Wednesday, November 22, 2006

LeMond on doping

Greg LeMond's on-bike career was famously shortened by accidental gunshot wounds sustained whilst hunting. However it wasn't just the shotgun pellets that he still carries in his body that foreshortened his racing career. He has also spoken openly about that period in the peleton when guys who he previously had more than the measure of suddenly flew past, as if they no longer felt their pedals. By which he means to say he rode through that transition period, when EPO was just coming into vogue. He saw - or assumed he saw - how it boosted a rider's abilities far beyond 'normal' and how easily influenced some riders were to indulge in the practice. He's a strong supporter of WADA and a critic of what he has seen to be lax action by the UCI. Cyclingnews has a report on his recent speech to a WADA board meeting. Whilst LeMond has not made many friends from some of his comments, as time goes on and the doping scandals continue there's more than a hint that Greg may not be as embittered or extreme in his views as some may suppose. Although he has (reportedly) said some pretty extreme things in the recent past!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

World Cup results

Good result for NSW and Central Coast rider Phil Thuaux in the IP at the World Cup track meet in Sydney:
Men's Individual pursuit final

3-4 final
1 Phil Thuaux (Australia) 4.28.234 (53.684 km/h)
Jens Mouris (Netherlands) 4.30.655 (53.204 km/h)

Can't beat Anna Meares and her new 500m WR though, can you?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Catchup on some news

Where do I start? CN has reported that Tyler Hamilton has signed (maybe at Tinkoff?) and expects to race in 2007. CN also reports that Riis has laid down the law on doing at CSC. And it's been widely reported that Aussie rider and stair-climber Paul Crake has broken some vertebrae in NZ. And the FRF boys are racing in Hainan with Josh Marden taking a stage. Did I mention Basso went to Discovery?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ullrich back in training, Armstrong case dropped

Cyclingnews has reported that Jan Ullrich is back in training. He has no licence to race - having given his Swiss licence back. The Swiss don't want to proceed with his case and have suggested that the Spanish cycling body, if anyone, should take it up. After all, they started it. It remains that Ullrich has no positive result against his name, just the allegation of involvement backed up by alleged documentation about transactions and third-party conversations implicating him in the practice of doping. Jan has stated firmly that he is innocent.

Basso of course has been cleared and has no current charge to answer, but is out of CSC anyway, by mutual agreement. Again, no positive result but a seeming taint on his name. I think the Spanish case rested on the name of Basso's dog, didn't it? He may race with a non-ProTour team to avoid ... well to avoid complications. He again is emphatic about his innocence.

CN also reports that the Armstrong case has been dropped. That was the French case built on allegations made in the book LA Confidentiel, les secrets de Lance Armstrong, co-written by sportswriter David Walsh and former L'Equipe cycling writer Pierre Ballester. Insufficient evidence, apparently. The book sold well, though.

Pez reports that David Millar and his old Cofidis teammates are attending a French court with regard to the Cofidis doping scandal of a few years back. The judge has telegraphed that he considers the riders to be the victims as much as perpetrators. It's EPO related and hinges on a physio's evidence.

I could go on... and on. What to make of it? Well overall we have the seemingly 'factual' positives of Landis and Hamilton et al balanced against the implications of suggestions by various witnesses, in some cases backed up by documentation and other evidence of varying degrees of verifiability. Whilst we can (perhaps!) more easily accept the positive findings of labs - even when we can't understand why Landis (for example) would have used such an inappropriate substance - it's even harder to stomach these seemingly vague as yet untested allegations that have put riders and their careers on hold.

Let's not forget that Basso, Ullrich and all of the riders that remain tainted by the as yet unproven pre-Tour allegations have had their careers either put on hold or their earning power seriously diminished. I wouldn't like that to happen to me in my working life - it's unfair and inequitable for starters. The quicker it's resolved the better - but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

DNA testing for cyclists - and other athletes

OK, we know (or it's been reported) that Bettini doesn't like the idea and that Valverde is against it. Cunego says wait and close Operacion Puerto first, whilst saying it's a delicate issue. But the UCI is likely to press on anyway. It's DNA testing folks.

Why do it, anyway? Why attempt (they can say no and face the consequences, apparently) to get DNA samples from every pro rider? From where I sit the DNA samples constitute - firstly - a better way to label samples, so we get one step away from allegations of tampered-with samples, altered labels, switched samples and simple mistakes. Of course it's not foolproof but it's better than what we have (so goes the argument).

Secondly - assuming we get appropriate samples, ie including mitochondrial DNA - it gives us the opportunity to monitor the genetic performance enhancement that is bound to come - sooner rather than later.

This has got to be a step forward for fairness and correctness in process, surely? So why would an athlete say no?
  • Firstly, privacy. It's their DNA after all and it remains a very personal 'invasion' in many minds. It's the map of your genetic heritage for starters. It's like handing over your passport, your tax files and the password to your email accounts plus your entire family tree. To a body you may not entirely trust. You don't do it at the drop of a hat, do you?
  • Secondly, fear of another sort of 'labelling'. Criminals are asked for DNA samples, not the general public. So in some people's minds it is tantamount to saying that the althlete is already guilty - or very likely to be.
  • Thirdly, mistrust of 'the system'. Arguably neither the UCI nor WADA have shown themselves to be on the side of professional cyclists. If your livelihood was at stake, would you blithely agree to whatever was asked? Given the doubts raised about false positive testing, unless and until such doubts are erased - and trust rebuilt - we are only adding another potential flaw to a flawed system. Worse, DNA 'confirmation' of a positive test, when in fact the DNA test may at best only 'prove' the existence of a certain DNA signature, may lend weight to what could in fact be a false positive. It looks and sounds very scientific, so it may persuade some to believe more readily of the "guilt" of those tested.
  • Lastly - although I'm sure we'll think of more reasons with the passage of time - they (the athletes) may actually have something to hide.

So what could we do to assuage some fears and remove the doubts?

Perhaps we need to distance the DNA testing -if not all testing - from the UCI itself and place the responsibility of taking and securely keeping all DNA sampling with a new trusted 3rd party. Whatever form that body may take it can't be allied with the UCI, WADA or any of the labs that do the testing. It needs to be a neutral body and clearly seen to be be so.

We also need to do some effective communication, not just with the riders or athletes in other sports but with the community in general. And get the heat out of the situation. And build trust between all parties. Which may mean no more grandstanding by politicians or frenzied over-reaction by the press. It may also mean that protocols are religiously followed by all parties - with no "leaks", no shortcuts in the system that muddy the waters with unnecessary side issues of unfair treatment.

Hmmmm. Sounds like a tall order to me. Do we have the resolve to do it?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Drugs in cycling - Landis et al

It just seems to go on an on, this business of drugs in sport. As I've said before, I feel for Floyd Landis as he had reached his goal only to have it snatched away moments later. I felt similar - but angrier - about Marco Pantani when he was cruelly robbed of the Giro on the last stage (let alone how I felt when 'the accusers' finally did him in; whatever the truth of the matter, he clearly felt persecuted). And I feel sympathy for all who stand accused of drug cheating. Yet my sympathy is balanced by a recognition that the law is the law and that we must play by all of the rules, not just some of them.

So when I exceed the speed limit in my car - something I rarely do by the way as it raises the accident risk exponentially (and if you think otherwise you are not thinking it through) - I recognise that I am breaking a law and may be punished for my actions. Rule of law aside, it's also unfair to the community; to risk those around me by my self-motivated actions alone. And it's unfair to simply pass the drivers who are not speeding as it is the vehicular equivalent of 'queue-jumping'. Why would you think it's OK to queue-jump in a car? No matter how you look at it, it's cheating the system and putting everyone else down. You could take an economist's view and say that you are prepared to wear the marginal economic cost of the speeding ticket in order to achieve some competitive advantage, but only a small percentage of speeders are caught, so the marginal cost is inequitably applied. Which is to say it's an imperfect market and - alas - simply cheating again.

Similarly if we do take our chances and take performance enhancing drugs we are not just breaking the law but putting others in jeopardy (by modelling poor behaviour to young riders) and taking an unfair advantage over those who respect 'the law'. It becomes an ethical question. Do I behave ethically and fairly to all, or do I act alone to take an advantage over others?

None of which helps us decide any of the outstanding cases. If we are to have a controlled situation then we need to control every participant equally and fairly. It means taking blood and perhaps tissue samples from everyone and keeping them throughout our careers - amateur as well as pro. It may mean taking a DNA sample as a signature by which we can verify exactly whose sample we are testing. Indeed, given the possibilities of genetic performance manipulation a DNA sample will become essential in the near future. If we don't do that then we risk the current farce continuing - or escalating - despite what others may argue. Not just in cycling but in every sport. The alternative? Let the whole issue drop and change the rules to embrace the cheats.

More of my drug-related ramblings here. (Drug-related but not drug-induced, though.)