Jumping The Gun

by Rant on August 30, 2007 · 13 comments

in Alejandro Valverde, Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Michael Rasmussen

Today or tomorrow, I believe, is one year since Floyd Landis’ lawyers received the lab documentation packages with the “evidence” that “proved” Landis had used artificial testosterone prior to Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Nothing like having rumors and innuendo splashed all over the sports pages and front pages of newspapers and magazines before the evidence has even been collected and put into one nice package, eh? Nothing like jumping the gun. And unfortunately, having done so the story spread like the wildfires threatening Athens over the last few weeks.

There have been a couple of other stories, recently, that show a certain willingness on the part of the UCI and others to strike before all the facts are known: One involves Alejandro Valverde and the other, Michael Rasmussen.

Valverde Barred From World Championships

Yesterday, the UCI announced that they would bar Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde from competing at the World Championships next month because his name appears on a few pages within the 6,000-page dossier of documents related to the Operacion Puerto investigation. From an article on Cyclingnews.com:

“During the meticulous studying of the 6,000-page Puerto dossier, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has concluded that several documents may show the involvement of Alejandro Valverde in the affair,” said a statement from the UCI.

Because of that, the UCI has asked the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) to begin proceedings against Valverde related to Operacion Puerto. The UCI, according to Cyclingnews.com, was careful to say that Valverde has not been found guilty. But if he were to be found guilty, Valverde would be required to pay a year’s salary as required by “The Pledge” all riders were forced to sign in order to participate in this year’s Tour de France.

Barring Valverde from the World Championships is simply punishing him before he’s been found guilty. This is one of the problems with how the UCI and others in the anti-doping world administer their brand of “justice.” Punishment before a conviction is unjust, no matter what the charges or venues, as it all but guarantees that innocent people will be made to suffer because they’ve been alleged to have committed a crime. Once the case has been proved, then it’s a different matter.

No one should be punished before they’ve been found guilty. That is just plain wrong. If it turns out that Valverde wasn’t one of Dr. Fuentes’ “clients,” then yet another injustice will have been committed. Whatever changes come to the anti-doping code and system, one that definitely needs to be implemented is the concept that athletes are only punished after they’ve been proven to have committed a doping offense — not before.

About That Missed Test In June …

An interesting development has occurred in the on-going saga of Michael Rasmussen. The Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende has a copy of a fax Rasmussen sent to the UCI at the end of June informing them that he would be training in the Pyrenees for a few days in preparation for the Tour.

[Note: When I have more time, I’ll provide English translations of the articles I’ve linked to for this part of today’s post.]

The fax, sent to the UCI on June 26, informed cycling’s governing organization that Rasmussen would be training in the Pyrenees from June 27th through the 29th, and that he would be riding the routes of stages 13 and 14 of the upcoming Tour de France.

Why is this important? Because the UCI alleged that Rasmussen had missed an out-of-competition test on June 29th, and the implication was that he missed the test because they didn’t know where Rasmussen was. Apparently, they did. Or they should have.

The day before the article was published, while researching this story, reporters for Berlingske Tidende talked with the UCI’s Anne Gripper. She told them that the UCI had no idea that Rasmussen was training in the Pyrenees at the end of June. Once the newspaper got hold of a copy of Rasmussen’s fax, they tried reaching Gripper again, but they were unable to do so.

So, if the document that the Danish newspaper has is correct, then it appears that the UCI should have known Rasmussen’s whereabouts for that surprise test on June 29th. If the fax was misplaced or mishandled, that is hardly Rasmussen’s fault, and he should not be made to suffer for it.

This still leaves the matter of where he was training in May, and whether the UCI or his team knew where he was. But one of the pieces of “evidence” used to drum Rasmussen out of the Tour now looks like it was wrong. Which leaves the question: What if Rasmussen was telling the truth? If that’s the case, how do you compensate him for what could have (and likely would have) been?

As much as the powers that be want to shut down doping and drive dopers from cycling, before they toss people out, and before they inflict punishment, they need to prove their that the alleged dopers really did violate the rules. Jumping the gun often leads to injustice. As we keep seeing, over and over again.

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William Schart August 30, 2007 at 12:16 pm

As a follow-up to the idea that I have stated several times here, that there is no one who knows as a fact that most of pro cyclists dope as there is no hard evidence one way or the other, I have done a little crunching of some of the numbers from this years Tour. There were, counting the prologue, 21 stages. Now, I have heard some variations in the numbers, but as best I can determine, the testing protocol is that 4 riders are tested daily: the stage winner, the GC leader, and 2 riders selected at random. I am not sure what happens when the stage winner is also the GC leader, but whatever is done, will not affect the overall thrust I have here.

Four riders x 21 stages means 84 tests administered. Of these, 3 were found positive. Therefore 81 were either negative or cleared by TUE. Three out of 84 is 3.6%. Extrapolating to the whole field of 189 riders, that would indicate about 7 riders dope. Now, admittedly, these 84 tests do not present a good sample, but it is all we have. It is rather biased to the top end and it is entirely possible that a large percentage of the lower riders, who never will grace the podium, dope because they know there is only a small chance they will be tested, while top riders could be less likely to dope as there is more chance of them being tested.

Now, let’s focus on the 81 “clean” tests. There are 3 interpretations I can think of:
1. they are in fact clean 2. The lab screwed up and incorrectly determined that samples which in fact were “dirty” were clean 3. Some riders have figured out a way to dope and beat the test. A lot of us here suspect that LNDD is sloppy, but we don’t know if they have cleaned up their act any, nor do I know whether the sloppy procedures revealed at the hearings in May are likely to produce false negatives. The third idea, that riders know ways to beat the tests, was one of the things that Papp was brought in to testify too. However, I might point that he was there in part precisely because he had been caught. Whether there is any way for riders to dope and beat the test, I don’t know. However, I find it highly unlikely that riders, who probably do not have any scientific training, could figure out how to beat the test on their own. Of course, it is possible that doctors like the infamous Fuentes perhaps could figure this out. How likely this is, I don’t know.

While not by any means conclusive, these facts do not indicate in any way that most of the peleton dopes. Your opinion, of course, may be different, and you are perfectly entitled to your opinion.

Rant August 30, 2007 at 12:47 pm

William,

Though the sample of results you calculated for may not be completely “scientific” it comes very close to matching the percentage of positive A sample tests reported by WADA for all of cycling in 2005 (the last WADA annual report that I read). I believe the overall percentage of A samples that tested positive was in the range of 3.7 to 3.9 percent. (Interestingly, WADA’s reports never mention how big a percent of the B samples back up the A sample results.) Food for thought.

– Rant

Stephan Andranian August 30, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Rant:

I agree with you completely regarding Valverde. How long has that information (the “dossier”) been around? Are they just now coming to the conclusion that Valverde’s name is included in it? Why was he allowed to ride the Tour de France…twice???

I haven’t been following this stuff as closely as you have, I would imagine, but from what I have read, this latest move seems to be completely arbitrary.

I would imagine that everyone wants cycling to be cleaned up, with the exception of a few folks who are making money on doping. However, due process must be preserved…errr…implemented. This latest move regarding Valverde seems to be akin to a witch hunt.

Regarding Rasmussen, as much as I hate to say it, I would imagine that there is something to the story (I have a great picture of my 6 yr. old daughter getting a hat signed by him). I don’t understand why, if there was nothing there, his own team would dump him while virtually assured of a TdF victory. But who really knows….

In response to Mr. Shart’s theory…first of all, he is missing one possibility: That there are additional dope-tainted samples that the lab misses (not sure if that falls under his 3rd possibility). If it is as sloppy as some believe, than isn’t it possible that they are missing a slew of positives as well?

Some riders are, in fact, being coached in how to avoid positive tests: By doctors and by team “officials”. This doesn’t mean that all…or a majority…or 3.7% or 25% of them are. It just means exactly what it says. It has been going on in cycling, and hopefully it is on its way out. But I would imagine, that like any other type of drug abuse, a certain amount of it will always remain.

RANDY August 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Rant
I was under the impression that Rasmussen did send a fax but it was pretty vague about where he would be. The authorities know where the Pyrennean stages will be but where is he staying, which day is he doing which route? But hopefully we will find out more later about the details. It could be he was treated poorly by his team and the ASO but the attempt to get a Colorado buddy to bring blood bags into Italy in a shoe box is well-documented and casts him in a very unfavorable light.

I had read, who knows where, that Cadel Evans and Predicto-Lotto were suing Rabobank and Rasmussen for damages. Not sure which stage he would have won if Rasmussen had not been there but I think lawsuits will be common in the future if the UCI and protour organizations etc. don’t get there ducks in a row. Floyd may not be the only racer who has suffered real monetary damages from what may have been a series of mistakes or worse.

Steve August 30, 2007 at 8:20 pm

I think William’s analysis is pretty strong. I would like to add that the likelihood of significant numbers of false negatives is probably low. The lab technicians are looking for abnormalities in the test results. Typically, sloppiness leads to abnormalities, as sloppiness is, by its nature, random. Maintaining normalcy requires maintaining discipline. It may be possible that sloppy documentation and reading skills means that they miss borderline cases, but with the WADA requirements so tight on most things I think that those are not likely positives. Also, with the current assumption of everyone being guilty, I feel it is even less likely that they would not report anything that was even close to abnormal.

Morgan Hunter August 30, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Hey Randy – you state: “the attempt to get a Colorado buddy to bring blood bags into Italy in a shoe box is well-documented” – I beg to differ with your conclusions. While it may be correct to say that the “story” the “buddy” has put out was done – the act of “going public” – I see no way you can draw the conclusion that the “story of the blood-bags” is itself true.

The “buddy” makes an accusation of Rasmussen in public – in which, he (buddy) with the help of another “buddy” – flushed all the evidence down the toilet – leaving it all to nothing more then an attack on Rasmussen, and the attacker has nothing to back his story. If you are going to suggest that the story without evidence is true because one collaborates the other – it stays hearsay – no matter how many people are involved, if there is no proof.

Or have we gone total “Salem” on everything and we can just point a finger at anyone and make any claims we want…people should just take our word for it…(°L°)

Rant August 30, 2007 at 8:30 pm

Randy,

I got the impression from the Danish article that Rasmussen’s fax was pretty specific, but I may be wrong on that. There may still be some other things that would/should have caused him to be booted from Rabobank and forced out of the Tour, but the fact that he told the UCI where he was going to be at the end of June makes me wonder just how much evidence they really had on him. He hasn’t tested positive for anything — yet. Given the timing of McQuaid’s comments (about wanting someone other than Rasmussen to win) and other pressures, it makes me wonder what really went down. I suspect there are parts of the story that we’ll never know.

– Rant

William Schart August 30, 2007 at 8:44 pm

Stephan:

Actually I intended that my #2 possibility to be what you suggest, but perhaps I wasn’t clear.

Jean Culeasec August 30, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Some answers to earlier questions or comments

Can we know how widespread doping is?
Exactly no, but we can have some idea. For example the study done with blood test says that 75 % of riders are not doped with blood maniapulation in 2007, or at least not detected!
It was less than 50% in 2005 !
http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/sport/aktuell/die_blutspur_des_radsports_1.536876.html

The EPO retro testing on 1998 urine samples was a good indication too… but I don’t remember the values. Maybe 40 and just 13 in 1999 !

*
The Floyd’s wiki defense was done on DailyPeleton Forum, and it seems that people have concluded that the results obtained by LNDD were entirely coherent. It seems it was their opinion before and after the hearing. If sloppyness there were it has not affected the results… T found in 8 samples!
And even Catlin has said that Floyd’s samples would have been positive in his lab. He said that in this case he would have not directly reported a positive test but let the choice to UCI (or WADA) to do it. Why? all extrapolations are possible : maybe he don’t believe one criterion is enough, maybe his equipement is not enough good, or his technicians not enough competent, … or maybe he prefer to have an extremely strong case to avoid controversy,…

Morgan Hunter August 31, 2007 at 4:58 am

Jean you just make it too damned easy to get pissed with you.

Perhaps you are one of those Europeans who believes that the Ami’s are provincial, that even our language seems to have very few really elegant ways to be disrespectful?

Don’t mistake politeness for lack of familiarity with jabs – The most common mistake Europeans make is assuming that we are basically like the third rate cheap sitcoms and reality shows that the European market seems to love to gobble up, buying it from the Ami’s and then – a year later coming up with other third rate knockoffs of third rate American shows…who would have figured, eh?

I guess its that American luck – or maybe its all that money we hoard up in huge piles in banks…or maybe its that laughable habit of ours to want and respect “the best in everything” – pretty pernicious of us, ain’t it?
Well, you know…we’re Americans.

So Jean – if all you got to “come back at me” is with some stale and tired old “media hype” – or a fair sarcastic barb or two – you’re not winning me over to your side.

Now I can understand that you are feeling “thin skinned” about comments concerning LNDD – perhaps you think that this whole incident for us Americans is just trying to put a nice jab on the French. Have to be honest Jean – there are those types here too. But try to remember that just like in France, not all the people think and feel the same way – we Americans also find that we don’t all think and feel the same way.

So if you want to address the issues that LNDD was found wanting in protocol and procedure, that they – by their way of working as a lab – screwed it up for themselves. We just watched Jean – we heard the testimonies, the lawyers going back and forth – but Jean – a lot of us REALLY LISTENED TOO…and what we heard – makes us want to know answers…another thing you may want to remember about Americans – they keep digging, until we get answers and solutions.

So if you want – change my mind, everybody’s mind – about LNDD – But don’t bother throwing what was said in one news report or another – simply prove to us that LNDD is fit to do such tests and we should be assured of this….because Jean – we aren’t. In fact – we are asking so many damned legitimate questions that some people are beginning to realize the fan-public is not sleeping anymore…(°L°)

IllinoisFrank August 31, 2007 at 6:19 am

Jean, If you want a clear picture of LNDD’s shortfalls in the Floyd Landis case, read this blog. It is complete with references to the testimony and solid analysis:
http://blog.environmentalchemistry.com/2007/06/floyd-landis-wada-lndd-chain-of-custody_26.html

William, I would add one item to you list. How solid is our understanding of threshold levels of PEDs? In other words, are the WADA labs testing for threshold levels that enhance performance or threshold levels of what present testing can find?

Frank

William Schart August 31, 2007 at 7:12 am

Jean:

Since I don’t read German, I cannot really comment on the linked article, however, the figures you cite are that in 2007, less than 75% of riders were detected to have used EPO, but in 2005, it was less than 50%. Is that less than 50% clean or 50% dirty. What I don’t know is the size of the sample tested, and how it was selected, so I cannot really say how indicative this is. In my little study above, the sample is very small, and heavily biased to the top end of the field. Out of 84 tests, only 42 came from the ranks of the also ran. It has been speculated that at times, the “random” selection are not so random and the the officials may use these “random” tests to target “riders of interest” who might otherwise escape testing. Therefore, there is more incentive for top riders to not dope, as they are more likely to be tested and caught. There is also less incentive for domestiques to not dope, as they are less likely to be tested. I think that there is also more incentive for domestiques to dope, since they are of marginal abilities in terms of the peleton as a whole. (Certainly any of us here would be more than happy to have their abilities.) Domestiques are probably often “on the bubble” as far a having contracts renewed. Miss the time cut and you may find yourself out of work. So maybe you take a litttle help from a pill or bottle. How likely is someone that struggles in, just making the cut, to be tested.

Certainly there have been top riders who doped. Some have been caught. Some have confessed. Some probably have gotten away with it. There have also been riders, like Delgado and Indurain, who got caught in a test, but escaped because what they used just happened to not be on the list of banned substances at the time. But I also think there are top riders who are clean.

Frank:

There are 2 types of testing. With some substances, any amount that is detected will trigger an adverse analytical finding. There have been cases, like the British skier who used the US version of inhaler, not knowing it had trace amounts of a prohibited substance. ALthough the amount of that substance in his system would have not been of any benefit, he still was stripped of his medal. In other cases, the substance has tobe detected above a certain threshold level. For example, in Landis case, the finding was that the ration of testosterone to epitestosterone was above the permissible level. I think the rational here is that some substances are found normally in the body, so we should look for abnormal levels as a sign that an athlete is doing something abnormal. Other substances are not normally found in the body, so any amount is an indication of something abnormal. And in some cases, at least, an amount below what would be needed to be performance-enhancing can be detected.

Hemocrit level is used as a sign of blood doping, I believe that anything above 50% is an AAF. Some have raised questions about Landis, as there is evidence that at times he had a hemocrit just below the threshold. This raises the question, if it is possible by adjusting the dosage and timing of dosing to stay below the prohibited level, does that amount to “cheating”. Is the nature of the offense “it is prohibited to use such and such under any circumstances; if we find above a certain level that is sufficient evidence of a violation” or is it “a violation occurs only when the substance is found above a certain level”.

Cheryl from Maryland August 31, 2007 at 9:11 am

Just to remind people of the testimony at the hearing from Dr. John Armory, which I found totally compelling. Why – he stated that LNDD’s values for four tested metabolites when compared to EACH OTHER showed readings which are NOT POSSIBLE IN HUMANS, DOPING OR NON-DOPING. This included most of the B samples. Peer reviewed studies of men taking synthetic T were accepted as evidence butressing his remarks. USADA’s cross was unable to shake this.

So, maybe the LNDD managed to produce one value showing positive for synthetic T, but the lab’s results for that metabolite cannot be trusted because the processing of the sample produced impossible results. Furthermore, they consistently produced impossible results and showed no interest in determining why this anomoly continually occured. Margin of error or probability ain’t in it. And as I recalled from the hearings, USDA did not produce testimony that Floyd is not a human, so that argument is out as well.

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