The "highly, highly unlikely" remark from Ashendon, in Mark Zeigler's story of July 2007, provides the exclamation mark to the "of course he doped" reaction to our recent post about the hematology values. As Tenerifed snipped:
“Going from 15.5 to 16.1 (in hemoglobin) is not that unusual when not competing,” Ashenden said by phone from Australia. “But it is very unusual to see an increase after a hard week of cycling. You'd expect it to be the reverse. You'd expect that to fall in a clean athlete. An increase like this in the midst of the Tour de France would be highly, highly unlikely.[boldface from Tenerifed]
“There's nothing where I could point to one value and say, 'This guy definitely doped.' But it raises red flags for me. I would definitely recommend to anti-doping authorities that an athlete presenting these values should be target-tested for blood doping.”
We'll point out some things that weren't bolded in his reading of the story.
- "Not unusual when not competing"
- "Unusual to see an increase after a hard week of cycling"
- "Nothing where I could point to one value and say, 'This guy definitely doped.'
About 25% of riders (the ones over the diagonal) have rising Hb values.
So, "highly, highly unlikely?"
To review what we understand of the basic theory, when not fatigued, a stressed body (work and altitude) will stimulate natural EPO delivery. This results in more reticulocytes, which a week or so later become hemoglobin carrying mature red cells. If the stress is short, the reti count may spike high, and be decreasing while the red count comes up. If the stress is long but not too intense, the reti count may stay relatively high, while the red count also rises. Should the stress be long with high intensity, fatigue may preclude production of more reticulocytes, leading to low reti counts and low red cell levels.
How does this relate to the idea of a "hard week"? This is the assumption built into Ashendon's reasoning, that the first week of the Tour Landis rode was a "hard week" that would be a time of fatigue leading to a collapse of Hct and reticulocytes.
This seems to us an argument based on conjecture, and not supported by specific data. We don't know what Landis workload was before the tour, but it did leave him with a low Hct/Hb and high reticulocyte count. We also understand that strategically, a GC contender would be trying to take it easy the first week, so as not to be spent when the roads turn uphill. This seems like the natural strategy of any GC contender, probably more important for a clean rider than a dirty one. It's also probably more consciously adopted by a known contendor (Landis) rather than an opportunist (Vande Velde) or a domestique (Millar). That is, Vande Velde, while somewhat protected, probably felt more need to work to stay highly placed than Landis the first week, and Millar was supposed to be doing work.
Is there data to support this theory? That's why we included the stage summary and performance data in the original post. Up until that rest day, Landis had been averaging 3500 kj of work on the full-length stages, putting out 260w when pedaling, and 210w average over the length of the rides start to stop. That is not an intense amount of power. For comparison, Landis was doing 250w while bonked on Stage 16.
Now, let's look at Vande Velde's power data from the 2006 tour, from cyclingPeaks.com:
|Stage ||time ||kj ||tss ||IF ||watts |
|stage 2 ||5:45 ||3970 ||280 ||.699 ||192 |
|stage 3 ||5:08 ||3500 ||256 ||.707 ||189 |
|stage 4 ||5:06 ||3416 ||227 ||.668 ||186 |
|stage 5 ||5:31 ||3510 ||235 ||.653 ||177 |
|stage 6 ||4:19 ||3259 ||245 ||.753 ||209 |
|stage 7 itt ||1:04 ||1498 ||112 ||1.026 ||390 |
|stage 8 ||4:26 ||3873 ||304 ||.828 ||243 |
|stage 9 ||3:55 ||2484 ||143 ||.604 ||175 |
|average (less s7) ||4:44 ||3430 ||236 ||0.700 ||195 |
|stdev (less 7) ||0:40 ||487 ||61 ||0.07 ||23.6 |
IF = intensity, 1.0 being at aerobic threshold.
Values > 1 start going anaerobic.
TSS = IF * hours * 100;
Is this hard? The pitiful, fat and 50+ TBV did a century in May that took 5:30, 3233 kj @ 163 watts, TSS 328, IF .772, and felt pretty good the next week, doing three hard, shorter rides.
It is certainly true that no stages in the Tour are "easy", and the workload and pace of the initial stages would kill most of the readership. And it is true that they are nervous for the riders, with lots of mental effort. This does not say that they are particularly physically demanding for the should-be-protected GC contending team leaders and domestiques not in the break. Vande Velde got out one day, on stage 8, and worked much harder.
By comparison, on stage 3, Mr. "Happy to be in front" Jens Voigt rode off into the distance:
"After a fast start and few early attacks, it was Jensy Voigt (CSC) who made a strong move at km 15 near Strassen, and he was quickly joined by Arrieta (AG2R), Pineau (Bouygues), Laurent (AG2R) and Etxebarria (Euskaltel). This was the right combination and the quintet cruised away as the peloton was in no mood to try and bring them back on the hot, hard and hilly stage. By Bridel, 5 km later, the break already had 1'30 and Voigt was virtual malliot jaune as the big German rouleur was in 47th, 0'36 behind leader Thor Hushovd. "
Voigt's day was 5:12, 5300 kj, at 283 average watts. That is a hard day of racing.
On the same early stages, Landis and Vande Velde did far more comparable efforts.
|Stage ||FL |
|stage 2 ||3934 ||3970 ||195 ||192 |
|stage 3 ||3969 ||3500 ||222 ||189 |
|stage 4 ||3760 ||3416 ||209 ||186 |
|stage 5 ||3749 ||3510 ||196 ||177 |
|stage 6 ||3349 ||3259 ||223 ||209 |
|stage 8 ||3481 ||3873 ||227 ||243 |
|stage 9 ||2624 ||2484 ||203 ||175 |
|average (less s7) ||3552 ||3430 ||210 ||195 |
|stdev (less s7) ||467 ||487 ||13.35 ||23.6 |
* note average watts are computed by different methods and may not be truly comparable.
We see Landis did a whopping 120 kj more work a day (about one can of Coke) than Vande Velde, averaging 15 more watts over the first week -- which makes sense, because he did the same work in less time.
On stage 10, Voigt went on the break and blew up -- but Voigt's day was 5513 kj @ 281w, compared to Landis' 4377 @ 246w.
We think it reasonable to suggest the first week was not a "hard week" of cycling for Landis. Thus, Ashendon's predicate to his expectation of drop may not be true -- which means his conclusion may not be true either,
Saugy's data suggests that unless you think 25% is a slim prospect, "very, very unlikely" is hyperbole. A juicy quote for Zeigler to use, and ammunition for accusers, but it is a conclusion not supported by direct evidence.
Swings of reasonable size
The offscore methodology that Ashendon developed places limits well above and below any of those seen Landis, Vande Velde, or Millar. To date, we don't have data on a known-doping rider to see where there offscore lies, but there have been suggestions that the "odd values" that were discussed with Hamilton were pushing the high number very hard.
When people say Landis' values are "very high" or "very low", these relative terms become questionable, because they are well within the range that is considered "normal" by the off-score methodology.
For some idea of "natural variations", there is an anecdotal story at "Can't holder tongue" describing a non-doper's experience with odd reported blood values.
Given the paucity of information in the two Landis data points that are available, Ashendon is right to say (a) there is no smoking gun, (b) there is reasonable cause to look further.
We note that Landis had blood taken on four occasions during the tour, and nothing came of it. (Why the UCI only reported two sets of hematological data is an interesting question.) We might suspect that he was targeted for additional scrutiny, and that nothing came of it. That doesn't prove anything, as we know the available tests don't reliably detect everything. But the chain of reasoning is becoming very conjectural.
Unfortunately, the UCI running controls at the time did not seem to follow up thorougly and get enough data that one could possibly see the spikey pattern that Saugy discusses that would be indicative of manipulation -- or if the UCI did with the other tests, found nothing. It is not Landis' responsibility that no other samples were taken.
As far as we know, no one in an official position has ever seriously suggested Landis did anything other than Testosterone doping.
As far as we know, no one in an official position has ever made the argument that the micro-dosing of testosterone would have particularly enabled the performance of Stage 17. At best, there is conjecture that microdoses are believed by some racers (Papp) to enhance recovery, but there are no studies to support that -- USADA certainly never entered anything into the record.
We do know there is rumor and conjecture that Landis blood-doped, and a common twist is that the "blood he doped with" was spiked with testosterone from some training cycle. The latter makes little sense, for two reasons. First, blood-doping spins out the plasma that carries testosterone; and second, it doesn't account for the reported exogenous testosterone in some of the other B samples, if one thinks they are reliable.
As with so much else about the case against Landis, the available data seems inconclusive, and one is left with the weight of presumption as the probable determining factor. Looking at the two data points and making an accusation seems, objectively, to be as (in)valid as looking at Stage 17 and saying "I know that is doping."