the Giro, after all. Maybe Vaughters is smart enough not to subject his riders to that kind of punishment. Then again, if he were really mad at the current world champion, maybe he would send him to Spain.

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MikeG August 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Is it just me, or does it seem odd that so many athletes are coming up positive for clen after AC got busted for clen? Everyone knows they have a test for it, and the levels they can detect are microscopic, so why would you even attempt it? Did ACs case tip other athletes to the fact that clen might actually work? Or, is it just the fact that our food supply is so contaminated, and the level of clen so low that they can detect, all kinds of innocent athletes are going to get popped for clen? It would be so nice to deal in just facts on these issues, but I think that is a “pipe dream”!

MikeG August 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Speaking of clen, I just came across this link:
WADA to contest clearing of Mexian football players of Clenbuterol use

http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/9435/WADA-to-contest-clearing-of-Mexian-football-players-of-Clenbuterol-use.aspx

“it’s not supposed to make sense!”

Rant August 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Those darned elusive “facts”! They’re so hard to pin down. ;-)

Seriously, though. There is at least some precedent for leniency when the case originates in Mexico — a country where something like 20% of the beef actually is contaminated with clenbuterol. An Italian rider received a shortened suspension last year, if I recall correctly, after testing positive for the stuff while competing in Mexico.

Makes me wonder what, if any, implications this has for Contador’s case. If I were Alberto, I would take this as a bad omen.

MattC August 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hey Rant! Cheating isn’t always in the form of doping…here’s a quote from an article on CNN.com (here’s the link to the entire article by Terrence Storm, it’s about the Miami Hurricane’s current college footbal scandal):

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/08/18/epidemic.college.football.scandals/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

“As for reality, when it comes to the big boys, college football really is about teams acquiring as many NFL-caliber players as possible to help them with the bottom line — winning.

Winning big by any means necessary.

Which raises a question: For the sake of that bottom line, are more than a few college football programs (and their conferences, for that matter) deciding to suffer the consequences of cheating on purpose these days? After all, winning means money, and the money associated with teams and conferences winning consistently in the NCAA’s so-called Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-A) is huge.”

Thank goodness I’m a Wolverines fan! (I’m sure THEY aren’t cheating…grin!)

Hmmm…winning by any means necessary. I think that pretty well summs up most high-level sports these days. And who are we kidding, days of the past too. Winning IS everything. Always has been, always will be. It’s just human nature. Not sure it CAN be eliminated. Maybe when we get to the days when robots are doing the competing. But then the makers of the robots will find a way to make THEIR’S better than the rest, even if it’s against the rules.

And the circle goes round and round.

William Schart August 20, 2011 at 6:14 am

My feeling is that there is a range of behavior in the NCAA. I believe there are schools which make a pretty good effort at complying with the NCAA rules. And there are other schools which may be quite willing the bend if not break the rules, as long as you don’t get caught. And some might be quite willing to get caught every so often in exchange for result in other seasons.

In part, I think it depends on the goals of the school. Not everybody is aiming to win the BCS championship. Some schools are probably simply aiming for a winning season and a chance for a bowl game, and realistically that will be the best they can ever hope for. The schools with the highest goals may be more willing to cheat or look the other way while boasters do so. Given the fact that non-conference games against even Podunk State count, it is quite possible that more than half the teams in a big conference can have a winning season and go bowling.

There’s been speculation regarding the possibility the University of Miami could get the “death penalty”, with some holding the opinion that the death penalty was so devastating to SMU and the now defunct Southwest Conference that the NCAA is very unlikely to ever implement it again, at least to a major program in a major sport. My feeling is that if the allegations are true then perhaps the death penalty is warranted. So what if it take 20 years for the ‘Canes to have winning season. Send a message that serious violations are going to have serious and long lasting consequences.

Jeff August 20, 2011 at 8:36 am

The NCAA lost the high moral (ethical) ground long ago, if they ever had it.
Death penalty to Miami is unlikely (regardless whether there was ever a program more deserving…..) because it could lead to a breakaway league, diminishing NCAA’s standing & market share. NCAA will much favor Real Politik over principle in this matter.
I’d be fine with a breakaway league and would see it as an improvement. (Do you like the BCS? It should be the BS Championship.)
Roger Goodell has made it official that NCAA Football is the NFL’s Minor League when he ruled Terrelle Pryor eligible for the Supplemental Draft while suspending him from the first five games of the regular season – paralleling Pryor’s NCAA sanction had he stayed at Ohio State. (Symbolic, but meaningless ruling as almost no one projected Pryor would take part in the first half of the season anyway and is seen as a project NFL QB)
There is a solution if the NCAA wants to take steps to solve the problem. Compensate the athletes fairly. Pay NCAA football players as the NFL Minor Leaguers that they are. Ra ra sis boom ba.

MattC August 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

It’s a very complicated thing the NCAA. Consider that probably around 99.9% of the athletes participating in college sports will NEVER make it to the pro’s. Most are still playing for love of the game. But for those few…those .1 percent… they need the exposure of big-time college sports to get drafted, yet they must also be praying they don’t get hurt and lose their winning lottery ticket before ever getting to to the big leagues.

And the schools…how do they deal with attracting the top-tier talent that will bring in the television and advertising, and fill stadium stands no matter where they play (and with that all the $$, fame and prestige that they need to continue to attract the top talent). It’s a vicious circle for sure. The top athletes KNOW they are a quite a valuable commodity. It’s a bidding war, and I’m sure the lines are pretty fuzzy when it comes to the kid. He just wants the best deal he can get. Can’t blame them for that.

I’ve always believed that most likely all the big schools have gray areas’ when it comes to the athletics dept. The NCAA rules are pretty strict (was WADA involved in any of that btw??) and much like an athlete having a choice to dope/not to dope (with their very career possibly on the line based on how they choose), the schools are faced with a nearly identical choice. Cheat and have a chance (and accept the risk), or don’t and possibly lose the top recruits to their competitors who may very well be cheating.

And I’m not even talking about the athletes here….just look at the coaches….at the top levels their very careers depend on the win/loss column at the end of the season. For some schools, having a 12 and 4 season could leave a coach looking for a new job.

Remember the old saying “Winning ISN’T everything”? Who says that these days? I’ll tell you who….2nd place… THAT’S who says it. Doing what’s right probably comes in a very distant 2nd (or 3rd) in most cases. Fame and fortune rest on winning. It would seem there are few can resist the siren song of ‘whatever it takes’.

Gosh…I must have misplaced my rose-colored-glasses today. I really need to get out for a ride! Or maybe I’ll go read up on the Vuelta. Opening stage today. Woo-Hoo!

Rant August 22, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Hey Matt,

So, you’re a Michigan fan, eh? Did you go there, by chance? Interesting article. All sorts of cheating in college sports — especially football and basketball. My dad got a dose of it up close, back when he was a physics professor at Purdue. One of the football players was doing miserably in his class way back in the early 70s, and both the head football coach and the athletic director “encouraged” my dad to pass the kid. (As in, “your season tickets will be in the nosebleed section next year if you don’t.) He didn’t, and it didn’t make a difference — our season tickets were already in the nosebleed section when they spoke to my dad.

From what I gather, the grade-fixing kind of cheating happens frequently. Wouldn’t want a star player to miss a season by not maintaining good enough grades to ensure his eligibility, don’cha’know.

College basketball and football are definitely the minor leagues from which the NBA and the NFL draw. But like you said, only a few ever make it that far. Those big bucks from the TV contracts, bowl game appearances, etc. are quite the temptation to the universities and their athletic programs. Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

And back when I was growing up, I never did understand how some of those star football and basketball players could be driving Porsches (Joe Barry Carroll, I’m looking at you) and other fancy cars. Funny how that worked.

The “perks” might be a bit different at different schools, but the game remains the same.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled viewing of the Vuelta a Espana and the Quiznos US Pro sponsored by RadioSnack Tour of Colorado Challenge.

MattC August 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

Hey Rant…no, I didn’t go to Michigan..I’m just a Wolverine football fan (long story). So your dad was a professor at Purdue…wow! One of my good Navy (retired) friends is an Indiana guy…(he’s back there still) and both his son and daughter are Purdue alumni. Kraig didn’t play football or Bball…but he did row (crew) all 4 years…and his sister was pretty small so she ended up being the cox’n all 4 years…but that sport wasn’t one of the biggee’s…pretty much they were self-funded cuz all the $$ goes to the big sports.

I would imagine that ANYBODY involved in college sports will have ‘stories’ to tell. The grades thing is a joke in so many cases. And look at the degrees that ‘some’ of these athletes are getting, and their course load (and tutoring, etc) just to get them by to maintain eligibility. Not to mention some of the courses they take…my dad always used to joke about having a degree in ‘basketweaving’…but for some that’s not far from the truth. And if they DON’T make the big-time after, then what? That degree in ‘communications’ from a big-time school only gets you so far before it’s realized that you can barely read.

OK…as you say, we have BIG stuff going on up in Colo AND Spain right now…woo-HOO!

William Schart August 23, 2011 at 11:41 am

Shoot, I had some pressure put on me when teaching high school. And I wouldn’t be surprised that some teachers/profs pass players anyway, without having any pressure, just for the good of old State U.

MattC August 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

Just read an article on VN that discusses how HARD the grand tours are these last few years. Riders in the Vuelta are complaining (espeically the sprinters) how insanely hard the organizers have made it…and the same was for this years Giro. Here’s a link to the article:

http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/08/news/fast-men-ask-why-sport-seems-to-be-sprinting-away-from-mass-dashes_189838

As I read this, all I could think of was that the organizers in their quest to provide for “exciting” racing in every single stage are just BEGGING for the riders to NEED to cheat to survive.

They keep making the races harder, and then cry foul if any of the riders are doping, except the doping riders (assumption here!) are the ones who are making it exciting becasue they not only ‘survive’ but are able to provide drama at the front of the race, which is the very thing the organizers (and the viewers) want. It’s certainly a vicious circle, with the riders caught in the middle of a no-win situation. Just surviving ANY grand tour is an athletic feat of no small measure…but that’s not good enough. Bare survival stage after stage doesn’t bring in the viewers and TV dollars.

MikeG August 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm

An interesting twist in the Armstrong investigation:
Lawyers Battle Over Armstrong Evidence
LOS ANGELES, August 25, 2011 (AFP) – US federal prosecutors are asking a judge to prevent cyclist Lance Armstrong‘s lawyers from seeing documents which detail the grand jury case into allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Prosecutors filed their request to federal judge Jacqueline Nguyen on Wednesday after Armstrong’s lawyers asked to see details of the case against him.

Armstrong’s lawyers filed a motion in July, claiming leaks in the grand jury inquiry have hurt the reputation of the seven-time Tour de France winner.

For more than a year, a grand jury in California has been probing claims the cyclist used performance-enhancing drugs during his run of Tour de France wins.

Jeff August 26, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Interesting article MattC.

Also, Bonds obstruction conviction upheld:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/26/BA421KSO89.DTL&tsp=1

Now on to finishing hurricane prep. See you when power is restored. We’re sure to loose it for multiple days.

William Schart August 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Well, it looks like we can finalise this year’s TdF results: all test results are in and there’s no more positives.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CYC_TOUR_DE_FRANCE_DOPING?SITE=NVLAS&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Rant August 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Matt,

Interesting article, indeed. Seems to be a bit of hypocrisy in the system, eh? Of course, hypocrisy is nothing new when it comes to course design and the “shock” that some might feel compelled to dope in order to survive/win.

Mike,

I’m not surprised Lance’s lawyers want to get their hands on any and all information about the grand jury investigation. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen.

Jeff,

Next step the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals? I’m thinking that’s where the Bonds case is headed next.

William,

That’s the UCI’s story and they’re sticking to it. Until someone at a lab leaks information that makes them change their tune. ;-) Still waiting to see what comes of the Contador case from 2010. Supposedly the CAS will hear that case in November. Wouldn’t surprise me if Contador’s case eventually just vanishes into the mist.

MattC August 30, 2011 at 7:55 am

Jeff (and anybody else that was in Irene’s path), hope you’re high and dry….I still have friends and family in VA (lived in Norfolk/VA Beach for a number of years) and also my sis in law lives in NY/Manhattan. Seems they all fared quite well from the Hurricane itsself, but watching the news last night, the New England area is just getting CRUSHED w/ the flooding…hadn’t expectd that. I thought everybody dodged a bullet that Irene wasn’t any stronger, but she apparently was strong enough…Vermont and Conneticut are almost underwater it seems. There was video of old covered bridges just washing away, and highways just devasted. Also Hatteras Is. down in NC is totally isolated by the loss of road. so there was still quite some damage…but it could have been SO much worse.

Jeff September 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

Thanks MattC. We did fine here, but I’m just getting back to some normalcy after having to rush up to Vermont to arrange my mom’s evacuation from her cut-off town of Pittsfield. She lives alone, gets around with the aid of a walker, and is in fragile health. Her home is on high ground and was spared, unlike many of her neighbors. We got her out over land Tuesday evening, shortly before dark with the help of several friendly locals, an ATV, and a high clearance 4wd. She’s now safe and staying with my sister. Past the roadblocks and check points entering the cut-off areas, it’s governed by a sort of friendly martial law. Here is a link to some hi res pics of the area: http://www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/
My mom’s home is in Pittsfield, which is just north of Killington off of Route 100. I entered via a trail located on higher ground above washed out Route 4 in Mendon. You’ll see pics of Pittsfield, Killington, and Mendon toward the second half of the linked page.

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