Tour de France winner Floyd Landis accused of testosterone doping. Here we go again.

I’ve been reading the news about this all day. The director of the Tour says he is “Surprised and angry.” So am I, but for very different reasons. French jurisprudence has a distinctly ambivalent quality about it: If you’re one of a gaggle of French (oh, let’s be kind) photographers who just happen to be in a high-speed chase of the Princess of Wales’ car when it crashes into a concrete abutment, killing her, you’re probably in the clear after a slap on the hand. If you’re even a French cyclist such as Richard Virenque (who is a gifted cyclist—this is not character assassination), busted in the dirtiest doping affair known to the sport, you can still return to be a national hero.

If you’re Lance Armstrong, and your wife is in labor, and you’re rushing out the door to the hospital when the Random Drug Check Squad arrives (off-season even), you’d better make time to fill up a specimen cup and fill out the paperwork, like it or not. And still you will be judged and pilloried for the slightest appearance of wrongdoing, not just by the foreign fans, but by the French tabloids media and even the honorable director of the tour and members of the World Anti-Doping Agency themselves.

What a slap in the face it must be, after Armstrong departed the sport to the cheers of France’s L’Equipe newspaper, which published, “Never has an athlete’s retirement been so welcome,” that yet another American has won the race, and further that the top Frenchmen were 7th place Cyril Dessel, and the talented Christophe Moreau in 8th.

A few bits of background are in order. First, each tested rider (the stage winner, the overall leader, and two random cyclists per race day) always gives two samples, A and B. The A samples are tested after each stage, and if a positive result is found a rider has the right to request a test on the B sample in case sample A was somehow tainted or mishandled. Second, the French laboratory where all these tests are performed is Chatenay-Malabry, which is closely linked to the French paper L’Equipe, both of which have had their share of ethical missteps on the subject of doping, American doping in particular, and, to my knowledge, have have yet to retract their baseless accusations in the face of lawful findings. These are the same lab and newspaper that started the libelous “The Armstrong Lie” story after last year’s tour. Anyone see a pattern here?

So, as in the last case with Lance, when Jean-Marie Leblanc immediately labeled Lance a cheat, another official, this time UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani, has stated (in a divergence from WADA B-sample regulations) that “We are confident in the first [test]. For us, the first one is already good.” In other words: Guilty. Even the WADA chairman himself, Dick Pound, an avowed enemy of Lance Armstrong (who never tested positive), has said “a huge black mark” would remain on the sport, regardless of the backup test result. Again: Guilty! I’m sorry sir, but to my thinking, the Huge Black Mark here is the summary judgments that you, Mr. Carpani, L’Equipe, and former Tour Director M. Leblanc have been so quick and so willing to publicly hand down. Doping must be excised as a factor in all sport, but when did you all get into the judge, jury and executioner business? What if Mr. Landis’ other approved prescriptions might have skewed the test? What if the sample was tampered with? What if it’s just plain wrong (more detail on that in “Read the rest of this post“)? Would that be a concern for you, or is it just easier to ruin careers from your lofty positions?

It gets worse. At this point, to my knowledge, Landis has contacted only one journalist, someone he seemed to think he could trust, because the man talked to Floyd on the day of his miraculous performance: Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy. Here’s his piece on the discussion. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait. Then click “Read the rest of this post.”

My immediate take is that Austin Murphy is no friend of Floyd Landis. Further, Mr. Murphy wasted a whole article writing about his own feelings, journalistic responsibilities be damned. He’s too chicken to say it directly, but he thinks you did it, Floyd, and worse, he feels more sorry for himself than you. Now that’s what I call a self-involved SOB. And he’s not going to waste any ink trying to convince anyone of your side of the story.

I guess we will not know the true story for a long time, if ever. The latest twist I know of is John Eustice, interviewed on ESPN, claiming Floyd’s test may be a false positive because it measures the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, and not the amount of testosterone simply by itself. For example, if Landis’ epi levels were low, it would still result in an failed test. If so, Not Guilty. Think it’ll get any play with the French authorities? Non. Not too long ago, the failure threshold was 6:1, and not 4:1 as it is today, and even when it was higher, some cyclists (like Santiago Botero) lost precious time out of their careers proving that their bodies naturally produced those levels of testosterone. Maybe the change to 4:1 was premature? Impossible. The current test used by the French is archaic compared to the CIR, or Carbon Isotope Ratio analysis test. Think we’ll see any independent evidence from that test? Pourquoi?

Fans, Writers and Editors at L’Equipe, and especially the officials who are charged with cleaning up the sport of cycling: If you want to get a dirty cyclist out of the sport, get the facts straight. For once. Whatever personal vendettas you may harbor with cyclists you’re sure are dirty, work within the system. Consider that your inability to clean up cycling may be due, at least in part, to your own methods, and the shoot-from-the-hip judgments you routinely make in the public eye. And, in the same way you demand cyclists come forward and openly admit their guilt, I challenge you to step up and take responsibility when you yourselves are on the wrong side of The Truth. You might just appear less like hypocrites. Oh, and here’s another idea: if you have any more evidence than hearsay and suspicion, don’t wait for Jan Ullrich to show up, dressed for the race. Have the decency to ruin people without the cameras present. If all you have is hearsay and suspicion, keep your mouths shut until you know. This whole Operacion Puerto was known weeks ahead of time, and (again, to my knowledge) Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich merely had a professional relationship to a doctor who was under investigation. For this, you wait until the eve of the tour, and give them the boot, without proving or even asserting their guilt? What is the matter with you people?

My suggestion is to hand the whole testing issue to a third party who is above suspicion. Scientists, not politicians, marketers, or people otherwise concerned about the public perception of the Tour. Perhaps from several countries, perhaps from a neutral country. Spend the money to have to best available tests performed. Always have the samples under the direct supervision of these scientists, and parties above reproach, so that there can never be any more suspicion about the propriety of the testing. When an athlete fails a test, make sure the test was not at fault or in some way affected by unforeseen factors before pronouncing judgement. And then, when the truth is known, suspend the athlete for life. I’m not kidding this has to end, and not just in cycling. American baseball is a pathetic joke, for instance. But you must let the facts, the real facts (and not M. Leblanc’s opinion of what “a scientific fact” is) speak for themselves.

Bicycling magazine is quoting two MDs tonight with some additional thoughts:

    Dr. Conrad Earnest – It’s physically impossible, even with doping or masking methods, to read “Low, low, low, low, low, HIGH, low, low, low” for T/E ratios over a course of days and be guilty of a patch, a cream, or an injection… We can assume Floyd was tested daily, by the UCI as well as Phonak’s own doctors (can’t trust the NGB – see TH). Floyd would have had to have shown at least two or three values above the threshold for two or three days for more questions to arise. He’s only allegedly tested positive for one sample on one day…

    Dr. Ben Levine, MD – Dick Pound is NOT the person to be leading the charge against doping in this or any sport. Granted, it’s a thankless job, but going on NPR to announce your disappointment in a rider without all the facts (ed. think Hamilton), is another example of several ethical lapses for which he is guilty. Testosterone application on THAT stage would have been pointless, so the rider and his consultants need to point out the trend and highlight any spike or dip-anomalies.

Finally, word from a few sane folks at ESPN, who point out that the timing, and the length of time it takes for testosterone to aid performance isn’t a single day.

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2 Comments on “Tour de France winner Floyd Landis accused of testosterone doping. Here we go again.”

  1. […] was just cleared of doping allegations, because there was no consensus between her two samples. And like Floyd Landis, Jones’ positive A test was publicly announced before confirmation with a B test, thus […]

  2. […] What happens next is anyone’s guess. I wish Floyd, his family, and his defense team all the best. In a perfect world, not only would he be found innocent, but the rule-bending officials in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cyclist’s Union (UCI) would be removed and replaced with people able to do the job, people without an agenda. The people currently in these positions, like Dick Pound and Enrico Carpani, perhaps through good intentions, have nonetheless nearly ruined the public’s image of cycling. In a perfect world, Tour officials would apologize for their quick-to-judge statements, and proclaim Floyd the true winner of the 2006 Tour de France. […]

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