Tomorrow is 2009. It feels a long way from 2006 when Floyd Landis won the Tour de France. Today sees the closure of Trust But Verify, a daily media monitoring blog started by cyclist Dave Brower. His writing was soon joined by two external, expert authors (one of whom was a judge) and there was always a very lively bunch of forum commentators.
The closure of TbV is to be expected. Landis lost. It was always going to be so. Guilty of strapping on man-juice or not, he never stood a chance. We know this now. Many couldn’t believe the appeals procedure would allow the ‘conviction’ of somebody when the evidence was so contradictory.
Some of those incredulous few have been asked to write some closing statements on TbV, myself included. My screed is repeated below but it’s well worth spending some time reading the closing statements from the experts, most of whom think the anti-doping system stinks. But there are also some dissenting voices, folks who think the right guy was nailed and that no misfeasance took place at all.
The experts include lawyers, doctors, testosterone testing experts, bloggers, racers and high-calibre scientists. Many of those saying their goodbyes were principal players in the Floyd Landis v WADA saga.
Here’s my valedictory:
Trust But Verify is closing, but I don’t feel closure.
And if I also feel somewhat bitter and twisted, that’s nothing to how Floyd Landis must have felt since the beginning of this sorry saga.
I came into this subject equipped with standard-issue, media-myopia goggles. WADA was pure, accused athletes were dirty, cheating scum.
I’m saying my goodbyes to TbV a whole lot more cynical about the anti-doping process. As TbV demonstrated, the anti-doping movement is enclosed, self-perpetuating and omnipotent. It resembles a religious cult. Leaders who brook no opposition; acolytes willing to do or die for the leadership; a central, easily-absorbed, hard-to-refute moral tenet (’you’re bad, we’re good’); exterior, no-strings funding; hair-trigger lynch-mob mentality; and Spanish Inquisition style jurisprudence.
Fanciful? A touch. But viewed through this prism it’s now clear Landis never stood a chance. You can’t attack a faith-based system with rationality or science, a faith-based system operates to its own, bendable rules.
Landis may have lost, but his fight - documented so well by TbV - opened a lot of people’s eyes, mine included. Injustice is in the DNA of WADA. Without a major overhaul of how accusations can be refuted, innocent athletes will continue to be ensnared alongside guilty ones. This isn’t right, it isn’t fair. Welcome to WADA world.
First off, let me state quite plainly that I think doping in sport is wrong and should be weeded out. I won’t get into the messy business of asking why some man-made performance enhancers are ethically OK (vitamins and maltodextrin, for instance) but others (such as EPO) are deemed evil incarnate.
Society decides such things. Yet ’society’ is a bit flaky on such matters. Sleeping in tents that mimic high-altitude is currently allowed, even though it produces results similar to EPO-use. The World Anti-doping Agency - WADA - keeps looking at normobaric hypoxic tents and may one day ban their use, no doubt leading to a WADA-led witch hunt against any athletes who boosted their blood in this way.
Some sections of ’society’ used to believe training of any sorts was a sign of “bad sportsmanship.” The 1981 movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ is based on this very idea, demonstrating that in the 1920s, training for an event was a nefarious activity for some, wholly legitimate to others.
Fast forward to today. All athletes must be paragons of virtue. Boonen was prevented from riding this year’s Tour de France because he took drugs. Not drugs that would make him go faster, but recreational drugs. Sure, he was daft to snort the stuff but if the powder didn’t give him any performance benefit whatsoever, why fret?
Anti-doping agencies, on the other hand, are seen to be white knights, fighting the good fight. They can do no wrong. Mistakes? What mistakes? It’s not possible, we’re scientifically 100 percent sound, say the anti-dopers.
Jacques de Ceaurriz, head of the French anti-doping lab that leaks test results to L’Equipe yet is never sanctioned, once famously said the carbon isotope test, used to find synthetic man-juice, was infallible:
“It’s foolproof…No error is possible in isotopic readings.”
No errors possible? Ever? How many scientists in fields other than anti-doping would get away with such tosh?
The attitude of ‘we’re always right, you’re always wrong’ is one that pervades anti-doping science. Precious few journalists question whether the anti-doping labs might sometimes be wrong. False positives and false negatives exist in the world of medicine but not, apparently, in the world of anti-doping, which uses the exact same scientific tests.
Too often journalists swallow what WADA tells them and it doesn’t trouble them when WADA is caught telling mistruths, yet the slightest misdemeanour by an athlete is reported on at length.
It’s been widely reported that WADA is getting ahead of the game and is working with pharmaceutical companies to place marker molecules in the latest performance-enhancing drugs of choice.
Wow, goes the man in the street, WADA deserves all of the massive funding it gets from governments around the world, it’s catching the cheats with clever tricks.
The man in the street moves on to another news story. Shamefully, so do the majority of journalists. WADA got a lot of global press coverage for its work with Roche to place marker molecules in CERA, the so-called ‘Super-EPO’.
John Fahey, the president of WADA, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that Roche Pharmaceuticals had placed a special molecule in CERA when it developed the drug:
“In the development of [Micera] close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was undertaken.”
Well done, WADA.
Except it doesn’t appear to be true. The WADA boss got it wrong. Martina Rupp, a spokeswoman for Roche, told Bloomberg News: “The information that a special molecule has been added to Mircera is wrong.”
So, have journalists widely reported on WADA’s economy with the truth? Of course not. The International Herald Tribune carried the drug company’s denial in the middle of a long article about the Tour in general but the multitude of news sources that rapidly spread Fahey’s molecule claim have been strangely silent on the Roche rebuffal.
UPDATE: Cyclingnews.com isn’t one of them, it has today carried news of the “mistake”. Naturally, WADA is allowed to make such mistakes, just as WADA-accredited labs can break all sorts of rules without being sanctioned. But when an athlete, by mistake, chooses a US version of Vicks thinking it’ll be just the same as the UK version, he’s hauled over the coals and loses his Olympic medal.
AFTER SIX WEEKS of deliberation, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has decided to confirm the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board’s decision to disqualify Alain Baxter from the men’s alpine skiing slalom event at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.
Baxter finished third in the slalom and was awarded the bronze medal, but a subsequent doping test revealed traces of methamphetamine in his urine sample – a stimulant on the IOC’s list of prohibited substances.
Though Baxter maintained that the US Vicks nasal inhaler he used prior to the slalom race contained levmetamfetamine – a non-performance enhancing isomer of methamphetamine – the CAS ruled that the anti-doping code of the Olympic movement prohibits all forms of methamphetamine and the presence of any prohibited substance results in automatic disqualification, whether or not ingestion was intentional.
“The panel is not without sympathy for Mr Baxter, who appears to be a sincere and honest man who did not intend to obtain a competitive advantage in the race,” the tribunal concluded.
“Alain has paid a most severe penalty for a modest mistake and it is clear that the principle of strict liability under-scored this decision,” added Simon Clegg, Chief Executive of the BOA.
“I know that I can continue to look Alain in the eye with confidence that he did not knowingly take the US Vick’s inhaler to enhance his performance.”
WADA can make mistakes, athletes can’t. Athletes can be banned under the ’strict liability’ rule, but WADA and its accredited labs can mess up left, right and centre and only a tiny minority of people seem to care about such lop-sided justice.
Sure, the anti-doping science will catch a lot of cheats and, when proved, the cheats should be hung out to dry, but the science will also finger some innocent athletes. That’s not me being naive or ’soft on drugs cheats’, it’s a plain scientific fact.
Ah, but the innocent will always be proven so, you might think. Not on your nelly. The system is rigged against athletes. Many of those who claim innocence are guilty as sin. But some of those who claim innocence, truly are. The appeals system, as it stands, is a sham.
One good way for the anti-doping system to be brought up to standard would be for performance-enhancing drug use to become “sporting fraud”, as has happened in France. That way the police get involved and they have to provide genuine evidence to convince prosecuting authorities. Accused athletes would then truly get “their day in court” and anti-doping labs would have to prove their methods and their ISLs (International Standard for Laboratories, PDF) were up to scratch.
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This week’s British Medical Journal includes 18 pages of research and analysis on the health risks and benefits of exercise. It also carries a polemic from Swiss and Australian researchers who claim the war against doping in sports is flawed.
‘Globalisation of anti-doping: the reverse side of the medal’ is by Bengt Kayser, professor and director of the institute of movement sciences and sports medicine at the University of Geneva, and Aaron CT Smith, professor and director of sport and leisure management at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
The subhead says:
“Current anti-doping policy is sufficiently problematic to call for debate and change.”
The article - peer reviewed by many academics - says:
The reasons advanced for anti-doping policy are flawed and do not warrant strong punishment and costly repression of doping practices;
The effects of prohibition as a means for regulating doping behaviour remain unclear, so the emphasis should be on developing an evidence base regarding any detrimental effects of performance enhancement technologies in order to dissuade potential users rather than coerce them, and to ensure that anti-doping policy does not induce more harm in society than it prevents; Testing for doping in bodily specimens will never uncover all use of forbidden substances or methods, as false negatives and false positives are inherent to testing but are unacceptable in sport because athletes can never be considered truly clean; false accusations should be avoided; [my emphasis - Floyd Landis might smile, wryly, at that section]
Rules and sampling procedures associated with testing protocols impinge on athletes’ privacy to an unreasonable degree and violate basic notions of personal freedom and self regulation;
The “war on doping” and the “war on drugs” tend to converge, as exemplified by the presence of recreational and performance impairing drugs like marihuana on the list of prohibited drugs; [my emphasis - Tom Boonen might smile, wryly, at that section]
Outside the sporting field, enhancement technologies like cosmetic surgery and eye surgery and use of substances like caffeine, fluoxetine, modafinil, sildenafil, methylphenidate, and anti-ageing drugs are an increasingly accepted social behaviour; this places zero tolerance for enhancement in sport at odds with broader social values.
The main photograph on the piece is of Belgian cyclist Kevin van Impe who was famously compelled by an anti-doping doc to produce a urine sample while preparing his son’s funeral at a crematorium.
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With ITV announcing a ‘red button’ interactive TV service for the Tour of Britain - see story below - we’ll get to see lots of Tyler Hamilton racing in the UK.
For those who believe he’s guilty as hell it’s worth reading the full arbitration ruling. Starting on p. 14 of this PDF, tribunal member Christopher Campbell identified many aspects of the case against Hamilton that didn’t stack up.
As can be seen by the past dispute over fairness of doping case arbitrators, these hearings are far from impartial.
Hamilton’s case didn’t stand or fall on the so-called ‘chimera defence’ but he will be for ever a blood doper to the majority. Sadly, the Rock Racing rider will get a cold reception in Britain, with the cycle press attacking him from all quarters long before he arrives for the London start of the Tour of Britain.
That’s a full nine minutes of high-quality Tour de France footage, shot on IMAX cameras. The lo-res, shorter version has been watched 125,000 times on YouTube:
The footage is a series of rushes from ‘Brainpower’ that later turned into the IMAX movie ‘Wired to Win’. The rushes included footage of Tyler Hamilton, footage that was chopped from the final film. The movie started life as a semi biopic of Hamilton but was delayed a year when the then CSC rider was embroiled in the blood doping saga.
Quickrelease.tv reader ‘deekayed’ recently emailed with an anecdote about meeting Tyler Hamilton:
“After see ‘The best Tour De France footage ever shot’ from your sit, me and a group of friends that I ride with went to Philly’s Frankilin Institute Imax and watched ‘Wired to Win’. We were blown away.
“We all live in the Reading PA area and a week later the Commerce Bank Reading Classic came to town. Who do I end up having an extended conversation with but Tyler Hamilton. Before I knew it there were at least fifteen people with microphones standing behind me. Unfortunately then was the time that I said to him just what a shame all that time and expense was lost on ‘Brainpower’. It was as if I had asked how Tugboat was doing. His eyes filled with tears, he said nothing, put his head down and a few moments later rode away, speechless. As I turned around to make my own way there was all these stunned looking people with microphones who had no idea what just transpired but gave me the look of, you just killed his dog.”
Later today the Court of Arbitration for Sport will deliver its verdict in the Floyd Landis case [he lost]. Even if cleared [he wasn't], Landis will for ever be a doper to many [not to me]. That’s partly because the many don’t tend to read around the subject [I did, I know far more about spectrometers than I ever thought possible].
For those that do like to read around the subject the name of Dr Arnie Baker will be familiar. He’s a good friend of Floyd Landis and was shocked by the way his case was handled, especially the way the science was handled.
Last year he wrote a book about the affair, documenting the ‘wiki defense’. This has now been updated and ought to raise concerns from anybody who truly wants to root out drugs in sport.
“I showed, in roughly 60 scientific arguments, how the LNDD laboratory was sloppy and failed to meet basic scientific standards,” says Dr Baker in an email.
“I showed how the LNDD laboratory never even identified testosterone in Floyd’s urine according to minimum, established WADA standards.
“The CAS hearing has provided new, relevant, and significant information.”
This information has been placed in Baker’s revised book, available as a free download. There are more than 100 new pages.
Here’s Baker’s synopsis:
· There is evidence of scientific misconduct/malfeasance.
· Vanishing acts: Records have disappeared.
· Magical appearances: Documents appear to have been fabricated.
· False statements: USADA, its experts, and the lab appear to have repeatedly made false statements.
My opinion and belief is based on more than two dozen apparently fraudulent/fabricated documents and frankly-false statements.
I document the evidence, comparing the at-issue LNDD/USADA statement or document side-by-side with the proof of fraud, false, or self-contradictory statement.
They Botched the Test in the First Place
The report is so full of errors that other conclusions are impossible. Among dozens of examples:
· Sample numbers are wrong.
· The chain of custody is flawed.
· Quality control standards failed, and the failures were ignored.
· Files have been overwritten/erased.
They Never Even Identified Testosterone Properly
Two types of tests performed: The T/E (testosterone/epitestosterone) ratio test and the IRMS test.
· Testosterone peaks were not identified according to minimum standards in the T/E ratio test. The AAA panel threw out this test.
· Since the AAA hearing, the lab has admitted that it no Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or validation study for peak identification in the IRMS test.
Trust But Verify, the utterly excellent Floyd-Landis-is-probably-innocent blog, recently breached 1m views but, with no CAS appeal news likely until June or July, site owner Dave Brower says the postings will slow to a crawl.
‘Mr. TBV’ wrote:
“After all the words, we suspect darned few people have changed their minds about a lot of things since, oh, about mid-August 2006. That’s kind of sad, because a lot of information has become available — but it has mostly been used to reinforce positions that had been pretty well locked in place in an instant.”
He also hopes that “Those with eyes will have learned that the WADA system is not setup to ensure substantive due process” and that “statements by Alphabet-soup organizations will be taken with skepticism similar to that given denials by athletes.”
And he’s right. Whatever the rights and wrongs of cyclists who may or may not have doped, the Floyd Landis case opened a lot of people’s eyes - mine included - to the lynch-mob mentality and sometimes shoddy scientific method of the tax-funded anti-doping organisations.
As a confirmed non-scientist I now also know a little about isotopes and can also now recognise a mass spectrometer machine when I see one. I was in a French lab yesterday - not the infamous LNDD - and realised the cream machine in front of me was oddly familiar.
POUND: “I don’t pre-judge cases. I’m enough of a lawyer to know that there’s a process. What I do react to is when you get all kinds of shit attacking the methods and saying that the system is biased against athletes. All those sorts of things were coming out of the Landis camp. I don’t sit back and turn the other cheek again and again and again. I say they’re talking bullshit and here’s why.”
News of the weird: The top Google result for ‘dick virgins’ is Cyclingnews.com, with the rest not being quite so nice.
“Dick Pound IS a member of the CAS Court and has been for some time, including the time during which he was Chair of WADA.
“Richard Young [Outside counsel and lead attorney for USADA in the Landis case] is also a member of that court…CAS is hopelessly compromised.
“Their world is quite small. We have to accept their draftsmanship of rules, with their prosecution of cases they feel constitute a violation of rules they created and their judging of their own draftsmanship,decision to prosecute and application of ‘law’ they created to cases they deem a violation of those ‘laws’.
“Now we understand that they also and finally review their decisions as appellate judges of their own draftsmanship, prosecution, and application of their law to cases they prosecute as violations of that law.
“It is small wonder that Richard Young is so adamant about the ‘guilt’ of athletes he prosecutes to the point where he virtually testifies himself. He wrote the law. He knows the standards he wrote. He knows HIS laws and standards were violated.
“As judge, he would know much more about the subject matter than pesky things like presentation of evidence and cross examination and credibility of witnesses and impartial evaluation of science.
“[There's] actual conflict of interest inherent in this bizarre adjudicative system.”
We’ve just recorded another Spokesmen roundtable podcast. The Skype connection was crystal clear. It’ll be pumped out to iTunes and other podcatching software soon. Check on The Fredcast’s twitter updates for the actual second of publication.
Here’s a TV debate on the latest Tour de France debacle. This debate was shown on the France24 English-language news channel, Thursday 26th July.
Andrea Sanke, France24 Andreas Evagora, deputy head of news, Eurosport, Paris Philip Turle, journalist, Radio France 1 Carlton Reid, editor, BikeBiz.com& Quickrelease.tv Danny Nelissen, former Tour de France rider, Team Rabobank, now Eurosport’s Benelux commentator
This video can be placed on iPods via iTunes here, or as a direct .m4v download here.
189 riders started the race. A tiny - but prominent – few have had (leaked) Adverse Analytical Findings. One has admitted guilt, Moreni. Moron.
More may be doping, but have evaded tests.
None of this is good but I’m with UCI boss Pat McQuaid and the IOC* on this one: cycling is doing more than any other sport to cleanse itself of the cheaters but, de facto, that means there will be drugs busts. Going forward? You’d be mad to dope.
However, despite the fact there are clearly dopers in cycling it’s simply unfair to tar all with the same brush or to assume all the currently accused riders are guilty.
Now, they may be guilty as hell but what has happened to innocent until proven guilty? Heaven help him if Bradley Wiggins is ever (wrongly) accused of doping at some point in his career. He’s famously anti-drugs and has stated his unbending views on those he believes are cheaters, including Floyd Landis. However, in the current climate anybody can be accused of doping and it’s instant trial by media.
Labs can also make mistakes. They often do. ‘A’ tests in other sports tend not to be leaked and mistakes are withdrawn by the anti-doping authorities long before the AAF makes it into the public domain. In cycling, the merest sniff of controversy and you’re guilty, no chance of rescuing your reputation.
Fevered hacks, embedded on the Tour de France merry-go-round, are upset and wounded, I understand that, but whipping up the lynch mob does journalism no favours. Cycling is the loser, unfairly so.
The recent doping-related events at the Tour de France, whilst disturbing, indicate a painful, slow but nonetheless significant shift in attitude against those who choose to violate the rules in sporting competition. The revelations serve as a valuable reminder that the fight against doping in sport is a daily battle which must be fought in concert by the sports authorities, sports teams, athletes and coaches, and governments.
It is understandable that the incidents of the past days leave sports lovers feeling deceived. Despite this, it is important to recognise that an increase in exposure of those who are not playing by the rules – be that through increased testing or through other means of proving doping - is an important signal that increased efforts in the fight against doping do have an impact.
Read the rest of "Dirty stinkin’ rats? Guilty until proven innocent?"...
More than a million people watched the London-Canterbury stage live on Britain’s ITV1. And as this year’s Tour is the most open and exciting for years, TV audiences across the world are up (apart from in Kazakhstan…)
When the Tour rolled out from the centre of London, 480,000 people were estimated to be tuned in via ITV1, 7.4 per cent of the total UK audience. By the end of the stage, 1m people were watching, 8.95 per cent of the audience.
However, when the Tour moved to France and the coverage in Britain switched to ITV4, available only via cable and set-top boxes, the audience, understandably, dropped. On Tuesday 10th July the audience was 329, 000, a 2.2 percent share. Nevertheless, this is high for ITV4.
Across the world, year-on-year audiences for the Grand Boucle have risen. The Danish national cycling squad may have kicked him out for not alerting dope docs to his whereabouts but Michael Rasmussen is popular with his home crowd. Danish channel TV2 reported viewer numbers are up by 40 percent. A massive 80 per cent of the Danish population watched Rasmussen pull on his first yellow jersey.
Spain’s Television Espanola said audiences were up by 11 per cent in the first half of the race and this is now likely to be higher as the race powers through the Pyrenees, close to the Spanish border.
The core audience in France rose 6 per cent, said TV station France 2. Plus, new for this year, the lucky French get to watch their national Tour in high-definition…if they have HD-TVs of course. Apparently, you could see every hair on that now-famous Golden Labrador…
RAI TV of Italy reports that an average of 1.2 million people saw the ninth stage in the Alps.
In the US, the Versus channel reports that viewer impressions are up 5 per cent to an average 219,779 homes over the first half of the race. Tiny compared to the Armstrong years, but with no American in contention for the top spot this is to be expected.
German TV stations ARD and ZDF controversially pulled the plug on their Tour coverage on the first sighting of an AAF - Adverse Analytical Finding – but up to that point the TV audience had been steady at 1.4 million. SAT1, a German satellite TV company, picked up the pieces but most Germans will have tuned in to the Eurosport to get their Tour fix.
It’s worth pointing out that the AAF reported for Patrik Sinkewitz of T-Mobile was leaked after the A test when it shouldn’t have been revealed before a confirmatory B test. The test was carried out in a training camp six weeks ago. Why was it leaked when it was? There are certainly echoes of the errors and leaks made last year in the case of 2006 winner Floyd Landis. If only execs at drug testing labs and cycling federations also had to lose a year’s salary for their transgressions…
Phil Liggett’s pre-Tour predictions:
Fabian Cancellara winning Stage 3 (with breathless commentary from Liggett and Sherwin):
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