Archive for Doping
Tom Boonen, one of my favorite riders, tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition drug test (for the second – or maybe his third – time). Both WADA and the UCI don’t consider this a positive dope test because cocaine is an amphetamine whose effect lasts for only a short while and thus is only banned during competition, and even then it’s only considered positive if the drug is found to have a concentration of more than 0.5 ng/mg. That means that any control that comes back positive for cocaine during an out-of-competition drug test should be considered negative.
Boonen tested positive for cocaine during his recuperation time between Paris-Roubaix (which he won) and the next goal of his season, which is to win the Green jersey at the Tour. Tom says he doesn’t remember taking the drug, but acknowledges that he suffered a blackout from drinking too much the night before the test and, given the apparent availability of cocaine in nightclubs in Belgium, does not rule out that he may have taken some. However, it has since been revealed that his “positive” test was for a concentration of 0.09 ng/mg, which falls well below the threshold for a positive control and should therefor actually be considered a negative test.
This has not stopped the most autocratic organization in cycling – the ASO (who organizes the Tour de France and is thus the most powerful organization in cycling) – to declare that Boonen is “unwelcome” at the Tour due to his positive test. Meanwhile an independent panel has asserted that in order for the concentration to be so low, Boonen must of had only indirect contact with the drug and in any case does not use regularly. Basically, he didn’t inhale.
It is absolutely necessary to have out-of-competition drug tests. The most effective drugs in cycling like, for example, EPO, have lasting effects for up to 30 days and can only be detected for a small number of days after taking the substance. Obvsiuosly, any rider with even half a brain will not take the drug immediatly before or during a competition while the substance can be detected but will instead take it some time ahead of the race. Therefor, the UCI has to be allowed to test for the drug arbitrarily during the season. Cyclists are required to account for their whereabouts for each and every day during the year and guarantee their availability for a drug test for a 4-hour window each day.
Obviously, this is a huge sacrifice of personal freedom and many consider it an invasion of privacy. The argument that it is required in order to gaurentee fairness in the sport and an invasion of privacy both have merrit, but I strongly believe that out-of-competition tests should test – or at the very least report – only drugs that are on the out-of-competition prohibited substance list. The fact that Boonen had cocaine in his system is irrelevant to the sporting world and a private issue between him and legal authorities in Belgium. I find the fact that it was made public disgusting. If I take a drug and test positive during an interview process, I expect that to be a matter between me, my prospective employer, and any authorities they would be obligated to report the test results to. It should be no different for a professional cyclist, especailly given that they may be tested any day of the year.
ASO, please reconsider and let Boonen race.
This will be a very short follow-up on yesterday’s post regarding the suspension of UCI ProTour leader, Danilo Di Luca. Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, has decided to disqualify Danilo Di Luca from the UCI ProTour due to his suspension. That means that the rider will loose the ProTour which he was leading and Aussie Cadel Evans will take over as the leader.
While Evans has had a spectacular season by placing second in the Tour de France and just off the podium in the Tour of Spain, but to win the ProTour this way has got to be almost as meaningful as Oscar Pereiro’s 2006 Tour de France win, which was awarded to him after American Floyd Landis lost his crown last week.
I’m all for fighting doping in cycling, but the various cycling governing bodies appear to be more interested in appearing tough on drugs than actually being tough on drugs, as is evidenced by the fact that the UCI failed to conduct any doping controls at last week’s Paris-Tours ProTour event.
The Italian cycling federation is so eager to appear “tough on doping” that they are now suspending riders for the following offense: Maybe looking like they might have talked to a doctor who might have had something to do with doping at some point. But no one is sure yet. And might never be. We’re Italians. Some chick will likely walk by and we’ll get distracted before we figure it out.
Danilo Di Luca, who won this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro d’Italia, and is the current UCI ProTour leader, has been suspended for three months for alleged involvement in a doping case which dates back to 2003, dubbed Oil For Drugs.
Di Luca has not been suspended for failing a drug test or for possessing drugs, or for being involved in a drug investigation. No, he has been suspended because he used to work with a doctor who now is under suspicion of supplying doping products to cyclists. Di Luca worked with this doctor several years ago when the doctor was a member of the Italian Cycling Federation as a sports doctor.
His lawyer…clarified that the suspension was not for anti-doping offenses, but for collusion with [Dr.] Santuccione, and also pointed out that during the period in question, Santuccione had been re-admitted into the ranks of the Italian federation as a sports doctor.
What makes the Di Luca case odd is that he’s not being suspended for any wrongdoing. His suspension is for working with a doctor who was then working for the Italian Cycling Federation but has since come under suspicion for being at the center of a doping ring. Even though Di Luca has since cut off ties with this doctor, he has been suspended for having worked with him in the past.
Compare this to the case where Lance Armstrong was working with Dr. Michele Ferrari who was facing similar accusations. At the time, Armstrong claimed that Ferrari had never suggested anything illegal to him, and continued to work with him until the doctor was convicted of sporting fraud. At that point, Armstrong finally stopped working with him and there were never any consequences for Armstrong.
As much as I believe Armstrong used doping products during his career, that is the proper way to handle a case like that: governing bodies can’t go around suspending riders without evidence. If doping is causing damage to cycling’s reputation, what does suspending cycling’s top stars for no reason do to it’s image? As Cartman says, “I used hangover brown on this wall.”
(Interesting side note: Dr. Ferrari has since become active as a sports doctor in cycling again. Alexandre Vinokourov was a client of his and famously returned a positive dope test for homologous blood doping during this year’s Tour de France.)
After almost 14 months, the verdict was finally handed down in the Floyd Landis doping case. A three-person panel voted 2-1 to find Landis was found guilty of doping during the 2006 Tour de France, stripped of his title, and has been suspended for two years.
I have mixed feelings about this case: I was never a fan of Floyd’s, but Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour (where he later returned a positive dope test) was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen, and I instantly became a fan of his.
We were in France during the 2006 Tour, and were at the roadside of the stage to Pla-de-Beret where Landis first took the Yellow Jersey. We then spent the next few days following the Tour on-and-off, catching the news in the French daily paper, L’Equipe, or watching some of the day-long television coverage. (By the way, one of the great things about being in France during the Tour is listening to the commentators go nuts whenever a Frenchman appears on the TV; some random French domestique will get in a breakaway and they immediately start jabbering about the rider’s chances of winning the Tour. Their optimism is kind of sweet, really. )
Then we headed into the Alps for a few days and missed one day of coverage. That happened to be the stage to La Toussuire where Landis cracked and fell more than eight minutes behind. We turned the television on the next day and were completely confused by what we were seeing: the stage had just hit the first mountain, and Floyd’s team was on the front racing as though they were 10k from the finish. Suddenly Landis – who we were surprised to see was no longer in yellow – rode away from the race. We feverishly tried to figure out what was happening, and why Landis didn’t appear to be in contention anymore. (Another odd thing about being in France during the Tour is that unless you’re up to speed on all the French slang around cycling, it’s a big struggle to truly understand what’s going on from the papers.)
We finally figured out that Landis had cracked and lost heaps of time; what we were seeing was a super-hero mission to gain back as much of time as possible. He managed to pull it off, and eventually won the Tour. It was epic. It was inspirational, and we immediately became fans. One of the first things we did when we set up our workshop in our basement when we moved to Seattle was pin up L’Equipe’s issue from the following day showing Landis cruising to a beautiful stage win.
I don’t know if Floyd doped, and doping in cycling continues to be a topic that I’m incredibly conflicted about. Does it matter whether he doped? Was the inspiration I felt that day as well as the excitement over the next few days false because he doped? Not necessarily. That experience belongs to me; just because his performance may have been “enhanced” doesn’t invalidate what I took away from it. I spend my life building software and none of that is real, either – you can’t touch it or prove it exists, but you can still experience it and take something from it.
At the same time, if he doped – and especially if he was doing so while everyone else was clean – then he should be punished. If Oscar Pereiro was clean and got second, then he deserves to be named the winner.
The problem of doping in cycling is both a cultural and scientific one. Doping in cycling – and, in fact, sport in general – is deeply rooted into the culture surrounding the sport. Young riders are told by older riders and team management that they need to dope in order to succeed. The young riders become the older riders, the older riders retire and become team directors and managers, and the circle continues.
Techniques to pass and avoid doping controls are shared among teams and riders, and the various agencies and labs conducting the doping controls are allegedly bought off by teams to suppress results. That doesn’t even touch on the fact that a huge number of items on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited substances list – something like 80% – can’t be tested for. Of those that do have tests, many depend on allowable thresholds – including the test for testosterone which Landis failed. In those cases, there is no flashing red light that indicates a positive test; the lab technicians use their judgment and experience to decide if a sample is positive for doping. Although the lab scientists are highly trained and disciplined, the fact that one could claim that the findings are subjective opens the door to questioning the credibility of the results.
The culture, the possibility (or even likelihood) of riders doping without being caught, and the credibility of the tests conspire to turn the fight against doping into a big hairy mess. You have people speaking out against doping and claiming the sport is cleaning up while rumors persist that doping is rampant. And, those riders who do fail dope controls swear they are clean and are wrongfully accused.
I hate the idea of riders being singled out if everyone else is also doping. I hate the idea of riders being wrongfully accused. I hate the idea of riders doping. I hate the idea that there doesn’t seem to be a good way to deal with the problem. But I love cycling, and with or without doping, it’s still the most difficult and beautiful sport.
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Ever since winning this year’s Tour de France, Alberto Contador has been at the center of rumors that he was involved in Operation Puerto. Before Rasmussen was thrown out of the race while wearing the Yellow Jersey, it seemed like no one but Michelle was talking about the fact that Contador was not allowed to start the 2006 Tour due to alleged involvement in the blood-doping ring. Naturally, the day he took his first Maillot Jaune, the chatter started.
It seems to have become a bit more severe this week, with a German doctor claiming to be in possession of documents that clearly indicate Contador is involved, and that his win is “the greatest swindle in sporting history”. (The doctor, Dr. Franke, is the same doctor who repeatedly claimed Jan Ullrich was also involved, which ultimately proved to be true.)
On Saturday, the World Anti Doping Agency requested the documents from Franke and the agency has since opened an investigation into Contador’s involvement.
Today, Contador and his team, Team Discovery Channel, have announced a press announcement to be made on Friday. VeloNews reported:
Tour de France winner Alberto Contador has scheduled a press event this Friday in Spain, but says he will decline to answer reporters’ questions after he reads a prepared statement.
It is impossible to guess what will be said at the conference, but it certainly sounds ominous. I figure a 50-50 chance as to whether Contador will sternly refute the claims or will admit his involvement. If I were to judge based on what has been revealed in press conferences so far this season, I would say the safe money is on an admission, but we’ll have to see.
Read more on Doping in Cycling.