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.