Monday, July 28, 2008

Fallout 29

The AP's Jerome Pugmire reviews the "doping scarred" 2008 Tour de France and hints there may be more positive test results seeing the light of day.

Media Life wraps up this year's Tour de France saying overall viewership on VS was down, due, in their opinion, to doping scandals past and present.

The Christian Science Monitor
has a "backstory" about Howard Jacobs that is a good read.

Jacobs sees other problems with the oversight regimen as well. Unlike in US civil court, he says he doesn’t have the opportunity to question witnesses weeks in advance of a trial.

Often, the first time he hears the other side’s evidence is during the sports arbitration hearing – and he often has to respond without witnesses himself, unless his client happens to be a “toxicologist,” he says dryly.

“Howard … just doesn’t know the science that I do and I can’t tell him what to ask,” says Dr. Don Catlin, a top antidoping scientist who has many times faced off with Jacobs. “That’s what’s wrong in our system of litigation. All the cards are stacked for USADA because they have money to pay and can purchase witnesses.”

But that can be difficult even with money. WADA’s code of ethics prohibits lab directors from providing “counsel, advice, or information to athletes regarding techniques or methods to mask detection” of banned substances – a standard Dr. Catlin, former head of UCLA’s Olympic Lab, interprets as an effective ban on testifying on behalf of athletes.

Travis Tygart, blessed with no sense of irony, misses the point that it is "fishing" when they do it, and "truth seeking" when you do it:

Travis Tygart, head of the USADA, defends antidoping arbitration as a balance between efficiency and truth, designed to prevent “fishing expeditions” – defense lawyers drawing out hearings at great expense. “I have a lot of respect for Howard. He’s a fierce advocate,” says Mr. Tygart, who, growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., competed on the same swim team as Jacobs. “His job is just entirely different – using smoke and mirrors to get athletes off, whereas ours is a search for the truth to protect clean athletes.”


apoch said...

It might have something to do with the fact that for the third year in a row, the rider who wore the yellow in Paris didn't race.

wschart said...

I seem to remember a certain Spanish rider attacking on a mountain stage to take the Yellow away from a teammate. He was at least as aggressive if not more so than any other GC leader. Of course, the level of aggression was way down this Tour.

whareagle said...

Re: Tygart's comments. OH PLEASE, somebody censure this guy.

Larry said...

ws, yeah. For a Tour that wants to be "believable", how about a guy who breaks away into first place at the bottom of Alpe D'Huez, and maintains a 2 minute advantage all the way to the top? Can you ever recall seeing such a thing?

OTOH, the Tour will probably point to the 40 minutes and change it took Sastre to climb Alpe D'Huez as proof that the climb was believable. Memo to GC guys: do not climb Alpe D'Huez in less than 40 minutes, and breathe heavily and with your mouth open on the way up. Collapsing on arrival is optional but highly appreciated.

Whareagle, you got it. "Tygart, I censure you! You are hereby ordered to watch Perry Mason reruns for the greater of (a) 20 hours or (b) the time it takes you to figure out that the DA never wins. In a normal case the time required for (b) is less than (a), but Tygart, yours is not a normal case."

wschart said...


Are you saying the Huez stage was rigged? If those riders 2 minutes behind Sastre were capable of reeling him in, why didn't they? If the idea was to avoid dipping under the magic 40 minute barrier, they all could have set such a pace (at least those capable of it), then duked it out over the last several hunderd meters to see who would get the stage win.

There could have been some sort of team order thing for Sastre to take over the Yellow from his teammate for some reason. Why, I couldn't say. But if Evans or the like wanted to contest the stage, and had the legs for it, why didn't they? And if they were capable of keeping up with Sastre, what fault is it of his?

Jacques Anquetil was well known for doing exactly what was needed to win, no more, no less. He wasn't well liked, in part because of this. But if he did the minimum to win, it still was more than anyone else was apparently capable of. said...

For what it's worth, Sastre's time up the Alpe was 39:30, I think, done as a solo time trial.

For sake of comparison, Landis' time in 2006 was 38:36, less than a minute faster, and was done (a) in a group that was moving; and (b) ran into guys in front, including a teammate Axel Merckx. Thus there were opportunities for drafting not present for Sastre.

Cyclismag estimated Sastre put out 430w for the climb, and then looked at the all-times where Landis' was thought to be at 442 watts.

This is at least partly wrong, because of weight assumptions. CM normalizes to 78 kg, but from Lim's data, we know Landis was 67 kg with a 7kg bike, or 74kg, not 78; at 6 w/kg, that means he needed 30 less watts, 412, not 442; at 5 wkg, it would be 20 less, 422 instead of 442.

Now Sastre is not very big, so his power requirements are probably overstated by CM as well. But 412 or 422 for 39 minutes seems to be in the range of achievable, where 442 starts looking peculiar.

Landis is probably just sronger than Sastre anyway, and I find the attempts some have made to draw conclusions from the Alpe times to be pretty weakly supported.

TBV said...

Here's the Cyclismag link

TBV said...

CM also says that Sastre, in 2006, did the Alpe in 39:01.


Larry said...

ws, TBV, please don't get me wrong. I'm not attacking Sastre, who by all indications is a worthy champion and a terrific guy. I don't suspect him of doping, NOT AT ALL. All indications are that he attacked the GC group as part of CSC's overall plan, where CSC figured that the GC group would chase him down. Then CSC would launch another attack, and another. Only the GC group did not chase him down. So, Sastre just kept going. Good for him. I'm HAPPY that the guy who won in Paris was the guy who showed some aggression at the end of the race's toughest day.

What I'm attacking is the sheer nonsense of the Tour's new emphasis on "believability". What makes Sastre's performance any more believable than, say, Ricco's performance? Nothing. Nada. Zip. The concept of "believability" is the most moronic concept that any authority in cycling has come up with to date, and that's saying something.

It is garbage to state that you can watch the performance of an athlete and determine based on his performance that he is doping. It is B.S. to state that believable performances are clean and "unbelievable" performances are not clean. If someone claims that we can tell the riders are clean because they're huffing-and-puffing their way up mountains, that person is not playing with a full deck.

Hindsight is 20-20. Somehow, all the suspicions I've heard about the "unbelievability" of Ricco's performance were made AFTER his AAF, not before. Ditto all the crap about Landis' stage 17. Heroic? Yes. Unexpected? You betcha. Dope-fueled? Please find me anyone reputable who publicly expressed doubts about the "cleanliness" of Landis' stage 17 before the announcement of the AAF. And please, give me a ring the next time someone steps forward and publicly accuses a rider of doping based only on the rider's performance, and is later proven to be right. Because the next time that happens, it will be the first time.

Please tell me what a doping rider looks like on a bicycle. If he's faster than the wind, then explain Sinkewitz and Moreni. If he never has a bad day, then explain Landis (that is, if you think Landis doped, which I do not) and Vinokourov. If he accelerates like magic, then explain Ullrich.

After Landis, the accepted "sign" of doping was to have too good a day on your bicycle. But it wasn't always this way. When Lance was riding, the whispers about Lance were that he was just too consistent. Only dope could keep Lance on such an even keel. The opposite of Lance was Vinokourov, and despite everything you read now about Vinokourov, the truth is that the French LOVED Vinokourov. Up one day, down the next. What élan! What heart!

What a load of crap.

It is all self-fulfilling prophecy. You could write the story NOW for what the Tour organizers and geniuses in the press will say if ANY of the top GC guys end up with AAFs. Sastre? Well, no wonder he rode the spandex off of everyone on Alpe D'Huez, and that EXPLAINS how a guy wins his first Grand Tour at the ripe old age of 33. Plus he's Spanish, and how else do you explain how a 33 year old guy suddenly becomes a top time trialer. Evans? Well, of COURSE a guy with no team support is going to dope. Kohl? Where the hell did HE come from, and any guy who can improve his performance that much has something to answer for. Menchov? Brothers Schleck? Even Vande Velde? All you have to do is figure out something different about the rider -- he's too young, too old, too fast, too programmed, too unpredictable, too foreign, improved too much, got better at some discipline, gets injuries too often -- and attribute that difference to dope. It's easy! Just figure out what makes the rider "different". And don't worry, if you can't figure out what makes the rider different, then call the rider "robotic" and "machine-like", and blame that on dope, too.

The brains behind pro cycling think they can tell who's riding clean, and the best way of appearing to ride clean is not to make too distinct an appearance of any kind. Also, it's now important for a "clean" rider to breathe hard and with his mouth open, and to look like he's suffering. Of all the stupidity, this has to be the stupidest. Are we supposed to believe that the guys who doped were somehow TAKING IT EASY? That they weren't trying as hard as they could, taking in as much oxygen as they could (factoring in the need to pace themselves and not "blow up")? And as far as appearing to suffer -- the operative word there is APPEAR. Appearances are subjective. Moreover, all athletes are taught to hide it when they're suffering most -- why would a cyclist advertise to the peloton when he's suffering, so that they'll know when to attack?

I will give you the benefit of my limited experience. Here's how the powers that be can tell if someone is doping. They take the top guy on their team ... or their favorite top contender in the race ... and anyone cycling faster is doping.

I consider myself to be a reasonable guy, but I have NO PATIENCE for this idiocy. If it's TRULY possible to look at a cyclist on a bicycle and determine that he is doping, then let's dump this whole business of blood and urine testing, and have doping positives decided by a panel of judges. Let's have the judges sit at desks by the side of the road and display their scores like they do in, say, synchronized swimming.

wildiris said...

To Larry, amen brother! And while I’m here, here is the best snark I've heard lately, "now that they have gotten the testosterone out of the TdF, they might as well open it up and let the ladies ride too.” said...

No attack taken -- I just used the discussion to address my own concerns about the "performance as indicator of doping" mentality.

There is a strain of thought that says "anybody faster than X on the Alpe is doping", where X is some number picked out of air, but often around 40:00. But now we have our clean champ do a 39:30, and he did 39:01 a few years before. Was he dirty then, but not now? Then you look incrementally, and "doper" Landis was all of 27 seconds faster in 2006 than Sastre's 39:01, and /that/ is being taken as evidence of something? Seems pretty shaky to me. (It also suggests there were more favorable conditions in 2006 than 2008.)

I am not blind to the thought that some of the fastest times by, say, Pantani, were probably EPO enabled. But I have no idea where, between 36 minutes and 40, we get to a border that says "Dopage!"

If anyone wants to say Landis' 38:34 was doped, then how about Sastre's 39:01, or his 39:30?

That's where using performance as a determinant takes you.

VAM measures are similarly problematic.


Larry said...

TBV, understood. Sorry if my prose got a little purple. I agree with what you've written. You've done a great job over the last year debunking the supposed differences between various rides up various cols.

wildiris, fine idea! I bet Michelle Wie would be game. ;^)

Cheryl from Maryland said...

Well, Michelle might turn to cycling as it doesn't involve signing anything.

I like Larry's summation; we shouldn't assume he was doping just because his prose was impassioned. The idea that the face is the window to the soul is juvenile (sorry Shakespeare).

Larry said...

Cheryl, THAT's funny. said...

This pretty much explains the Omerta amongst cyclists...what's the point of saying anything against another rider when the "powers that be" don't care about the cyclists!'

From VeloNews:

Rider won't use an anesthetic at the dentist for fear of testing positive yet takes a suppliment in which she reads the ingredients and none are on the banned list, yet STILL gets banned. The athletes can't win in an environment like this.

Thing are out of control in the doping world from an administrative point of view.

daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...


True, that. What more could she have done? Something is seriously out of whack with a system that will be "unyielding" to an athlete who -- through no fault or intention -- gets caught up in the clutches of the rabid defenders of sports "purity."

Larry and TBV,

The debate over what time up a certain col would constitute evidence of doping reminds me of an incident in the late 1950s. A doctor with a similar personality to a certain former WADA chief claimed that runners breaking the four-minute mile must be doping (with amphetamines). The doctor based this charge on the fact that when he was their age (more than 30 years before), no one could run the mile in better than 4:15. His reasoning was that it just couldn't be possible for someone to run under four minutes without the use of banned substances. (Try telling that to Sir Roger Bannister and see what reaction you get.)

The only good thing that came out of that not-so-little dustup was the one of the very first studies on just what effect amphetamines have on athletic performance.

Exactly where do you draw the line in such matters? No matter where you do, eventually someone very likely will break that barrier without the aid of PEDs.

Unless, of course, you say that a time of 20 minutes up l'Alpe d'Huez is impossible. I might buy that, for the time being. And if I did see someone do a ride like that, I'd be listening for that low-pitched burble that sounds suspiciously like a Harley's engine and looking to see whether or not every virgin within 100 miles was running for safety. ;-)

Larry said...

TBV, I missed it in my quick read, but did you see who the CSM found for the quote about those "nutty" Americans and their unique rules of justice? Jan Paulsson? Landis' chosen arbitrator on his CAS panel?

"Americans are kind of nutty," says Jan Paulsson, a Paris-based lawyer and veteran CAS arbitrator. "I hear this all the time: 'The [WADA] system doesn't have this, it doesn't have that.' Hold on -- you're the only people in the world who have it."

Hey, Jan! NEXT time you want to give us a heads up on your overall take on U.S. due process, d'ya think you could do it BEFORE you get appointed to hear a case involving a U.S. athlete being argues by U.S. attorneys and originally decided under U.S. arbitration procedures?

daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...


I saw that when I read the story last night. Makes you wonder about how he viewed a certain case, doesn't it? Perhaps there should be a statement of beliefs/biases from the CAS arbitrators prior to selection, so that an athlete can make a more informed choice of arbitrator.

Thomas A. Fine said...

I said it long ago, and I'll say it again now.

Everyone faster than me is doping.


Ken said...

Thanks for that Larry. I tried to say something similar on Rant's blog a little bit ago, but after 3 post attempts disappearing I gave up. You said it better anyway.

I've also wondered why those who say they can tell who doped by their performance don't have a sweet job of sitting at every finish line (with the perfect view,) pointing out all the dopers as they cross.

Also I doubt anyone would ever determine I doped by watching my performance even if I took every drug available. I'm just not that good to begin with.

The U.S. is the only country that has several things. Strange that it's also been one of the most successful countries. Instead of worrying about silly things like drug tests do show false positives, maybe the U.S. would be better off deciding that the defense needs to prove their innocence.

I'd imagine there is info to help someone make an informed choice on an arbitrator. I don't think the arbitrator matters that much once you get to CAS. It would help though if the athlete was just informed that he or she will lose.

Ken S

wschart said...

We as humans do have a propensity to pick out rather arbitrary but round numbers as "barriers" in terms of athletic performance: the 4 minute mile, under the hour for a 25 mile TT, score in double digits for basketball, etc. Roger Bannister is well known for his 4 minute mile, but how many of us can name others who came after him and broke, say for example, the 3:55 barrier?

The significance of 40 minutes for Huez seems to be largely 1. it is a nice round number, and 2. anyone proposing it as the cutoff for doped/clean has as his favorite rider someone who has put up times slower than this figure. said...

Ken S,

There are supposed to be "disclosures" made by candidate arbs before they are selected, so that parties may raise objections. This ought to include things that suggest conflicts of interest, like being a party in another case that is pending before a panel with some of these candidates, or a history of advocating for federations in cases against athletes. Delay in disclosures for Brunet is rumoured to be one of the things that slowed the Landis AAA case. And one wonders if all his ties that led to his Beijing junket were properly disclosed.

It is such a small world in AAA/CAS-land that it is hard to imagine any potential arbiter who is untainted by things that could be perceived as conflicts of interest. Thus, an athlete probably gets a choice of poison, against a ticking clock. "You will lose" isn't far off the truth.


Larry said...

Ken, I now write all but the shortest posts using MS Word, then cut and paste over to wherever I’m blogging. I get the benefit of automatic saves and spell check.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s beyond the ability of any form of judicial review to scrutinize lab test results to weed out false positives. I think that there ought to be some form of due process for athletes, as there is value having lab results undergo review and scrutiny, limited as that review and scrutiny will be. Maybe some really gross and obvious errors will come to light and be corrected in this process. But we can’t expect much from review of lab tests by lawyers and ADA functionaries. Even if they come to understand the science as well as or better than the scientists (and that’s unlikely), they still have to judge the lab’s test results based almost entirely on the paperwork produced by the lab. What is the chance that a lab will screw up the tests while scrupulously documenting their screw-up for the world to see?

Even if we could rely on labs to document their own mistakes, apparently we cannot rely on the scientific community to point them out to us. This remains my biggest disappointment, that with very few exceptions the science community failed to speak out in this case. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect some union of 500 concerned scientists to form out of the ether and start circulating petitions. But my point is still valid: even if the “truth” of the Landis case is set forth in the LNDD lab documents (and there IS some truth value in these documents, as screwed up as they are), the athletes and the rest of us do not have access to the scientific expertise necessary to prove this truth to a panel of AAA or CAS arbitrators. Even with the money available to Landis, he could not get access to the kind of scientific expertise available to the ADAs at the snap of a finger.

We focus a lot on the legal process, the lawyers, the arbitrators and the rules, because this is the part of the Landis case that is most open to public scrutiny and is easiest for most of us to understand. The legal process here has been disappointing, to say the least. But the legal process might have functioned well enough to provide justice, if only the scientific process in this case had performed a bit better.

daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...


Sorry about that. Contact me offline, so I can figure out what went wrong.

Ken said...

Don't worry about it Daniel. You'll probably notice I posted on your site today, and with no problem. And except for that day I don't think I've had any problems posting.

stinky said...

We don't know that Sir Roger Bannister was clean :-)