Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fallout XVIII

News
Late in the day, AFP says Prudhomme is casting a dubious eye at the whole of Saunier-Duval, which had a positive in Mayo last year too:

[I]n general, I certainly don't feel that their manager is a model of virtue.

The Astana/Bruyneel treatment may not be far off.

CyclingNews FLASHES that Italian rider Riccardo Ricco has been taken into police custody after testing positive for CERA-- a new generation EPO-- blowing apart the theory that only older riders were users.This comes from L'Equipe's website, indicating that the newspaper has become the semi-official source of doping announcements for the ASO/AFLD:

Italian rider Riccardo Riccò of Saunier Duval has tested positive for blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO), French sports daily L'Equipe reported on its website on Thursday. According to the paper's Damien Ressiot, one of the climber's urine samples collected by the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD showed traces of a third generation EPO called CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator).

The team has pulled out of the Tour. Saunier Duval's directeur sportif, Joxean Fernandez Matxin, was surprised as anybody. "We only found out ten minutes ago. The entire team is ceasing its operation, not only in the Tour de France."

So much for the Basil Fawlty "Dirty Spaniards" story line as well.

CyclingNews also has this:

Daniel Friebe, Procycling features editor spoke to Audran this morning within minutes of L'Equipe's website announcing that Riccardo Riccò has tested positive for an EPO derivative after stage four of the Tour de France, the individual time trial around Cholet.

Daniel Friebe: In the last twenty minutes we've heard that Riccardo Riccò has tested positive for an EPO-like product. The early reports suggest that Riccò used CERA or Micera. a so-called third generation EPO. What's your reaction?

Michel Audran: Wow. I'm stunned. I'm amazed they're saying it's Micera, simply because there's no validated test for that yet. The World Anti-Doping Agency is working on a test, but it certainly doesn't exist yet.

DF: What exactly is CERA, or Micera to give it its commercial name?

MA:It's a delayed-action EPO, which has a different molecular mass from EPO. It's only been commercially available since the start of the year. We can tell when someone's used it but we can't declare them positive. In that respect it's like Dynepo, another EPO-like product. We know that Micera was being used on the Giro, so I'm not surprised that it's also turned up at the Tour. But I would be very surprised if they AFLD had declared Riccò positive for Micera, for the reasons I've just mentioned. Maybe they searched Riccò's room and found the product itself...


(emphasis added)

VeloNews also has the Ricco story as well as The AFP ,CNN, and ESPN/AP.

Reuters says,

Riccardo Ricco has taken his fascination with the late Marco Pantani, his fellow Italian rider, just a little bit too far.

Ya think?

Pez quotes former-Yellow Kim Kirchen as saying, “I’m not surprised that Riccò has been caught.”

In more CyclingNews an unnamed team manager at the TdF expressed "concerns" over the AFLD's handling of doping controls:

The AFLD [French national anti-doping agency] has been appointed by race organiser ASO to carry out the tests in the aftermath of its split from the UCI. According to the team manager, only about fifty riders were tested thus far, with several being tested more than once. The Spanish are being examined most frequently, while testing of French riders was said to 'rarely occur.'

He gave an example of a lack of testing of a French team, saying that of the Crédit Agricole riders, only stage winner Thor Hushovd was tested since the start of the race.

In addition, concern was raised about the actual testing process. The chaperones were described as 'incapable,' with the manager saying that on the eleventh stage, one was unable to correctly fill out the required forms. Also, when large numbers of riders were required for testing, the area was said to be not sufficiently large and that some of the riders were required to wait outside beside journalists and photographers.

The CyclingNews continues to cover the "fallout" from the apparent dissolution of the UCI, and in now what feels like "old news" the UCI strikes back:

A day after seventeen teams at the Tour de France announced that they no longer wanted to be part of the ProTour series, the UCI has said that it will consider seeking compensation from those who it feels have breached a contract.

And Rasmus Damsgaard, founder of CSC/Saxo's anti-doping program expressed early concern over the way the AFLD is overseeing and implementing doping controls at the TdF. Guess it wasn't as "easy" as the UCI made it look at times.

Sydney Morning Herald
says that Evans tried to do a Phonak Fumble, and let someone else in a break take yellow, as Landis did with Peirero. It didn't work for Evans, and we think the SMH is wrong to suggest it didn't work for Landis -- it worked fine until the bonk.

Shologoo is starting a series about the Tour, starting with 2006. It gets off to a dubious start by calling one of Landis' skills "sprinting". If there's one thing he hasn't previously been accused of, it's being a sprinter.

Blogs
Quickrelease.tv notes the hasty manner in which the press is "cobbling" together the late breaking Ricco doping bust story. One "scribe" had Floyd Landis busted in 2006 for "adrenaline". Heck if that's true we're ALL dopers!

QRTV
also had this now out-dated rave about the high-definition coverage of the Tour:
Pro cyclists are clothes horses, flogging their sponsors to all who watch. And now these sponsor logos are so legible you wouldn’t believe. No longer do you have to squint to jot down the Cofidis telephone number. In HD it just pops out of the screen.

So clear are the pictures you can even spot the phials of EPO in the jersey pockets of the Spanish riders. Incredible.

MasiGuy has confused tense when he refers to the lab that "messed up" Floyd Landis' sample(s) as the AFLD. The lab was the LNDD, and is doing only some of the testing for the Tour this year, though old doping harbinger L'Equipe sure is omnipresent. Trick is, the lab changed names during the course of the case, and all the documents say LNDD, even though it is now the AFLD Lab at Chateney-Malabry. Even we don't try to get it straight most of the time. How about, "the lab that did the work was LNDD, and the one that defended its work was AFLD." Same lab. Got that?

Velochimp says, "WTF!?" about Ricco, and finds a good picture:


Ricco’s bike is put away on the SD Team Truck
PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images


Last year Ricco was mentored by Gilberto Simoni on the Saunier Duval team. Simoni has often been critical of dopers such as Pantani and Ivan Basso in the past. Simoni who himself had a positive drug result for cocaine (blame Grandma’s gift from a South American trip) seemed to be the cross bearer for Itralian non–dopers. Simoni’s insinuation that Ivan Basso was an Extra-Terrestrial in the 2006 Giro was seen as sour grapes at first...

CBS Sports Community/Doyel says "Kill the tour", and the whole sport of cycling. It might be more credible if he wasn't wearing a knit cap with an NBA logo. Calling it "Doyel's Dribbles" isn't exactly an endorsement either.

Why Not Tri? collects some reactions to Ricco, and doesn't think it will hurt the sport. He's not reading the CBS Sports Community, above.

Spinning Tales does an about face on the Italians at Saunier-Duval, and admits it.

BikeSnobNYC does some deep investigation and connects the dots:
Firstly, no criminal acts alone, and in this case it seems Ricco may have had help from his bike supplier. As one commenter already pointed out, Ricco rides a Scott Addict Ltd.

following his very observant "This just in: Tour de France Riders find drugs helpful."


Unholy Roleur thinks Kimmage's story about an interview with Allen Lim is nearly libelous, and shows Kimmage to be an ass rather than a righteous crusader. We think he's a bitter crusader.

Racejunkie rants about everything, in "Tour de F!@#$, Will This *Ever* End?". RJ finds that Ricco is now proclaiming innocence, and has sent his sister out into the media for some defense work.

Gravsports is giving up on cycling, and any other sport with big money associated because of the temptation.
[T]he reality is that nobody but Floyd will ever know exactly what happened. I expect that maybe in ten or 20 years the "real" evidence will come out as it often does. This year I followed the Tour a bit, but it's the same old game of doping violations. I've now just lost interest in the Tour; what does it mean to win an event that's so obviously drug-fueled? What it really boils down to for me is that the Tour is simply nothing more than a bad joke no matter what happened with Floyd and others. Either Floyd is lying like mad or the Tour is incompetent at drug testing. Either way my response is the same: I'm not interested anymore.


Duckboy still likes the sport, but is jading with Ricco's AAF:
I'll just say he seems like a little a-hole anyway and this comes as no surprise. Still, the fact that guys are being nailed, then they do a room search on one and find a pharmacy (amoxicillin to share please?) is very telling. I have been a firm believer in Floyd Landis, but with every positive my faith dims a little.

Sorry, I know neither of my loyal readers gives a warm-water enema about cycling, but it's the only sport I really follow. And I'm a guy and guys need sports, even if the players wear gaudy lycra suits.

Bruce Hildebrand writes at Saris about tactics on transitional stages
In 2006, Floyd Landis had the maillot jaune and decided to save his team for the Alps allowing Jens Voigt and more importantly, Oscar Peirero a thirty minute lead at the stage finish. That decision setup the yellow jersey tug-of-war that highlighted the race’s final stages. Without that thirty minute gift the 2006 Tour would have been a totally different animal.

Bikebuzz makes an interesting suggestion, sparked by the conspiracist connections started by the Beltran AAF:
Actually it might be interesting for someone to do the seven degrees of dopers.. it spans farther than this list and way farther than cycling.

Should someone do that, we suspect is turns out to be a pretty dense mesh, with few teams or riders unconnected. This strikes us as a flaw in the conspiracy theories, because the causality and culpability becomes impossible to ascertain without unfounded assumptions that some connections are more relevant than others -- Unless you assume that everyone has been and still is doping, which I don't think most people believe. All the estimates we've ever heard have been between about 20-80% dopers depending on the time period and the source. With either limiting value, there's still quite a bit of uncertainty. Who is clean and who is dirty by association? 20% full, or 20% empty? Do counts of "connections" imply anything but presence in the network? Is the sport so physically limited that it is impossible to win cleanly, meaning any win should be considered tainted? 20% or 80% of the time?

Earlier today, TBV looked out the window at a mountain that needed climbing and took fingers off the keyboard, to have a lovely ride: 2:48 door to door, and a 1:23 climb from hole-in-the-fence, with construction delays.

TBV can't rock climb, or run, and hates golf (parents tried, but it didn't take) -- yet can still mash pedals, weakly. It keeps us interested in people who do it well, and it remains entertaining.

23 comments:

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

Actually, from what I understand, LNDD (or whatever it's called these days) is doing the urine testing at the Tour, while blood work is being done in Lausanne. FWIW.

strbuk said...

Thanks Rant!!

str

m said...

I was waiting for that shoe to drop. Those Saunier Duval riders were all shockingly strong in the mountains.

Damsgaard was recently quoted as saying Beltran and Duenas were small potatoes, and that if LNND and ASO were really doing aggressive testing they would find many more doping with EPO. LNND apparently has worked hard to develop new tests. Of course being new, they may be subject to more scientific doubt. But this unfolding narrative makes sense. Riders (and probably teams) were trying to walk through what they perceived as an open EPO door using non standard EPO.

I suspect we shall see more riders mysteriously dropping out, (See Moreau and Duenas's/Beltran's teamates.), and more positive tests. And if that is true, ASO will need to increase the contractual and financial penalties to the riders and teams the next time around as a deterrent.

m said...

Cyclingnews interviews a drug expert who states:

"Michel Audran: Wow. I'm stunned. I'm amazed they're saying it's Micera, simply because there's no validated test for that yet. The World Anti-Doping Agency is working on a test, but it certainly doesn't exist yet."

http://www.cyclingnews.com/road/2008/
tour08/
?id=/features/2008/tour08_micera_st12


Micera, however stays in the blood for a long time since it only needs to be administered once or twice a month.

*****************

Also, Re: Moises Duenas

L'Equipe reports that syringes and blood bags were found in Duenas's room. Makes it more likely that the team should have known?

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

"Also, Re: Moises Duenas

L'Equipe reports that syringes and blood bags were found in Duenas's room. Makes it more likely that the team should have known?"

If the L'Equipe report is accurate, it sure seems that way. Doing blood transfusions isn't something you can perform by yourself, is it? Makes me wonder if Duenas' team will "voluntarily withdraw" from the Tour in the next few days.

Shades of `98 and Festina.

Thomas A. Fine said...

The Spanish are being examined most frequently, while testing of French riders was said to 'rarely occur.'

Duh. The more you test the more you catch. More french tests would mean french riders getting caught. Maybe someone wants to find my comment on the original targeted testing thread? I believe I said something along the lines of "anyone who's fast and not french".

tom

Larry said...

OK, so where do we stand?

After the AAF on Beltran, the story was that only the old guys were doping. Then they busted Dueñas, who was a young guy, so McQuaid said it was the Spanish who were doping. Now, Ricco: not old and not Spanish. So, NOW who do we say is doping?

It APPEARS that the only thing the three riders have in common is that they were targeted. IOW, you're only going to find doping where you look for it.

So, it's not doping by the old guard, or doping by the Spanish ... but doping everywhere we look for it?

m said...

Rant,

The exact words were:

" aiguilles et poches de transfusion"

which I translate as "needles and transfusion pouches."

So perhaps not necessarily blood transfusion pouches.

Thomas A. Fine,

But are there any French riders who are also fast? Also, remember French riders are always subject to criminal sanctions if there is evidence of doping, unlike the riders from other nationalities.

Pretty clearly, targeted testing (aimed at suspicious blood values and other indicators) is more effective and efficient given limited testing resources, than random testing.

Citisin said...

Turns out all three riders (Beltran, Ricco, and Duenas) tested positive for CERA, the third generation of EPO.

http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/CERA_the_new_EPO_discovered_at_the_Tour_de_France_article_263709.html

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

m,

True. Perhaps not blood transfusions. But nonetheless, that report sounds like something more than a one-person, do-it-yourself kind of operation. If that is indeed case, he had someone helping him. And that would certainly make me wonder just how much his team might have known.

jrdbutcher said...

If I remember correctly, one of ASO’s larger concerns wrt UCI was that the UCI’s system precluded ASO from preventing dopers from entering their race. I’m guessing the assumption was that ASO could better protect their race from the scourge of doping if they had full control over the entrants they accepted? That’s worked out well for them. Bravo! (Chapeau!).

It’s interesting that leading expert, Professor Michel Audran, indicates there is “amazed they're saying it's Micera, simply because there's no validated test for that yet.” If they caught him with the good, then they have him. If they are saying he tested positive for it, then it looks like they are just making sh#t up again.

It’s interesting the un-named Team Manager is expressing concerns about the “targeted tests” being targeted at non-French riders.

I remember Thomas Fine’s wise words to the effect of “fast and not French”. It’s sadly amusing for French cycling that they will have to kick out most of the field to get a French rider near the top of the standings in any category, except perhaps the Lantern Rouge.

To M from yesterday:

If I wasn’t clear, I agree that an A-Sample AAF can’t remain anonymous during a three week long stage race. My point was that the rules should reflect reality, and they should be followed.

Further, TbV provided a mock-up of the kind of announcement that should be made when keeping an A-Sample AAF confidential is a practical impossibility. That is an example of professional presentation that would support anti-doping officials respecting the spirit of the rules when it’s impossible to apply the rules, as written. On the other hand, Damien Ressiot keeping a desk at LNDD and having an exclusive on the first reporting of AAF’s in France from the lab formerly known as LNDD, is anything but professional. I was only half sarcastic with my first post yesterday. If that is how they are going to do it, let’s write it into the rules, make it official, and let the public make of it what thy will. With this post, I’m done gnashing my teeth over that particular point.

Larry was clear with his post about where the responsibility for the leaks to L’Equipe should rightfully be placed.

FWIW, I don’t think objecting to the amateurish manner by which the A-Sample AAF’s are being announced is over-hyped. The way it is being done sets in motion a string of events that are unnecessarily prejudicial to the accused athlete. It may be life and it may be tough luck, but it’s not professional and it can largely be avoided with the sample language TbV used.

TbV,

Have a good ride. Hope to get a head clearing one in myself today.

Other News:

Patty keeps practicing his comic routines. Not ready for prime time, but promising.

jrdbutcher said...

M,

The SD riders were strong in the mountains. Any evidence they were enhanced is merely anecdotal from the TV or computer screen. Anecdotally, I’m not shocked AFLD is targeting and “catching” non-French riders. I won’t be shocked if they target and “catch” non-Spanish riders / non-Italian riders at the Vuelta and Giro, respectively. And so it goes…

Anecdotally, I’m not surprised a rider from a team with their own testing program in place seemingly has not been targeted and “caught”. However, with some of Damsgaard’s strong recent statements, I’d enjoy watching the fallout from that soap opera should the team testers and official testers not agree. Kirchen has had a bit to say about Ricco. Anecdotally, he’s ridden a bit over his head so far. I would guess he is less worried about drawing a bad anti-doping lottery number because of Columbia/High Road’s testing program.

If winning performances are the litmus test for doping, screw it. Let’s just televise recreational club riders out on a long slow ride.

Thomas A. Fine said...

There's some great pictures on the Boston Globe website: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/07/2008_tour_de_france.html
(membership may be required).

But, MAN AM I JADED.

Obviously the two pictures of Ricco make me think of doping.

The picture of Crenshaw winning a sprint with the highroad logo on his sleeve makes me think of doping. And then it makes me think how they implied that they don't mind losing to dopers as long as they stay clean. So since they won, does that mean all the sprinters are clean, or that Crenshaw is doping?

Then there's the awesome photo of the horse running alongside the peloton. People... horses... no doping connection there (cough, cough).

And then there's the obligatory photo of cyclists in a field of sunflowers. But what makes it great is that it's followed by a photo of a bunch of photographers in a field of sunflowers. Which only proves that the media produces stories based on pre-conceived notions. Bring out the usual suspects.

tom (the jaded cynic)

m said...

To continue my speculation.

Saunier Duval reportedly made the decision to drop out 10 minutes after learning of the positive test. And there is some chatter (not confirmed) that they packed up and left immediately.

This is some indication of guilty knowledge.

Hopefully we will have Saunier Duvall's Piepolli and Cobo's test results soon from their winning 10th stage. But I wonder if ASO and AFLD shouldn't have the power to test riders even after they have dropped out of the race. If so, this would be a strong weapon for proving team complicity in doping and penalizing the managers and other support staff who are/may be enabling this behavior.

m said...

Thomas Fine,

Thanks for those pictures. They are spectacular.

BTW don't be jaded. Remember they are all presumed innocent until the B tests are in! And even then.

m said...

More developments: seems like there was an approved WADA test for
Cera.

From Velonews:

"World Anti-Doping Agency spokesman Frédéric Donzé told VeloNews that the Ricco case is proof that “WADA is very much aware of the development of new EPOs and biosimilar EPOs in an expanding market.”

“In the case of Mircera ─ CERA ─ thanks to the cooperation of the manufacturer of this substance (Roche) and of WADA-accredited laboratories, WADA received the molecule well in advance and was able to develop ways to detect it,” he said. “This case shows the significant work that WADA conducts in anticipating doping trends, including by closely cooperating with pharmaceutical companies at very early stages of the development of molecules or substances for therapeutic purposes to develop detection methods for anti-doping purposes.”

Plus from DP forums, L"equipe is reporting that the Saunier Duval team bus has been stopped by the police.

Thomas A. Fine said...

One "scribe" had Floyd Landis busted in 2006 for "adrenaline". Heck if that's true we're ALL dopers!

PLEASE tell me that this irony was intentional...

(what with testosterone being a natural substance and all)

tom

Larry said...

jrd, great post, and great reporting here by M, Rant and Citisin.

M, why do you conclude that only French riders are subject to criminal prosecution? My assumption is that if a rider violates French criminal law while on French soil, the rider is subject to French prosecution. A French person could not come to the U.S.A., violate our drug laws and claim immunity (unless of course the person was a French diplomat, and maybe not even then). Cycling News reports that Dueñas is being held in French police custody and faces up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 75,000 Euros if convicted.

Also M, from the Audran interview, it doesn't sound like AFLD has come up with new tests for the new forms of EPO. It sounds like they have ways to interpret the banding shown on the old tests to "prove" the use of the new EPO. I put "prove" in quotes because it appears that this interpretation is not yet validated. (As you know, a test may be valid even if it isn't "validated".) Thanks for the reporting that WADA's been working on detecting the new forms of EPO, but that doesn't mean they've completed the validation process. Also note from the Audran interview that Audran thought the relevant lab(s) were able to detect the new EPO at the Giro, but were not able to declare AAFs there, raising the question of what has changed between the Giro and the Tour. Also note that Audran states clearly that "there's no validated test" for the new forms of EPO, and that WADA "is working on a test, but it certainly doesn't exist yet."

Lots we don't know yet. But it seems obvious that the AFLD went into the Tour with an undisclosed plan to go after users of the new EPO.

As for whether targeted testing is more effective and efficient than random testing, I think that's far from clear at this point. Daamsgard has indicated that he thinks there are 20 - 50 riders in this year's peloton who are doping with some form of EPO. So far, the AFLD has "A" test AAFs against three of them. True, there may be others who have dropped out of the race out of fear of being caught, and there may be EPO dopers who would not be caught even if every rider was tested daily. But catching 6% - 15% of the EPO dopers does not strike me as either efficient or effective.

Moreover, there is the issue of fairness: we don't know who has been targeted, or why. The only clue we had about the targeting is the report of the 10 riders (or 20 riders, depending on the report you read) with "abnormal blood values" found in the testing prior to the Tour start, but again there are conflicting reports on whether these riders would be targeted. Given that David Millar has been subject to additional testing, and that Garmin-Chipotle claims that none of their riders were on the "abnormal blood values" list, it would appear that the target list goes beyond those riders with "abnormal blood values".

Without a better idea of who is being targeted and why, we cannot say that the system of targeted testing is fair, effective or efficient.

In most other respects, M, I agree with what you're saying here. Yes, Saunier Duvall's 10 minutes of deliberation is suspicious ... but maybe they were given some advance warning that something was up, to give them the chance to pull out of the race before the start of the stage. If they had "guilty knowledge", then presumably they would not want to act like they had guilty knowledge, and they would have met and deliberated as if Ricco's doping had come as a great surprise.

And yes, agreed 100%, if a rider tests positive, then the entire team should be tested -- blood and urine -- with appropriate safeguards put in place for fairness to guarantee that the testers don't know that they're testing samples from a suspicious team. You're right, the ASO and AFLD may not have the power to test riders on teams that have left the Tour, but the ASO could condition next year's invitation - to the riders AND the team - on their voluntary submission to testing. If the team passes the test, they get to ride next year, and if they fail or refuse testing, then they're out of next year's Tour. That would be much more fair than the process ASO used to ban Astana.

Kudos, M. Great idea!

pensum said...

Horribly disappointing Ricco. But the last line in the NYTimes article is interesting (to me at least as i hadn't heard of this before): "Each day, the stage winner, the overall race leader and at least two other riders are tested for performance-enhancing drugs. The French agency also will use hair samples for testing of riders who fail a urine test."

strbuk said...

Yes Thomas my "comment" about adrenaline (which seems slightly less "dangerous" than testosterone) was indeed ironic, almost all of my comments today were "ironc". I am very sick of all of this crap, no irony there.

str

m said...

Larry,

1. Yes anyone caught doping on French soil is likely subject to criminal penalties. My reference was that it was likely French citizens and French business's were likely more exposed to criminal sanction, because they train in France and they may be criminally liable for doping activities outside of France. Unlike the Spanish for example who seemingly could dope with impunity on Spanish soil. (just kidding)

2. As to the "validity" of EPO tests. Not clear to me that Audran is totally in the loop. He speculated that the doping finding was based on contraband, when the news reports clearly stated test results and there would have been no grounds for a search absent such test results. I don't know the legalities of "test validity", but I seem to recall that labs can develop tests on there own. In any case, if there is a conflict I'll go with the official WADA spokesman for now. I interpret the WADA spokesman's comments to mean that WADA is comfortable with what the French anti-doping folks are doing wrt to third generation EPO and that such tests can form the legal basis for a doping finding. But clearly new tests are subject to more scientific challenge as I noted.

Larry said...

M, OK, understood and agreed. Clearly there's a lot we don't know yet.

If the ADAs know how to detect the new forms of EPO, then this is an unprecedented opportunity to catch dopers. You have to figure that all of the most sophisticated doping cyclists were using this form of EPO, in the belief that it could not be detected. This is like having a source inside of an organized crime family -- you're not going to get this chance too often, and when you get it, you have to take full advantage of it and catch everyone you can.

Now that the doping world knows that this stuff can be detected, the sophisticated dopers will take counter-measures. If all AFLD gets out of this unprecedented opportunity is an AAF on three alleged dopers, that would be an enormous disappointment, and the AFLD would deserve our harshest criticism.

Damn! When you get an opportunity like this, you test EVERYBODY -- not just "the usual suspects."

pommi said...

No wonder your office is empty if you're climbing Diablo by yourself ;-) ...