Friday, June 06, 2008

Less testing for the Tour?

We call the attention of our friends in the media at a point of inanity that has come out of the ASO, AFLD, and FFC regarding testing at this year's Tour, and encourage some pointed followup. We touched on this the other day, but no one has picked up on it, so we'll raise it again.

There's been talk of less testing that is more targeted in the name of "efficiency".

We don't disagree with targeted testing, but think less testing is not an answer. We think there should be more testing with more randoms, so that every rider in the race is likely to have been tested twice during the tour. That translates to 10 instead of 3 tests (winner, yellow, random) on each stage. Go ahead and add up to two "targeted" tests and you get 12 instead of 3 per stage. At $500 a test, that's a whopping $4,500 a stage - about $100,000 for the whole tour - additional expense for increased coverage.

We learned that it's about $500 a test from the flap in 2007 about testing at the Tour of California, when Amgen was irked to find out that there wasn't EPO testing being done.

They are cutting back test quantities to save a trivial amount money ("efficiency"). The result will be trying to nail high-profile riders, while letting low-profile teammates cruise on anything under the radar. That says a lot about credibility to us.

If you get on the shit list, you'll get the hell tested out of you, and if you are not, go ahead and load up because you are unlikely to get called to the pee trailer. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Nobody has asked any questions about this.


Eightzero said...

UCI would be wise to do lots of out of competition testing on tour participants. And is there anything to prevent UCI from doing those tests during the tour? Imagine just how valuable a UCI found "positive" would be. Picture McQ calling Prudhomme and singing "...I know some-thing you don't know..."

I love the smell of scortched Earth in July. A pox on both their houses.

Riders: I'd be calling Scott Analytics and signing up for third party, custody chain controlled, evidentiary testing each and every day of the tour. And a week or so before that too. Cheap, cheap insurance. Title sponsors: you'd best be buying some of that insurance too. ASO has shown just how they like to punish sponsors (read: Astana.)

Larry said...

TBV, what we're seeing here is like watching an old fashioned polaroid picture develop. A lot of odd images slowly emerging, but the picture is still fuzzy and it's hard to know exactly what we're looking at.

A strong impression I've gathered over the last year or two is that the powers that be in cycling are convinced that they know who is doping ... and they are looking for ways to legally target the suspected riders. There wasn't really a good way for the authorities to do this. Absent a few cases like Tyler Hamilton, I'm not aware of any way for the authorities to pick a rider from the crowd and test the hell out of him until he fails.

You can see in this light the whole incident involving LNDD's testing Lance Armstrong's ancient urine samples for EPO. I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that this was designed from the get-go to "prove" that Lance doped. It was a set-up and a frame job, motivated in large part by the inability of the authorities to take present-day samples from Lance with the frequency they wanted to.

Move to the present day. You have UCI and the others with their longitudinal testing plans, biological passports, and the like. As you know, the idea for the "passport" was taken from ACE, Damsgaard and the others who do private testing for "clean" teams. The ACE-style programs are good programs, and show great promise ... they give the teams advance warning that something funny might be going on with one of their riders.

BUT no one has managed to define when logitudinal data "proves" that a cyclist has doped. We don't have scientific agreement when logitudinal testing indicates doping, the way the scientists agree on the 4:1 T/E ratio or a 3.0 delta-delta. The best that science can do, as far as I can tell, is to look at the logitudinal data and say "that looks strange" or "that looks very strange" or maybe even "that can't be right".

There's nothing in the present rules allowing the agencies to say, "that can't be right, therefore, we have an adverse analytical finding".

So, what are the agencies going to do with all of this logitudinal data? The short answer is, I don't know. But maybe the entire multi-million dollar reason for the biological passport is to set up a legal mechanism to justify targeted testing.

There's a danger here, of course. Given the absence of hard standards for the interpretation of logitudinal data, there's a danger that the authorities will read their biases and prejudices into the data, and use the data to target (read: harass) any riders they don't like.

DBrower said...

Larry, I agree with what you said, except I'd like to expand one point.

The powers that be in cycling are convinced that they know who is doping

The trick, to me, is that I believe they think everyone is doping.

Thus, whoever they target is likely to be selected by something that might be taken as motivated by something other than the most transparent of intentions. Some problematic reasons for getting on the list that come to mind are (a) punishment for performance; (b) politics (see eightzero above!); (c) personal vendetta.

I don't mind some targeted testing, as long as that is not the whole story, because it allows those effects to dominate. I want to see genuine random testing that has genuine deterrent effect on the body of the peloton.

What we have seen is the use of the "random" tests being consumed by the "targeted" designees, so that really random testing isn't done.

That is, how likely is it that Landis was selected twice as a random at the 2006 TdF? Not very likely at all, statistically. It is instead very likely he was on the target list because he'd (a) been performing well; (b) politics of the UCI hating Phonak; and (c) personal vendetta against Landis because of the Mercury pay dispute.

Which would be fine, if he was guilty, but how many other dopers were not even looked at because of this targeting? That disturbs me. Maybe Sinkewitz would have been caught a year earlier, for example.

I believe that an important part of rooting out doping is to effectively discourage it in those who currently feel relatively immune from the tests -- the domestiques. What has been going on doesn't do that, and it seems to me to encourage a culture of doping that only continues as the domestique rises up the food chain.


Thomas A. Fine said...

Maybe I'm too cynical or in a bad mood. I saw it, and thought "Everyone who's fast and not French".


Unknown said...

AFLD is doing the testing fr the TdF. They don't have the authority to carry out any testing outside of France, so that limits their ability to test before the tour. They'll have to rely on their good friends at the UCI for that.

AFLD/FFC is not charging the TdF for the testing (read it earlier today, but am having trouble finding the cite) during the TdF. If that's correct, it's an "efficiency" for AFLD/FFC. The context of the cite I'm looking for was an interview with the Director of the Dauphine. He's in the UCI camp because the ProTour status (vs. w/o ProTour status) brought more TV time/revenues/publicity. He is, however, not happy the TdF's costs for drug testing are being picked up and they are not being picked up for his race.

I generally agree with TbV, eightzero, and larry regarding the implications of the TdF officials/AFLD having sole control over the targeting of the testing. It's a lottery, and a rigged one at that.

wschart said...

If UCI wanted to be really nasty, they could show up while a stage was being run and ask one or more riders to stop and fill a bottle. SInce the Tour is being run outside of UCI jurisdiction, to the UCI it is not a race at all.

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

That would be positively evil. Do you think McQuaid has the cojones to pull such a stunt? ;-)

Eightzero said...

Rant, McQ doesn't have the stones to make a rider pull over while actually "racing." And fairly, I think we'd all likely agree that would really be the wrong thing to do. However, it *would* be reasonable and perhaps to UCI's best advantage to test high profile Olympic-bound athletes (and some of their domestiques at random) that are at the Tour after the stage is complete, or even in the morning at sign in. Imagine the spin: "We are responsible for anti-doping efforts in the run-up to one of the most prestigious events in cycling - the Olympic Games. Other than the World Championships, there is no bigger event for Cycling (!) and we can't suspend our monitoring of these athletes because they are being harbored on French soil by a breakaway cycling league...."Then make sure each of the samples collected are sent to WADA labs *excluding LNDD* and complete them *after* the Tour is over.

The message would be clear and unmistakable: "we don't trust you, FFC, and neither should the IOC."

Larry said...

TBV, now we're on to what might be my favorite topic: how much doping do the powers that be THINK is going on in the peloton? And who is it that the powers that be THINK is doping?

(To be clear: I personally an innocent until proven guilty guy, meaning that I think only a handful of riders can be said to have doped. I'm not even willing to speculate anymore on how many unnamed riders have been doping. If the powers that be think that everyone is doping, or that doping is endemic, let 'em prove it. So much for my personal opinion.)

For all the chest-beating that goes on about doping in cycling, for all of the outrageous statements that have been made about doping in cycling by the likes of Dick Pound and others, it is ASTONISHING to me how little information is out there, how little has been said, to address this most basic of questions: how much doping IS there in cycling? How bad a problem is this?

Attention gets paid to the top guys; the confessed dopers (e.g.., Riis, Vireneque), the guys convicted of doping who have not confessed (e.g., Landis, Hamilton), the unconfessed guys under heavy suspicion (e.g., Ullrich, Rasmussen). Lance is kind of in a category all his own: no proof, but lots of speculation, and while I personally believe that the speculation is nonsense, it's obvious that the powers that be think he doped. We can guess that there are additional riders who might be suspected by the authorities in cycling for no legitimate reason other than they "associated" with Bruyneel, or Lance, or the old Team Discovery. Add up all these "suspects" and you have ...

What? Maybe a couple of dozen riders?

Yet TBV, when you say that the cycling authorities essentially assume (at least prior to this year) that everyone is doping, you may well be right. We had the statement last year from Saugy in Switzerland -- if you take his words and turn them into numbers, he claimed that 80%+ of the peleton was doping in last year's TdF. And no one (outside of forums like this one) bothered to question his claim.

So TBV, you may be right. Maybe they think everyone is doping, or at least that they were all doping last year. Or maybe they figure that there are a few anti-doping holdouts, guys like David Millar.

It's at this point in the analysis that I get confused. My imagination fails me when I try to guess what folks in the ASO, UCI and the ADAs could possibly be thinking if they really believed that everyone in the peloton was doping. What in hell would you do, if you ran the Tour de France and you thought that everyone in your race was cheating? You can't bust the entire race -- or can you? You can't try to cover it up, not any more -- or can you?

Perhaps the thinking is, let's not give a damn what happens in the peloton overall. If the domestiques want to dope, let them dope. If a Sinkewitz or two gets busted, so be it. But for God's sake (mon Dieu!), let's at least have a believable trio on the podium. Ergo: let's reserve the right to target any of the leading riders if we think they're doping.

Problem is, as soon as you bump a few suspects from the leading group, you have a few former also-rans who are bumped up to leader status. It would be comical if it wasn't so sad: remember how short a period it was after Rasmussen was tossed from last year's Tour, when the authorities actually seemed to feel RELIEVED that Contador had assumed the race lead ... before Contador himself fell under suspicion?

So ... well ... doesn't logic dictate that you test the hell out of everyone? What else makes sense?

I suspect that the problem here is money and resources, that there's not enough of either to do the kind of peloton-wide testing that the situation demands. Yes, I've read your analysis that the actual cost per test is relatively low, but the race organizers don't have the resources to take 180 samples a day, and the LNDD does not have the resources to test 180 samples a day. The actual cost per test would rise dramatically if everyone had to staff up to do this kind of testing, plus quality control would suffer.

Anyhoo ... one reason I'm not posting much anymore is that I have no clue what these people are thinking or where the ADA effort is going. The only thing I know is that sponsorship is drying up, and with it the means to do effective testing.