Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cycling Ain't Baseball

Wow! Baseball is certainly tolerant of their dopers; the Alex Rodriguez arbitration decision is final: 161 games, or one season, for the second known doping offense.  Of course, Alex Rodriguez will lose twenty one millions dollars in salary for one year; but unlike in cycling, the Yankees still have three years left on his contract that they have to pay even if Alex Rodriguez never appears again at bat.

Yes, if it were only so simple.  The Yankees hate A-Roid.  The Yankees wish A-Roid would vanish from baseball forever.  But A-Roid, like all good dopers feels that he has been a victim of a vendetta; after all he uses the same logic as any other doper; there were no positive tests and that Bud Selig wants to make him an example.  Of course Alex Rodriguez is innocent, the cash payments that were recorded at Biogenesis of America were incorrectly attributed to the wrong Alex Rodriguez and the human growth hormone and other prohibited performance enhancing substances that Anthony Bosch injected into Alex Rodriguez were nothing more than inert saline solution.

There is also a further complication: Alex Rodriguez wants to contest the arbitration award in Federal Court as an unfair process that denies due process and other legal protections to the defendant.  Ice will freeze in hell before any Federal Court will side with Mr. Rodriguez.  The only winners will be the shyster lawyers who will reap incredible fees for service.  Listen, Mr. Rodriguez, these cases are always dismissed.

If Alex Rodriguez was a cyclist his career would be over for eight years for a second doping offense.  The Yankees could fire him even if he had a multi-year contract.  His case would be considered a "personal affair" between himself and the anti-doping agency that was responsible for prosecuting him, even if the team ran an organized doping program.

For example, Floyd Landis, supposedly asked Andy Rihs, owner of BMC bicycles to run an organized doping program similar in scope to the organized doping program that Lance Armstrong used with the United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team, or so Floyd Landis claims.  If this fact is true (and given Floyd Landis's track record of flip-flop inventiveness over the years, this is a very big if) then Andy Rihs should have been charged along with Floyd Landis; there should have been an investigation of Team Phonak, and if any wrong doing could have been discovered then the whole bunch should have been charged with doping violations.  To say that an organized doping program did not exist on Team Phonak before Floyd Landis arrived would be certainly misguided.  Phonak had so many riders who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs that the UCI felt obliged to pull Phonak's Pro Tour license.  The license was only restored after Phonak put on a show of cleaning up the team through a bogus internal team biological passport that turned out to be nothing more than developing a methodology to beat the WADA labs.  But, nevertheless, when Floyd Landis tested positive for synthetic testosterone, Phonak described the situation as a "personal affair," that had nothing whatever to do with Phonak.  See the deception in all of this?  Of course, nobody is accusing the Yankee baseball team of running an organized doping program that included Biogenesis of America.

Never trust any team, cycling or baseball that carries around a mandate against doping, a blood centrifuge, or blood diagnostic equipment.  Or the name Garmin or Sky.  Stated intentions are never what they appear to be; there always seems to be an underlying current of deception lurking somewhere right below the pristine surface: follow the money!

Of course, baseball could ban players for eight years for a second doping offense instead of 161 games, then people could be rid of these repeat offenders -- like they rid the world of Lance Armstrong!  Eight years is like a lifetime ban.  But then again, baseball can continue the charade and pay men who dope millions of dollars under binding contracts at the insistence of the players union.  Everybody is saying that Alex Rodriguez wanted to be the first player to hit 800 home runs; just like Lance Armstrong wanted to be the first man to win seven Tour de France titles.  The punishment should be commensurate with the crime after all.

Alex Rodriguez will serve his suspension and the Yankees will probably eat his contract and farm him out to some baseball team in Siberia.  But it is time for baseball to rethink the problem and re-structure the contracts.  Otherwise teams will continue to be stuck with dead wood and the remaining players who have not yet been caught will never be incentivized to quit.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wheelmen: Book Review

Wheelmen, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O' Connell, Gotham Books, 2013

Wheelmen approaches the business side of cycling, which primarily focuses on the creative genius of Thomas Weisel who developed a concept of formulating an American cycling team that would dominate the Tour de France: which considering the byzantine state of cycling in the United States at the time was considered an impossibility.  Nevertheless, in spite of the long odds of success, Thomas Weisel managed to secure sponsorship from the United States Postal Service, and when the team continued to lose money, he offered limited partnership options to a group of cycling fanatic entrepreneurs such as David "Tiger" Williams of Williams Trading LLC, who were more interesting in fostering the growth of cycling in the United States than a profit margin.  What emerged from all of these efforts was a United States Postal Service sponsored Tailwind Sport team, and an unbelievable domination of the Tour de France for six years.  When the United States Postal Service ended their sponsorship the gap was immediately filled by Discovery Channel.  One sponsorship stipulation postulated by the Discovery Channel, according to one account: although this fact is disputed in Wheelmen, was that Lance Armstrong had to race for the Discovery Channel team in one Tour de France.  This stipulation in the sponsorship contract only makes sense considering the amazing amount of exposure and return in revenue to expenditure that Lance Armstrong was generating through his endorsements.  For example, it is estimated that the United States Postal Service generated 1.5 billion dollars in European sales a year before sponsoring the cycling team, but after sponsorship European sales increased to over 3 billion dollars a year.  Sales of Trek bicycles increased by 141%.  Nike and Oakley also had monumental increases in sales, which were primarily attributed to relationships with Lance Armstrong.  Lance Armstrong was a goldmine, people loved his remarkable recovery from cancer, they loved his "miracle" racing success on the bike.  Lance Armstrong was an American icon.  When Lance Armstrong started his Lance Armstrong Foundation, now known as the Livestrong Foundation, and Nike developed the classic yellow Livestrong rubber bracelet to generate money to raise cancer awareness, an enthusiastic public immediately forked over 500 million in one dollar donations.  Yellow Livestrong bracelets were seen to adorn celebrities and plebeians alike.  Lance Armstrong was like King Midas, everything he touched turned to gold.

Fools gold, fueled by performance enhancing drug abuse. The Lance Armstrong empire through an unusual set of circumstances would come tumbling down in a heap of rubble; the indestructible Goliath would be taken down by a mild mannered David: Travis T. Tygart of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, according to the account provided in Wheelmen.  Ironically, the fatal information that would lead to the demise of Lance Armstrong was provided by none other than Floyd Landis, a former disgraced Tour de France winner who had his title stripped after being found guilty of using synthetic testosterone in a highly contentious arbitration hearing.  In the Floyd Landis arbitration hearing the roles were reversed: Travis Tygart played the role of Goliath, with a succulent budget of $15 million a year, while Floyd Landis played the role of David without a slingshot, or two wooden nickles in his pocket to rub together.  USADA employed stall tactics: for example, Howard L. Jacobs submitted a document to USADA requesting information pertinent to the defense with regards to the French WADA accredited laboratory LNDD, but this discovery request was flatly denied by USADA even though USADA was in possession of the documentation at the time of the request.  Similar document access requests submitted to USADA by Maurice Suh were also subsequently denied by USADA until the arbitration panel after months of legal wrangling ordered USADA to release the documents to Floyd Landis.  The Floyd Landis arbitration case was extended for two and a half years: USADA received $15 million a year from the United States for a total of $37.5 million, while Floyd Landis had to appeal to David "Tiger" Williams, hat in hand, for help with his legal expenses. USADA had an operating budget of $37.5 million to fight mono a mono a man who did not possess one red cent.  Of course, I am convinced that inequity in expense funding to cover legal costs was one of the motivating factors that deterred Lance Armstrong from mounting a challenge against USADA, even though he had the plausible defense of over 500 passed drug tests conducted by the gold standard WADA accredited laboratories.  Lance Armstrong had assembled a team of $1000 an hour lawyers who were experts in federal courts, but who had no experience in doping arbitration cases. Lance Armstrong's legal team did not understand the irrational nature of arbitration where the rules are arbitrary, and capricious, and subjected to change with every prosecution request. Lance Armstrong's legal team did not understand that WADA code is not legally binding in arbitration.  Lance Armstrong's expensive group of legal experts would have certainly bankrupted Lance Armstrong in an arbitration fight, Travis Tygart would have employed the Bleak House method of arbitration with continual denials of information pertinent to the defense until Lance Armstrong joined Floyd Landis in bankruptcy court.  Travis Tygart would have made sure of that.

Then there is the second question posed in Wheelmen: what motivated Floyd Landis to blow the whistle on Lance Armstrong?  Answer? (1) Floyd Landis had nothing to lose. (2) Floyd Landis had thrity million reasons to break to code of omerta and finger Lance Armstrong: a qui tam suit.  But Lance Armstrong is certainly to blame!  When Lance Armstrong returned in 2009 after his brief hiatus from cycling and Team Radio Shack was formed, according to Wheelmen:

That July when Landis learned about Radio Shack, he swallowed his pride and called Johan Bruyneel to ask for a spot on the team. Bruyneel turned him down. He said Floyd would bring too much negative publicity, that in terms of public relations, Floyd was radioactive. P.243.

Of course, Johan Bruyneel signed his own death warrant.  Persona non grata was a mistake, all Floyd Landis wanted to do was race. If Floyd Landis would have been allowed to join Team Radio Shack, Lance Armstrong will still be God and Johan Bruyneel would still have a career as director sportif!  There were also rumors at the time that Lance Armstrong personally vetoed all of Floyd Landis's requests to join a European pro-tour or Continental team. Then there was Lance Armstrong, summa doper, returning to the limelight, the money and accolades, while Floyd Landis sat in a log cabin scorned by the cycling community like some drunken outcast.  Floyd Landis was so incensed that he was finally driven to do something.  Floyd Landis sent an e-mail to USA Cycling president Steve Johnson describing past doping indiscretions of Lance Armstrong that he personally witnessed: such as the team blood transfusion at a French highway rest stop, at midnight, while the bus driver feigned mechanical trouble.  What chutzpah!  Imagine what would have happened if a French policeman would have stopped to ask what the trouble was!  The bus was plainly marked The United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team, inside the bus the entire team was re-infusing their own blood!  The Festina Affair would have been like a firecracker compared to an atomic bomb if the team would have been caught!  Insane!  One might ask the question: what evil being was in possession of these people?  The answer was that Johan Bruyneel thought that the hotels where the team were assigned were bugged with microphones and cameras; so blood transfusions at the hotel was out of the question! thus the midnight bus blood transfusions, in spite of the incredible risks, was the only solution.
Descriptions of these tales of doping by Floyd Landis certainly triggered an atomic response.  The U. S. Justice Department immediately convened a grand jury to hear witness testimony to determine if the United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team had engaged in any criminal activity.  Lead by Jeff Novitzky, former teammates of Lance Armstrong who rode for the Postal and Discovery teams were forced to testify under oath and to submit written depositions as to their involvement and knowledge of doping practices, trafficking, or wire transfers of money that may have occurred while they were riding for the Postal or Discovery teams.  Things looked bleak for Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, but suddenly, apropos of nothing, the criminal investigation suddenly terminated.

The criminal investigation may have terminated but Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel still faced civil action in the form of a qui tam, or whistle blower suit where the United States Postal Service claimed that the team violated their contractual agreements not to engage in performance enhancing drug use, and if it was to be determined in court that the team was in violation of this "no drug" stipulation, that this contractual violation constituted fraud.  Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel were listed as the men most responsible for this fraud when it was reported by Floyd Landis that Johan Bruyneel told him that all of the extra team Trek bicycles and Shimano Dura Ace group sets were being sold in Belgium "off the books" to finance the doping program.  Of course, the lack of a suitable time trial training bike was one of the points of contention, along with an inadequate salary, that caused Floyd Landis to leave US Postal and join team Phonak: as Floyd Landis recounts in Positively False.  Of course, Floyd Landis did not disclose the bicycles for dope scheme in his book because he was still trying to maintain his victim status and his innocence!  Anyway, if the US Postal Service prevails, the judgment against Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel could be as high as $120 million and Floyd Landis could receive a reward of $30 million.

So much for Floyd Landis and his motivations.  Lance Armstrong thanked the government for dropping the grand jury probe, but alas, USADA was waiting in the wings.  Travis Tygart grabbed all of the grand jury witnesses who had testified and convinced them that they would "clean up cycling" if they would testify against Lance Armstrong.  The response was overwhelming: even Lance Armstrong's most trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, the super domestique who had helped Lance Armstrong to all seven of his consecutive Tour victories testified.  A non-analytical positive case was quickly developing against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Michel Ferrari, Pepi Marti, Luis Garcia del Moral, et al., and the evidence appeared to be overwhelming.  Suddenly, Lance Armstrong surrendered, he announced that he would not contest the evidence in arbitration.  USADA had won the war without firing a shot or spending a penny.  The Reasoned Decision followed, a terse summary of the evidence collected against the accused parties, and Lance Armstrong had all seven of his titles rescinded.  Also USADA ordered Lance Armstrong a life time ban from professional cycling and any other sanctioned sport, including triathlon competitions that Lance Armstrong was keen to compete in at the time.

Lance Armstrong was outraged by the USADA action.  Armstrong thought that he had been unfairly singled out for an excessive punishment arguing that he was merely doing what the entire peloton was doing at the time: using performance enhancing drugs to win races.  Lance Armstrong wanted his penalty reduced so he could continue to compete in sanctioned triathlon competitions.  Ironically enough, Travis Tygart had offered Lance Armstrong an option to keep five of his Tour de France titles if he would testify under oath and help to "clean up the sport."  However, Lance Armstrong had declined to accept this offer, and he was not convinced that the offer of an eight year suspension that Travis Tygart was offering was a good deal. As Lance Armstrong reasoned, an eight year suspension amounted to a life time ban since he would be over forty when the suspension ended, so he would never again be in contention in triathlons.  Lance Armstrong declined USADA's offer, a stupendous blunder, true, but nobody can accuse Lance Armstrong of violating the code of omerta!

When Nike decided to pull the plug on Lance Armstrong as corporate spokesman, other stalwart companies who had backed Armstrong did the same.  Trek, Oakley, other companies that had endorsement deals followed suit; Lance Armstrong skirted down the mountain like an avalanche, the momentum could not be stopped.  The board of the Lance Armstrong Foundation asked Lance Armstrong to resign.  Sport Contest Associate (SCA) Promotions, who was ordered by the court to pay a five million dollar bonus and legal fees to Armstrong for winning his sixth Tour de France victory was demanding a refund.  The London Sunday Times who printed David Walsh's contention that Lance Armstrong was using performance enhancing drugs was sued by Lance Armstrong for libel.  A British court ordered the London Sunday Times to pay 300,000 pounds British sterling to Lance Armstrong.  Now the paper was filing suit demanding a refund and damages.  Other firms were lining up with lawsuits. Lance Armstrong's entire fortune was in jeopardy of vanishing into ethereal space.  The American love affair with Lance Armstrong was over.

Then the final blunder.  Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance enhancing drugs on Oprah.  The public relations campaign, if it could be described thus, backfired.  Nobody cared about a washed up, over the hill ex-cyclist doper who competed in triathlon competitions.  People were more worried about discovering the fountain of youth with deer antler spray.  The coup de Oprah did nothing to increase her ratings either, people had become bored with Oprah.

There is the final issue of Lance Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs during the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France that USADA claims was discovered using the UCI Biological Passport.  Lance Armstrong denies any use of performance enhancing drugs after 2005, and that the variations discovered in the passport were caused by natural physiological processes.  However, there was a missed opportunity that the UCI and cycling probably will rue forever.  An opportunity to nail two past Tour de France champions at the same time, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.

Plasticizers

I conclude this review with this thought and extensive quotation from Wheelmen as to a method that could have caught both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in one fell swoop during the 2009 Tour de France.
Several anti-doping scientists believed Armstrong was planning to use blood transfusions during the 2009 Tour de France, and they were in the process of developing a test they thought would be able to catch him.  The new test, which was being developed in a laboratory in Barcelona, could detect plastic molecules from transfusion bags in riders blood.  The scheme would require cooperation from several organizations, including WADA, UCI, and the Swiss anti-doping laboratory that handled blood testing for the Tour de France.  But as the test hadn't yet been perfected, the plan was to freeze Armstrong's blood and test it later.  There was a small hitch, though.  In order to preserve a frozen specimen, a chemical needed to be mixed with the blood. P.231. 
Thus the problem: the preservative. Adding a preservative would compromise the integrity of the sample.
The people involved in the plan decided they would take the blood test, seal both samples in front of Armstrong, and then beak the seal at the lab, add the preservative, and freeze it.  Once the Barcelona test was perfected, they would test Armstrong's blood for the plasticizer.  Because the seals were broken, the test itself could not be used to sanction Armstrong, but it could be used in conjunction with other evidence - such as witness testimony - to convict him of a doping offense.  The scientists were excited.  They thought they had their man. P.232; italics added.
Hmmm! Really!  A tampered sample was to be used as supplemental evidence? Nevertheless, didn't they find elevated plastic in Alberto Contador's blood samples in 2010 when he tested positive for clenbuterol?  And was not this finding for elevated plasticizer not used as supplemental evidence?

It is a pity that the test for the plasticizers had not been perfected at the time, indeed, both Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador could have been detected.  Lance Armstrong could have been exposed as a fraud and Alberto Contador could have been tagged a three time loser and banned forever.

But like with all novel ideas people get cold feet and reconsider.  The idea fizzled because nobody was courageous enough to go though with the plan.  From Wheelmen:
The attempt by anti-doping scientists to test for plasticizers in Armstrong's blood had also failed. The anti-doping laboratory that was supposed to store the blood pulled out at the last minute, just before the Tour, when it came under pressure from the UCI, which said that the test fell outside the bounds of normal testing procedure. P.235; italics added.
Conclusion

If you are a neophyte doping investigator or a seasoned expert in the subject: Wheelmen is a good read. The best man in this drama is none other than David "Tiger" Williams who told Floyd Landis to depart U.S. Postal Service for Phonak, even though Williams had a vested interest in Tailwind Sport.  Then when Floyd Landis faced economic calamity, David "Tiger" Williams came to the rescue, once again, with money to help with the legal costs of Floyd Landis's arbitration.  A good man.