Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Positively Positive?

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

13 comments:

crank said...

Excellent analysis.

snood said...

That is not true. EPO test is often fuzzy. Same thing happened for Roberto Heras. Robertos second sample was tested two times because one was fuzzy. Roberto was banned for two years.

Tarik Saleh said...

Excellent post,

That saves me from writing a much shoddier post about this myself.

What astounds me is that the UCI thinks it is OK to continue to test a sample to get the "correct" answer. This cuts to the fundamental problem with cycling dope testing. It is not impartial and it seems that there is no plan by the UCI to even attempt to maintain a facade of impartiality.

That they are willing to go ahead and announce that they are going to continue testing to see if they can overturn the negative is mind blowing.

The right answer is for the UCI to declare the Mayo test a negative, reinstate him and then go and figure out how and why and if their testing system failed them. And then fix the problem.

The UCI must be willing to accept that it is better to let some guilty riders go than:
a. convict innocent ones
b. ruin all their credibility by changing the rules as they go along.

This has been a persistent problem in the realm of antidoping in sport. At this point no one should give a shit whether Zabel doped in 96 or if Lance doped in in 2000, they should be spending their efforts in making sure their system is fundamentally flawless so riders like Hamilton, Landis, Heras or Mayo can be quickly banned without lengthy trials that expose legitimate uncertainties in the process.

Anyhoo, like I says, good post.

Thanks

Tarik

blue squirrel said...

good points BKW and tarik,

riders have doped in cycling for years, the UCI looked the other way for years, now that same system is trying to combat doping [cheating], than we all wonder why it is not working. how difficult is it to too write a solid, clear, simple set of rules [laws] and than operate by those procedures?

Anonymous said...

what magazine is this from?

Padraig said...

Anon--While our photographs come from a variety of sources, we are pleased to say all of our written content is original to BKW.

Art said...

We can draw one of two equally horrifying conclusions from this. Either the French lab was using a "turn the knob until it looks positive" protocol and the Belgian lab is calling them out on it, or the French lab did everything right and the Belgians can't identify a legitimate positive under any conditions. Both cases point towards every test result, positive or negative, possibly lying somewhere between suspect and outright fraudulent. Making a public statement like this certainly isn't doing much for an organization whose relevance is already in question.

Matt said...

Agree - Freddy this is you best piece yet. Great analysis.

ZENmud productions said...

Hi Padraing,

I've posted several items at WADAwatch.blogspot.com on this, mostly confirming your take on it.

But I think this is the first time *UCI* itself, is reversing itself, and my opinion comes from the words of Anne Gripper herself. I don't think she knows what rules she's operating a multi-million CHf budget with.

ISLab specifically states "... should be ...30 days ... must be same lab" and then... LNDD (now 'département des analyses' under AFLD) goes "on vacation"???

I think they took a STRIKE against UCI, refusing to do the lab-work they were previously paid for!

Send a couple readers my way, and I write a bunch at topix.net also 'Floyd Landis Forum'...

Cheers, pardner!

ZENmud

bikesgonewild said...

...yes, truly an excellent post...w/ all the talk now about a 'biological passport', i'm wondering if even that will be definitive enough to establish a reliable 'base' that can be worked with ???...

...i'd also like to hear some discussion from the "powers that be" regarding a neutral or as tarik mentioned, impartial, dedicated to cycling, laboratory w/ specific state of the art procedures...watched over by scientific ombudsmen...
...any procedure out of the ordinary results in a pass, gone, tossed out, test results leaked, pass, gone, tossed out...

...now is the time & opportunity to establish a bona fide, iron clad testing procedural...
...there should also be a separate facility dedicated to looking into the latest scientific information to define what direction cheating might go & eradicate it before it is utilized...

...yes, this would be an expensive venture but if it worked, it would add much needed credibility to the sport of cycling & would serve as a model for others...

...handsomely pay the best scientific minds to define & thus stop the cheating as opposed to the financial undercurrent that supports & condones the present regime...

...btw, nice photo of mayo & that other guy...sheesh...

Anonymous said...

ellipse overload! eek!

Padraig said...

All: Thanks for your comments and compliments.
Snood: The expert we spoke to (who has read many EPO tests) says a properly executed test is unequivocal in its result. If the work is a little sloppy, the results will be a little wavy, but clear enough to judge.
Tarik and Art: We are told that unlike the IRMS test--which can be manipulated--the EPO test has no room for manipulation in order to force a particular outcome.
Zenmud: As to the substitution of labs, it is based on nothing more nefarious than France going on vacation for all of August. We like the blog, and will keep watching.
Bikesgonewild: You touch on what has been the most troubling pattern of behavior I have identified with regard to the UCI and WADA: All indications are that any adverse analytic finding automatically moves to the penatly phase; there isn't a period of impartial investigation. Thanks for daring to use the "O" word--Ombudsman--that's needed given that so few trust the process.

Anonymous said...

This is from a New York Times article published on June 30, 2006:

Diagnostic tests that detect the illegal use of steroids, amphetamines and other substances banned in cycling and most other sports are relatively simple: a machine spits out the scientific equivalent of a plus or minus sign. The EPO test, in contrast, spits out a Rorschach blot, with results that must be interpreted by someone skilled in the art.

"The test is actually a very good one, but it's technically complicated," said Steven Elliott, the scientific director of Amgen, the biotechnology company that invented the pharmaceutical form of EPO. "If done properly, it works extremely well. But it's not just something that can be done by any lab."

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/30/sports/othersports/30tour.html

Leaving aside the issue of LNDD's competence, I question the wisdom of employing a lab that goes on vacation for all of August for a race that takes up most of July and historically requires retests of samples. If LNDD wants the job, they should stick around to do it.