Astana’s exclusion from ASO events has resulted in an unsurprising backlash in opinion against ASO’s policies, or perhaps more accurately, it’s lack of them. It has also resulted in one rather surprising reaction. Levi Leipheimer’s www.letleviride.com is taking a novel approach to race selection: coercion.
Based on the theory that public support for the top American rider in the pro peloton can sway the organizers of the Tour de France into changing its team selections, Let Levi Ride supposes that support for one rider can overcome the disdain ASO feels for an entire team.
Coercion, of course, isn’t new to the pro peloton. David Walsh theorized that among dopers there are the draggers and the dragged. His need to find a culprit, a bad guy, on which to pin blame for the evil of doping is simpleminded. Not a single interview with a rider who has confessed to doping has ever turned up a bully who said, “Take this, or else.” However, many riders have copped to the belief that doping was so rampant that unless they took EPO, they would wind up unemployed.
It was this fear of unemployment that moved the majority of the peloton from occasional steroid, amphetamine and caffeine usage to rampant EPO use. The coercion riders felt was powerful enough to overcome the resistance of even some of the most ardently anti-drug cyclists.
Is it possible that Levi’s ploy could work? Could an outpouring of support from Americans for one American rider cause ASO—an organization pathologically opposed to further embarrassment—to rethink its exclusion of the architect of the last eight Tour de France victories? It doesn’t seem likely and any attempt to force the French hand seems likely to result in further outrage on the part of Tour organizers, let alone the French national psyche.
Americans’ outrage over Astana’s exclusion seems myopic to Europeans. Mistrust for Bryneel and Contador is so widespread as to be the starting point for all attitudes toward the pair. And in a land where a sacrifice of the rights of an individual in the quest for the greater good is seen as both fair and logical, the loss of one over-the-hill rider’s shot at not winning the Tour de France yet again isn’t considered tragic.
Coercion will change things in cycling once more. Each clean rider who misses a ride in an important race, or is sent home following a teammate’s non-negative result (as the riders from Cofidis were in last year’s Tour) is going to get pissed off. Is there an anger greater than that of the unjustly persecuted man?
And so the threat has changed for the pro peloton. With sponsors departing the sport, the threat now is that a rider could wind up unemployed not because he wasn’t fast enough, but because of his teammate’s misdeeds. The need for a real brotherhood among riders has never been higher. Men may go crazy one by one, but the road back to salvation can only be found in a community.
Astana is out of the Tour de France. No sooner than High Road was refused entry to the Giro, RCS reconsidered and gave the team a spot. And Operation Puerto has been reopened. Even Hollywood blockbusters don’t have this many twists of plot.
There can be little doubt that ASO and RCS want drugs out of cycling. And frankly, if it’s what ASO and RCS wants, then that is where the sport will go; the small race organizers don’t have much influence for good or ill.
Here’s what’s so fascinating about Europe: The complete lack of rationality in the administration of justice. Last year at the Tour (as if you don’t remember) Astana wasn’t the only embarrassment. Certainly Cofidis and T-Mobile brought some amount of embarrassment to the event courtesy Christian Moreni and Patrick Sinkewitz. But can anything in the entire 2007 season compare to Michael Rasmussen being fired from Rabobank?
So how is it that Rabobank will be at Paris-Nice and, ergo, the Tour de France? ASO clearly deserves the right to restrict invitations to only those teams that meet its standards. When asked about Rabobank, Patrice Clerc responded that the problems with Rabobank were limited to one rider and a director: Michael Rasmussen and Theo de Rooy, respectively, and not with the sponsor. Similarly, the problems at Astana could be said to be limited to a director, Mark Biver, and two riders, Alexander Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin. Umm, so how are they different again?
To be fair, the French are suspicious of Johan Bruyneel the way cats are suspicious of dogs. He’s the only team director with more than five victories to his name and the fact that he replicated his previous success with Armstrong with the second youngest Tour winner ever give them ample reason to worry that Contador could stand on the podium until his 33rd birthday—another nine years. ASO’s exclusion of Astana is as much about Bruyneel as it is Vinokourov et al.
Is refusing entry to Astana supportable? Maybe. But the only way it can seem a remotely just decision is if Rabobank is refused entry as well.
The problem with ASO’s inconsistent selection process is that it makes their choices seem arbitrary. If we were discussing rock musicians or starlets, irrational would be a selling point, but when it’s a corporation organizing the largest annual sporting event it’s a little scary.
The worst part is the irony. The stain on cycling caused by doping has tarnished the Tour, though not irreparably. However, if ASO uses arbitrary criteria to exclude teams, or applies objective criteria inconsistently, their disrespect for clean riders will cause a new problem that doping control can’t solve. There is no stain like crazy.
Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.
When Basque rider Iban Mayo of the Saunier Duval team tested positive during the Tour de France for EPO, hardly anyone was surprised. Those who follow professional cycling took the single non-negative test result of Mayo’s A sample as yet another example of how cycling had distinguished itself as the most corrupt of sports.
According to a release by the Spanish Cycling Federation issued Monday, Mayo has been cleared, thanks to a negative test result of Mayo’s B sample. Testing was performed on his B sample at a laboratory in Belgium and the results reviewed in Australia, neither of which confirmed the initial positive test.
WADA’s own rules indicate that should have been the end of the story, more or less. BKW spoke to a doping expert who requested anonymity for this story; he said it was curious the lab in Gent, Belgium, was chosen to test the B sample. According to the expert, the lab in Belgium isn’t particularly competent to perform EPO testing. On the other hand, he said that while the Paris lab’s IRMS group is “atrocious,” their EPO and blood group is “quite good.” Remember, the doctor who helped to formulate the EPO urine test is based at this lab.
According to our source, any result from testing the B sample that does not confirm the non-negative A sample is ordinarily considered a negative test, and the end of the case. It is not unheard of to test the sample further, but the case is closed once any result other than positive is returned, and we are told that judging an EPO test is very simple, that the results are very “cut and dry.” So when the UCI’s Anne Gripper said that “Mayo’s B sample wasn’t negative, it was inconclusive,” the testing community would ordinarily judge such an outcome negative, the end of the case. For further testing to take place, the UCI must allege something extraordinary took place, say, incompetence at the Gent lab. Gripper has indicated a willingness to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Mayo’s situation is exactly the converse of the Landis case. If all lab work was performed properly, Mayo is innocent of doping. If, however, the A test was properly administered and the B test alone botched, Mayo could conceivably have doped and still be acquitted. Gripper has indicated she believes the case is worth pursuing. But for this case to go forward, it appears that the UCI will have to accuse a WADA lab of shoddy work.
The question is: Why would they be willing to risk such a self-indictment? Pursuing such a case seems a lose-lose for the UCI. If they won the case against Mayo, it would undermine the case against Landis by demonstrating faulty lab work. And if the UCI lost the case against Mayo, their professed doubt of a WADA lab would certainly fuel the Landis defense team’s contention that the labs do not perform without flaw.
Photo courtesy: Saunier Duval-Prodir Pro Cycling Team
Had Floyd Landis’ arbitration been handled by the American judicial system, the 2006 winner of the Tour de France would have red hair. Put another way, were logic the overriding principle used for deciding the arbitration outcome, the matter would be settled once and for all. Unfortunately, the arbitrators managed to set aside their own concerns and find in favor of USADA.
In the American court system, material found in an illegal search is disallowed in court proceedings. So if the basis of a search is found to be logically flawed, the search is thrown out. The arbitrators struck down the initial adverse T/E result, saying it DID NOT meet the requirement for a positive test.
That bears repeating. In the initial test that started this process, the arbitrators found that Floyd Landis did not test positive. Logically, if the initial test was not positive, there should not be grounds for the flawed IRMS test that USADA claims shows Landis used exogenous testosterone.
Equally disturbing is the arbitrators’ threat that if similar procedural errors such as those that were demonstrated during the Landis hearing were to continue, they might dismiss such a case. “The Panel finds that the practises of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes.” That is the most serious indictment of the testing process ever offered by a sympathetic party. And yet, the majority wrote, “If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal” of the case against the athlete.
Hello? How could errors dismissed in this case be considered substantive enough to derail a case in the future? The fix is in. The arbitrators have effectively said, “Okay, we’ll let you slide this time, but don’t embarrass us or yourselves again.” It is further demonstration that this process has been a kangaroo court meant to satisfy a political agenda rather than a judicial process meant to uncover the truth. No reasonable person can come to the conclusion that justice has been served if substandard lab work can result in two different findings on two different days. That’s not justice, that’s mercy; only mercy isn’t generally granted to the prosecution.
If LNDD’s (Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage / National Anti-doping Laboratory) work ethic will be deemed unacceptable in the future, then it is unacceptable today. And if it is unacceptable today, then a miscarriage of justice has been served.
One cannot be surprised that the arbitrator chosen by Landis’ team, Christopher Campbell, found in favor of Landis. He was supposed to be sympathetic. However, strenuous dissent deserves the light of day. Campbell wrote: “The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent.” He went on to point out a larger problem of competence: “If the LNDD couldn’t get the T-E ratio test right, how can a person have any confidence that LNDD got the much more complicated IRMS test correct?”
Here’s the scary part. This process shows that labs are allowed to execute the shoddiest of work in order to get some sort of positive test. Once they achieve that result, they can then begin a fishing expedition employing all means necessary (including character assassination) in order to prove their case.
One last question: Would you want to be a pro cyclist right now?
Photo courtesy: msnbc