US Postal / Armstrong / USADA Investigation: My Thoughts

Some folks have been quite surprised with the allegations against Lance Armstrong (and subsequently many others close to him) this summer.  But for those of us who have been listening to the skeptics for the past seven years weren’t too surprised.  In fact, most of this story has been public knowledge for quite some time.

Brief history:

Back in 2005, Le Equipe published its story “The Armstrong Lie”.  Their investigation centered around a scientific study to validate the new EPO test.  The study used individually coded (anonymous) B-samples from the 1999 Tour.  12 samples were positive.  The paper was able to match the codes for six of the sample to Lance Armstrong, using documents leaked from the UCI.

Obviously, this article was far from ‘proof’: The chain of custody was loose, there were no additional samples to test, and all the evidence was centered around leaked documents to match the sample codes.  But for the skeptics, it was the first evidence of rumors they’d heard for quite some time.

In 2006 the New York Times ran a story where Frankie Andreu admitted EPO use in the 1999 tour.  A second anonymous teammate (we now know to be Jonathan Vaughters), also came clean in this story.  The momentum only built with Floyd Landis’ 2010 leaked email to the CEO of USA Cycling detailing the team’s drug use, and Tyler Hamilton’s interview on 60 minutes in 2011.

A little about me:

Google News Badges

First, a window into my personality: I like to try to understand the position from people on both sides of issues.  I read most of my national/international news on Google News, which tracks the articles I read.  As a political liberal, for the most part I understand the liberal position on things, so I spend most of my time reading the opposing view.  I also love a good conspiracy theory and have spent time reading about 9/11 hoaxes and the Illuminati/New World Order. (Not that I believe in those any more than political conservatism :) )

So I’ve been following this story for quite some time but I haven’t always been a cynical skeptic.  I read Its not About the Bike when I was in high school.  I drooled over USPS carbon Trek bikes.  I was excited for Lance’s comeback, following him on twitter and watching videos of him out training with Allen Lim, even as I read articles about his links to doping.

The tides turn:

I think this will probably happen for everyone at some point, when it comes to Lance Armstrong.  How could anyone in 1999 not be captivated by his story?  But now, with all the evidence showing that he used drugs to win, how could anyone have the same view of things?

For me, it was the realization of the prevalence of EPO use.  I’ve referenced a few times, which shows blood profiles of cyclists changing in response to the introduction of testing methods.  Keep in mind, there was no test for EPO in 1999.  With such an effective way to improve performance and a relatively supportive culture of use, it isn’t surprising that many used it.

How you feel about this is up to you.  Does prevalence of cheating make it acceptable on any level?  Does each rider’s feelings about the situation change your view on an individual basis? (Compare Lance’s complete denial with Landis’ open book confession with Danielson’s matter of fact ‘Necessary to compete’ with Zabriskie’s gut wrenching affidavit).  Obviously, not everyone used EPO simply because there was no test for it.  But I do think that individual rider’s personal feelings about doping are clear from their affidavits.

The truth/facts:

I think many opinons are fair, ranging from “He did a lot for cancer, everyone was doing it, and it was a long time ago” to “Anyone that doped and lied should be gone for good”, but what I really can’t stand are people that don’t understand the facts.  I’m going to do my part to put a few things straight:

“Its a kangaroo court!  This is America! Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law!”

All doping cases are handled the same way, through USADA, USAC, and the UCI.  In America, doping isn’t really against the law, so it must be done outside the courts.  There is a system of court like arbitration that is designed to be as fair as possible to resolve doping cases (of which there are many).  Many athletes have been found guilty of perjury for lying under oath (Marion Jones, Barry Bonds), which I believe is why so many riders gave their stories for this investigation.

Never tested positive!”

Neither have any of the other riders (with the exception of Landis) who gave affidavits in this investigation stating they have used EPO, testosterone, cortisone, and other detectible drugs. Obviously not testing positive is not equivalent to not doping.

They hang Lance and everyone else is off the hook!”

Travis Tygart (head of USADA), said “Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution.”  He potentially could have testified like everyone else and received a reduced ban for cooperating.

The Federal Investigation was closed!”

The FDA investigation was focused on determining if any federal laws were broken.   Doping itself isn’t a federal crime.  The federal investigation was focused on the USPS contract, drug trafficking, and was also subject to different standards of evidence and statutes of limitations than the anti-doping investigation.

What the cynics say now:

I’m still keeping tabs on the cynics and skeptics.  Even today with a 365/24/7 whereabouts system, riders still cannot be tested between 10pm and 6am.  This is enough time for a small dose (micro-dose) of EPO to clear the system by morning.  Perhaps the Bio-passport system of monitoring blood values over time is helping, but there are additional methods of manipulating blood profiles.  Riders can still microdose EPO, mask new blood cells with re-infusion of stored blood, dilute abnormally high red blood cells with saline, drink copious water to dilute urine samples, among other techniques.  HGH is also only detectible for as little as 8 hours.

However, I do believe that things have changed for the better.  The culture in the sport appears greatly changed against doping.  This was also said in 1999 after Festina, and in the mid-2000′s after the development of the EPO test, when doping was still clearly prevalent, but the cultural tide seem to be continuously turning against doping.  Also, the methods available today result in much smaller gains than years ago.

Various reports put gains from EPO use at about 10%, easily enough to turn a Domestic pro into a World Class competitor.  But the cynics say that 500mL of infused blood, a micro-dose of EPO to increase reticulocytes, and 500mL of saline to mask increased Hgb/Hct is undetectable by current methods and would result in a few percent performance improvement, still enough to effect the outcome of a race.

Read for yourself:

– Click Appendices and Supporting Materials
(Here is an armchair quarterback’s of the redacted names from The Clinic forum at Cyclingnews)

– Academic discussion of athletic performance and doping.

on Twitter – Hardcore, biased cynicism

– This blog deserves an entire paragraph: This is the ultimate cynic / conspiracy theorist site.  I’d assume the blog’s author, captaintbag, writes nearly unintelligibly (no punctuation or capitalization, phonetic spelling) to obscure their identity.  Look beyond the profane and childish writing style, and you’ll see detailed analysis of publicly available data on blood profiles and doping techniques.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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3 Responses to US Postal / Armstrong / USADA Investigation: My Thoughts

  1. bgddyjim says:

    The question I have is where can I get some of that EPO stuff… I’ve got some guys on my Tuesday night club ride that I’d like to leave gasping next year… ;)

  2. Ryan says:

    Wow. For the $, we should all switch to running!

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