Thursday, July 17, 2008

Three down

What we're seeing with the Tour so far is the start of positives, three so far; but the tested stages only go up to the first week. That we're only seeing one positive a day suggests a number of possibilities

  • They can only do one test a day;
  • They are not sampling that many, going only after targets;
  • Everyone else is clean.
It seems to us given the complexity we saw with the IRMS tests, and the difficulties with Heras' tests, that the AFLD/LNDD may not be able to run very many tests at the same time, and is now severely overloaded with work. If we believe the witchdoctors concluded CERA was undetectable, and lots of riders were on it, then we might reasonably expect to see a running string of these reported results, one a day, until a few weeks after the end of the Tour.

Speculating, we might very well see 10 or 15 positives as a result of this race.

Now, we don't know how valid the tests are -- they may be false positives at a rate we do not know. But if they are backed up by searches and paraphenalia, or confessions, that will reduce the uncertainty. Still, if there are 15 positives, it is entirely possible that some of them will be false, and we should be careful to look at each case individually rather than assume that everything caught in this net is a rotten fish.

We have no reason to doubt that many of these tests are revealing doping, but we'd like something other than WADA code presumptions to prove the point. Police work is a good thing to have to support the conclusions.

17 comments:

Carlton said...

Very true. Making it a police matter is a good thing. Such a move might have helped Floyd, courts need verifiable evidence.

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

TBV,

Quite right. Solid police work to back up the accusations, and the accused getting his day in a real court is a very good thing. It helps establish in a clear and transparent (or at least more clear and more transparent) way what the truth of the matter may be.

m said...

I suspect that there will be no more contraband found. It is being flushed as we speak, or at a minimum hidden in vehicles or off premises for those still willing to risk avoiding or beating the tests.

From the reporting I've read I'm guessing they are doing from 4 to 6 tests per stage. Still leaves a lot of untested riders, especially if they retest the suspicious ones.

I assume some of Columbia's and Garmin's top riders have already returned negative tests from the first week since they placed first or second or held the yellow jersey, e.g. Cavendish, Kirchen, etc. So the "clean" teams are still looking clean.

Cub said...

The theory is that riders used CERA because they thought there was no test for it. Now that the cat's out of the bag you would expect maybe a few more positives for the stages already raced, but few if any after that.

For the rest of the race, any riders who were/are using CERA are probably not going to win stages, so any positives from the remaining stages would probably be for targeted riders or randomly tested riders.

If there are as many positives in the second half of the race as in the first, I think that makes the test itself look very suspicious.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

I agree there is some flushing and hiding of paraphenalia going on now.

I don't assume that all the positives from past stages have come out. I suspect there may be enough backlog that we could be days getting test results from the early stages if there are multiple positives, because the tests may not yet be done.

In some ways, it's unfortunate that we have only one come out at a time, because that makes it hard to do multiple searches because of the flushed-prey effect. But that seems unavoidable with the need to protect the competition, as it would be unwise to sit on results for days until more were found. This is a common police and prosecutorial problem -- when to close the net.

Clearly Ricco was a big enough fish.

I would still have preferred more tests to randomly check "non-targets", though I have no problem with the targeted tests.

With the apparent capacity problems, it might have been good to involve some of the other labs that are capable of executing these new tests.

It is still possible that there will be AAFs dribbling out for a long while. I'd still prefer to look at them case at a time, hope that there is additional concrete evidence, and not make presumption that the test is infallible.

What may happen is a few targets being brought to light, with the searches as we've had so far.

Then, lower-priority targets with unproductive searches,who may be riders with few resources to defend themselves. These are the ones for whom presumptions will be most prejudicial, and for whom the AAF support may be least supported by other evidence. That should be a concern.

A new test for a new substance will trip up a lot of cheats -- but it may not be perfectly accurate.

TBV

tbv@trustbut.com said...

Also, CERA seems to have a lengthy useful life, which means it may also have a lengthy detection period. Guys who stopped yesterday may be getting caught for the rest of the tour by AAFs, just not with paraphenalia, now sitting in some motorway refuse bin.

TBV

Larry said...

TBV, great post.

I've been trying much of the day to figure out where things stand. As per usual, the mainstream and cycling press have buried the lead. Sure, they've got three in-competition AAFs so far this year, just like they got last year. Same old, same old. Cyclists wringing hands. Race officials claiming that this proves the system works (meaning, I suppose that the lack of AAFs in, say, Paris-Nice means that in that race, the system failed?). Those stupid dopers, what could they have been thinking? We're turning the corner. Blah, blah, blah.

Entirely missing the point.

Here's the point: there's this new PED out there, 3rd generation EPO. The dopers thought it was undetectable. AFLD and WADA say that they can detect it. The ADAs, who always complain that they're one step behind the dopers, may for once be one step ahead. They have 180 of the world's top cyclists trapped in France, and the authorities have the opportunity to bag just about every doping cyclist. Assuming, of course, that AFLD can do what it says it can do.

It's like a sting operation.

This 3rd generation EPO is supposed to be long-lasting, meaning that it ought to stay in a doper's system for a while. I figure, if a cyclist was determined to dope, this is probably the stuff he'd want to use, so I think that a high percentage of doping cyclists would be using this. And unless they all flee France tonight, they're stuck there, at the mercy of the vampires. Like shooting fish in a barrel, assuming of course that AFLD can detect this stuff and prove that they've detected it, the way they say they can.

So I'm wondering like you are, why have they only declared three AAFs? Are there a lot more AAFs coming? Or maybe there aren't that many cyclists doping, despite all of the pronouncements to the contrary? (that would be nice, but my natural cynicism leads me to suspect otherwise)

What I'm worried about is, between the "targeted" testing and the capacity of the AFLD, they're just not testing all that many riders for 3rd generation EPO. If that's the case, then the ADAs are losing a golden opportunity, a once in a decade kind of opportunity, to deal a crippling blow to doping in cycling.

Maybe someone here can explain who is being targeted, and who is not. Is it just the 10 riders (or by some reports, 20 riders) who they found with "abnormal" blood values? If so, is it possible that dopers might be slipping through the cracks, just because they didn't use EPO greedily enough to push their hematocrit levels up to the 50% limit? Given that everyone knew in advance that they'd use targeted testing, the cautious dopers might have only pushed their hematocrit levels to 45%, or 47%

On the "flushing" problem, good point "M". If the authorities had been able to postpone announcing that they can detect 3rd generation EPO, it might have postponed some of the flushing for a couple of days, as the potential flushers might have assumed that the guys being caught were using 1st generation EPO.

I don't buy the problem with lab capacity. I say, collect samples from EVERYONE, and store them until you have the time to test them. Yes, we might not get all of the results in until Christmas, and it would be a shame if an AAF announced in December disturbed the order of the podium finish in July. But this is such a rare opportunity to catch potential dopers, I think the labs should go for it and keep on testing until they finish with the last rider on the last team.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

The problem I suspect with lab capacity limits the possibility of doing useful searches and police work. It means the initial tests run must be on the most suspicious of samples that might affect the competitive results.

The only thing wrongs with dribbling AAFs out until December is the possibilities of changing the competitive results, and in not being able to get concurrent physical evidence. It places us far more reliant on the accuracy of the tests, which remains unproven to me, despite, or perhaps because of the presumptions in the WADA code.

I don't know that there is a right answer -- clearly tradeoffs need to be made. I'd prefer a more humble testing and enforcement system, but I suppose I generally prefer more humble authority. Alas, humility and authority rarely go together.

TBV

m said...

Larry,

"I don't buy the problem with lab capacity. I say, collect samples from EVERYONE, and store them until you have the time to test them."

Good idea! Hadn't thought of that.


BTW Spain may be at the root of this after all! Saunier Duval is a Spanish team and was caught high tailing to the Spanish border when their buses were stopped and searched. The French police are also reportedly going back to search all the hotel rooms that the team has stayed at.

Seriously though I do think there is a sporting/commercial cultural aspect to doping. It's encouraging to hear more of the riders voice their disgust at the dopers.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

I thought I heard S-D was en-route to Italy, even if Spain makes more sense. Basil was right, I guess, but then he didn't like Italians either.

My longstanding proposal has been to make sure there were at least two samples from everyone, which takes about 10 samples per stage. That would more than meet Larry's EVERYONE, and keep labs busy through the new year. That is why I didn't think the "targeted testing" was good enough. It may catch some, but not most. Someone doesn't want to pay for it, which I take as a the bottom line of their real credibility. $500 per test, and they aren't willing to pay for it to save their sport, or their event.

Sad.

TBV

Larry said...

TBV, I would love to turn this year's TdF into the biggest sting operation the sport has ever seen. If there are dozens of doping cyclists, then for once CATCH dozens of doping cyclists, and even jail a couple of them if the proof is there.

But, there's a big but.

We don't know how many cyclists dope, but if there are 20 - 50 cyclists doing EPO in the peloton, then do ASO, FFC, et. al. dare try and slap them ALL with AAFs? What happens to the sport if there are 30 - 40 AAFs in this Tour? I mean, we had something like 6 riders implicated in doping issues last year, and the sport barely survived. What happens if you triple this number, or quadruple it? Does the Tour become some kind of joke? Do sponsors react by saying, hooray, we caught all the dopers, or do they just flee?

We talk about whether the lab has the resources to run the $800 tests on a hundred samples or two -- try to imagine the resources necessary to take this many AAFs through the arbitration process.

We have seen the alphabet soup agencies fight each other over who is most serious about fighting doping ... but at the end of the day, I think they're ALL hoping that they can punish a few riders here and there and somehow deter the others from doping, while at the same time allowing their races to go forward without huge interruption. It's clearly a vain hope. But I can see where they might be coming from ... that maybe they can bust a few riders and THIS TIME the riders will finally get the message that they can't dope. And they can still have their 2008 race.

So, maybe the targeted testing is at its heart designed to make sure that not too many riders get caught, so that the race can go on.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

If so, I call bullshit.

If their intent is as serious as the rhetoric, they should get and declare the 40 AAFs, and have 40 criminal cases. They have the resources of the country, and another 40 cases in the criminal justice system is trivial.

If not, they are joking.

TBV

Larry said...

By the time this race is gone into the history books, we may have had the opportunity to call "bullshit" many times over.

Millard Baker said...

I think the criminalization of sporting violations (e.g. police arresting and carting off cyclists to jail) in France should be an issue of concern for many people rather than something to praise.

France's laws on doping are not something to be admired. Freedom of speech to discuss how pharmaceutical drugs are used for performance enhancing purposes is strictly prohibited and subject to criminal penalties as well.

I met with one of my writers in Paris who has no choice but to use a pseudonym if he wanted to write about performance enhancing drugs for my website.

wschart said...

In a way I agree that criminalization of sports violations can be extreme. But we are dealing with powerful drugs here with the potential for serious side effects, including death. There is good reason to strictly control their use through the legal system above and beyond simply the idea that using them in competition is cheating. And this applies as much to the gym rat, pumping up on steroids for no other reason than he wants to score with the ladies, as to the pro athlete wanting an edge.

Bill Mc said...

I consider it a possibility that AFLD is running a bluff vis-a-vis their ability to reliably detect the newer forms of EPO. Their "busts" to date may have been based only partly on lab work, maybe the detection of an ambiguous abnormality in either a blood or urine sample, supplemented by information from another source, maybe a "mole" or possibly from a surreptitious search, which gave them the confidence to go ahead with their public accusations, interrogations, and searches. Evidence recovered from the searches appear to have been the key in getting seemingly instantaneous acquiescence to the charges from the riders and teams. If this supposition is correct, then don't expect to see B sample testing to occur anytime soon and also don't expect to see a large number of additional busts.

jbro said...

Larry and TBV great posts. I am more that a little naive on these issues not being an athlete. I am also somewhat intimidated by the eloquence your writing. I'll do the best a can. I am still questioning the value of testing. Most of us socially dope in every aspect of our lives. Why take the high-road with sports? But we do, so I will go along with it.

I was with you to test them all, even "it takes a year". However, when you consider the costs of the tests, as business you have to ask what is the return. A clean event, a respected event and an event that will continue to attract sponsorship and media by having a fan base. It comes down to having a product. Then you raised the question of "what-if" the whole peloton is found guilty or at least a significant portion, a boardroom for the NFL, MLB or NBA comes to mind. Does not the current ASO position in cycling come close to resembling the relationships in professional sports in the US? They have a product to sell. Entertainment. Testing comes at a price with honestly little return from business perspective. Too much testing or successful testing is possible self destruction and loss of livelyhood. If PED's are a social issue like cheating the tax man, or drinking, or underage drinking then perhaps it should be a legal issue as well as France has done. Let the police or government bank roll the testing. Then, I believe, we quickly determine it's value. I would not like to pay the taxes in France, when I would rather pay for the education of my children.

I am sure WADA is intended to prevent the problem of self policing organizations. It is probably the best hope for dope free sports. To bad we come to realize what a joke it is over these past two years.