Saturday, July 12, 2014

Seven Deadly Sins: Book Review

Seven Deadly Sins, David Walsh, Atria Books, 2012.

David Walsh characterizes himself as a "troll," who expectorated into the soup of cycling expectations of reforms, which were being promoted after the disastrous fallout of the Festina Affair during the 1998 Tour de France.  During the 1998 Tour de France, in an overreaction to what was perceived as blatant performance enhancing drug abuse, midnight raids were conducted on team hotels at random by the French police.  The riders protested these "outrageous" raids by plucking bibs off backs while riding, (thereby invalidating the stage results), laying down their bikes refusing to ride, strike! teams packed up, and exited the race, en masse.  In an attempt to salvage the catastrophic reaction by furious cycling fanatics to the 1998 carnage, the 1999 Tour de France was proclaimed by Jean-Marie LeBlanc as the "Tour of Renewal."  Mr. LeBlanc promised that the peloton would refrain from doping and ride at a slower pace.  The 1999 Tour de France had an additional unexpected attraction: Lance Armstrong, a man who had overcame long odds of survival fighting an aggressive form of testicular cancer, a Cinderella story waiting to be written.  Astonishingly enough, the miracle return of Lance Armstrong could not have been choreographed better, as Lance Armstrong unexpectedly won the 1999 Tour de France prologue.  Cycling had not seen anything more dramatic since Greg LeMond made his miracle comeback after being shot by his cousin, by winning the 1989 and 1990 Tours. Incredibly, Lance Armstrong's surprising performance during the 1999 Tour de France; considering his dismal race results when riding for Motorola; shocked anyone who was paying attention, and David Walsh suspected foul play.  There were other reasons to be concerned.  The tempo of the 1999 Tour de France was faster than the pace of the 1998 Tour, not slower.  Also, during the 1999 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong tested positive for a corticosteriod that was on the prohibited list.  Lance Armstrong claimed that he had a medical certificate, a prescription from his doctor to treat saddle sores, before the Tour started, although there is proof that previous to the Tour, Lance Armstrong claimed on his original therapeutic use exemption form filed with the International Cycling Union (UCI) that he was not using any sanctioned drug for any medical reason.  Of course, the prescription was written and backdated after the positive test, but this practice was common and even condoned by the UCI.  Evidence of this UCI chicanery was testified to during the Festina affair trial in Lille France:

"Laurent Brochard, a Festina rider, told how he won the World Championship road race in 1997, subsequently tested positive but an official from the UCI informed his team manager that a backdated medical certificate would get him off." P.109
David Walsh suggests that the UCI knew of and approved a backdated medical certificate for Lance Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France. But because the UCI refused to enforce the law, a long period of sport fraud on cycling was about to commence.  This fraud would result in a long litany of crimes by Lance Armstrong.  The UCI and Hein Verbruggen allegedly would attempt to suppress public knowledge of these crimes by illegal cover ups and acceptance of cash gratuities.

David Walsh states his case and suspicion of Lance Armstrong most succinctly:
"We knew that the '99 Tour de France was ushering in the reign of a great pretender but were powerless to do much about it.  It wasn't just the feeling that [Lance] Armstrong had doped and won, what most rankled was the confederacy of cheerleaders which protected him: the UCI bosses who knew about the uniformly elevated haematocrit values, especially in the U.S. Postal team, and decided that was a part of the story best kept secret, the journalists who saw poor Christophe Bassons being bullied out of the race and thought, 'That's okay, he's only a small rider'; and the Tour de France organizer who decreed that Armstrong had 'saved' the Tour." P.86.
David Walsh insists that if Jean-Marie LeBlanc and the UCI would have had a spine, the reign of the pretender could have been nipped in the bud.  Instead the UCI shirked their responsibility, so it became an arduous process of the few responsible journalists who refused to imbibe the Lance Armstrong myth to bring down the greatest fraud in cycling history with investigatory journalism: trolls who would expectorate in the soup, much to the disdain of the suckers.

Michele Ferrari: Boom Goes the Dynamite!

1994 Fleche Wallonne Classic.  Three Gewiss riders do an impossible breakaway in a classic race and all three make the podium.  Moreno Argentin, first. Giorgia Furlan, second. Evgeni Berzin, third.  But news emerged that Team Gewiss had hired suspected blood doping doctor Michele Ferrari, and the Fleche Wallonne Classic results were directly related to a new blood boosting and performance enhancing drug recombinant erythropoietin (rEPO).  Michele Ferrari was referred to by the cycling community as "Doctor Blood" the wizard of EPO physiology, who was also accused of doping other professional riders.  Michele Ferrari also had a nasty reputation: he stated in an interview that recombinant erythropoietin (rEPO) was no more dangerous than drinking ten liters of orange juice.

In 2001 David Walsh, with the help of the carabinieri, linked Lance Armstrong to Michele Ferrari: the result was an investigatory story: Saddled With Suspicion.  In a panic Lance Armstrong attempted to brunt the impact of the David Walsh story by doing an abortive end run by inviting La Gazetta dello Sport writer Pier Bergonzi to an interview.  In the interview with Pier Bergonzi, Lance Armstrong reportedly said, "you have not asked me about Michele Ferrari?"  Surprised, Pier Bergonzi asked, "Should I have?"  Lance Armstrong replied:  "He and I are working together, because we're going to make an attack on the One Hour record." PP.151-152.  David Walsh sarcastically comments that he knew there would never be any attempt by Lance Armstrong to beat the One Hour record, and there never was.  The Pier Bergonzi interview backfired; people were wondering "why a rider who says he is clean and opposed to doping would work with a doctor who has the dirtiest reputation in cycling and is about to go on trial for doping professional riders?" P.166.  The David Walsh story generated international headlines, was the magic man, Lance Armstrong, really riding clean or was he Michele Ferrari's Frankenstein doped fueled monster?

Lance Armstrong's Iron Shield Begins To Crumble?

Then rumors began to surface from unexpected places about doping going on at U.S. Postal.  Greg LeMond's old mechanic Julien De Vriese, who was also Lance Armstrong's mechanic, hinted that there was a culture of "secrecy" at U.S. Postal that was masking a doping program. P.169.  Then there was the notorious telephone call between Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.  The text of the conversation was provided by Greg LeMond.  Note: Lance Armstrong claims that Greg LeMond was intoxicated from alcohol at the time of the conversation, and that Greg LeMond was offended that Lance Armstrong had not invited him to attend the Ride of the Roses, and that for most of the conversation Greg LeMond berated Lance Armstrong in a drunken hysterical rage.  Alas: will we ever know the truth here?  Nevertheless:  Greg LeMond's version deserves some comment.

Armstrong to LeMond: "Well your comeback in eighty-nine was so spectacular.  Mine was a miracle, yours was a miracle, you couldn't have been as strong as you were in eighty-nine without EPO."
 LeMond: "It is not because of EPO that I won the Tour-my haematocrit was never more that forty-five-because I had a VO2 max of ninety-five. Yours was eighty two.  Tell me one person who said I did EPO?"
Armstrong: "Everyone knows it."
LeMond: "Are you threatening me?"
Armstrong: "If you want to throw stones, I will throw stones."
LeMond: "So you are threatening me?  Listen, Lance.  I know a lot about physiology; no amount of training can transform an athlete with an VO2 max of eighty-two into one with a VO2 max of nine-five, and you have ridden faster than I did."
Armstrong: "I could find at least ten people who would say you did EPO.  Ten people would come forward."
LeMond: "That's impossible.  I know I never did that.  Nobody can say I have.  If I had taken EPO, my haematocrit value would have exceeded forty-five.  It never did.  I could produce all my blood parameters to prove my haematocrit level never rose above forty-five.  And if I have this accusation leveled against me, I will know it came from you."
 PP.172-173; italics added.

Then Greg LeMond plays his ace in the hole card: "What Michele Ferrari did in the nineties changed riders."

Greg LeMond's logic is perfect.  Lance Armstrong admitted to using EPO!  Lance Armstrong threatened Greg LeMond!  Lance Armstrong had a lower VO2 max so he couldn't have outpaced Greg LeMond!  Greg LeMond refused EPO because his haematocrit level never exceeded forty-five!  EPO was used in the peloton in 1991, not in 1990, but 1991!  Well now.  Does the fact that Greg LeMond's haematocrit level never exceeded forty-five proof  that Greg LeMond never used EPO?  Nonsense!  The UCI used to tip the riders off during Greg LeMond's reign that the vampires were on the way!  A simple saline solution dilutes haematocrit levels.  Haematocrit levels decline under strenuous exercise like riding in the Tour de France.  Then there is this statement Floyd Landis made in a letter to the UCI and USA Cycling on May 6, 2010, that is very pertinent.  Floyd Landis was selected as a rider to support Roberto Heras during the Tour of Spain.  Floyd Landis remarked in his letter:
"EPO, EPREX by brand and it came in six pre-measured syringes.  I used it intravenously for several weeks before the next blood draw and had no problems with the tests during the Vuelta.  Again during the Vuelta we were given Andriol and blood transfusions by the team doctor and had no problems with any testing!" P. 360; italics added.
  Microdosing EPO intravenously, if done properly, will never raise your haematocrit level above forty-five.  What do think of that Greg LeMond?  Also, according to The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA): [Update: This web site has been removed.  Wonder why?  Nevertheless, this statement was published by WADA and is not a fabrication.]
"While the fight against stimulants and steroids was producing results, the main front in the anti-doping war was rapidly shifting to blood doping. "Blood boosting," removal and subsequent re-infusion of the athlete's blood in order to increase the level of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin, has been practiced since the 1970s. The IOC banned blood doping as a method in 1986."
"Other ways of increasing the level of haemoglobin were being tried, however. One of these was erythropoietin (EPO). EPO was included in the IOC's list of prohibited substances in 1990, however the fight against EPO was long hampered by the lack of a reliable testing method. An EPO detection test (approved by WADA) was first implemented at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000."
Thus, EPO was available in 1990, and who is to say that the entire peloton was not microdosing EPO and re-infusing their own blood at the same time?  EPO could not be detected at the time.  Greg LeMond uses the same old trite argument, I was below threshold therefore, I am innocent.  Lance Armstrong used the exact same argument, I was tested 2000 times, there was never a positive test, therefore, I am innocent.  But Greg LeMond goes further.  Greg LeMond says in a single year, in the 1991 Tour de France, that the peloton went from clean to doped on EPO, even though EPO was available in 1990 and before.  Greg LeMond reasons that he finished seventh in the 1991 Tour de France @13 minutes 13 seconds behind Miguel Indurain because of widespread use of EPO within the professional peloton.  It was obvious, Greg LeMond had a superior VO2 max, so Miguel Indurain could have never outpaced him without EPO.  This would be considered excellent logic except that during the EPO era, which apparently included the 1991 Tour de France, all of the riders in the top ten were considered to be using EPO, and this would include of all people Greg LeMond!

So here is a perfect example of how twisted logic can skew the data. I have warned everyone about the fallacy of trying to fail an athlete for performance enhancing drug use on the bases of anecdotal or longitudinal evidence that is based upon probabilities for years, to no avail.  Furthermore, careers of athletes should not be terminated without concrete proof that a performance enhancing substance is present in the sample.  But who cares?  Non-analytical positives are all the rage these days.

Then, of course, there is Lance Armstrong's former Motorola teammate Stephen Swart who claimed that Lance Armstrong and the Motorola team were using EPO in 1995.  Stephen Swart claimed that the team had a portable blood centrifuge and that the team routinely measured their haematocrit in the field, and that Lance Armstrong scored consistently above the UCI maximum of 50%.  Stephen Swart also claims that he went to a Switzerland pharmacy and purchased EPO, which he used during the 1995 Tour de Suisse.  Stephen Swart also claims that his EPO supply ran out during the prologue of the 1995 Tour de France, but Stephen Swart claims that EPO did nothing to improve his performance.  David Walsh claims that Stephen Swart used EPO during the Motorola period to comply with Lance Armstrong's philosophy that "if you are not doping, then you are not a team player." P.254.

Then there is Emma O' Reilly, former U.S. Postal Service soigneur, and personal masseuse for Lance Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France.  Emma O' Reilly made a series of startling statements. She claimed that she saw Doctor Luis Garcia del Moral backdate a corticosteroid medical prescription for Lance Armstrong for saddle sores that she claims never existed.  Emma O' Reilly also stated that she disposed of used syringes that the team had placed in a crushed Coke can.  Emma O' Reilly also stated that she had been employed as a 'drug mule,' claiming that she picked up a shipment of testosterone for George Hincapie.  Emma O' Reilly also claims that she used some cosmetics to hide needle marks when Lance Armstrong reported for his pre-race physical for the 1999 Tour de France, and a litany of other egregious outrages. P.253.

Then there is Betsy Andreu and the Indiana University Hospital statement that Lance Armstrong allegedly made to a group of doctors who were inquiring into his medical history.  The doctors asked Lance Armstrong if he had taken any performance enhancing drugs, and Lance Armstrong, according to Betsy Andreu, stated that he had used a number of performance enhancing drugs.  There is a great deal of witness inconsistency with this account, however.  Stephanie McIlvain, who worked for Oakley, testified under oath at the Sport Contest Associates (SCA) arbitration hearing, that she did not hear Lance Armstrong make any admission to using performance enhancing drugs, although she was in the room at the time. P.314-315.  However, later, in a taped conversation with Greg LeMond, Stephanie McIlvain claimed she heard Lance Armstrong admit to former drug use in the hospital room conversation.  Adding to the confusion, Lance Armstrong's former girl friend Lisa Shiels, when asked if she heard Lance Armstrong admit to drug use, claims that she heard nothing of the sort, although she was present in the room at the time. P.316.  I wonder if Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, "the crazed bitch" didn't employ intimidation tactics on Stephanie McIlvain to force her to change her recollection.  But, this episode gets ever more bizarre:
"Dr. Craig Nichols, one of the doctors who had supervised Lance Armstrong's case and who was now chief of haematology, oncology at Oregon Health and Science University, said in a sworn affidavit that he had 'no recollection' of any statement by Lance Armstrong while in treatment confessing to the use of performance enhancing drugs.  He added: 'Lance Armstrong never admitted, suggested or indicated that he has ever taken performance enhancing drugs.'" P.332.
However, in an ironic twist:
"On 27 October, Indiana University announced that the Lance Armstrong Foundation had funded a 1.5 million endowed chair in oncology.  Craig Nichols affidavit was signed on 8 December." P.332.
 The implication, of course, was that Lance Armstrong bribed the oncology department, payola for silence.  Lance Armstrong declaimed a furious response:
"It was a million and a half dollars, and I understand that's a lot of money.  But to suggest that I funded that chair to get an affidavit or to get some clean medical records or some sanitised records is completely ridiculous." P.332.
Floyd Landis: Letter to the the UCI and USA Cycling.  The Final Nail in the Coffin.

The come back of Lance Armstrong to the Tour de France in 2009 infuriated Floyd Landis.  Marooned on the Ouch team in the continental United States, Floyd Landis wanted nothing more than to return to the European UCI Pro Tour team circuit.  Abandoned and unable to secure a contract, Floyd Landis watched the doper and chief Lance Armstrong return in third place on the Tour de France podium; while Floyd Landis was forced to compete in the Tour of Utah.  When Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel formed Team Radio Shack, Floyd Landis swallowed his pride and phoned Johan Bruyneel begging for a position on the team.  Johan Bruyneel sarcastically replied that there was no position available because Floyd Landis was "radioactive," and a public relations nightmare.  In response, and with nothing to lose, Floyd Landis penned the immortal letter that would end history's "greatest sporting fraud."  In the letter to the UCI and USA Cycling, Floyd Landis outlined in shocking detail a number of pertinent doping topics, including the rumor that Lance Armstrong had tested positive for rEPO during the 2000 Tour de Suisse, and the allegation that Lance Armstrong had paid a gratuity to the UCI to cover up the result:
"He [Lance Armstrong] later, while winning the Tour de Suisse, the month before the Tour de France, tested positive for EPO, at which point he [Lance Armstrong] and Mr. [Johan] Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement with Mr. [Hein] Verbruggen to keep the positive test hidden." P.357.
Later, in Seven Deadly Sins, a comical conversation occurred between Lance Armstrong and attorney Jeff Tillotson during Lance Armstrong's Sport Contest Associates (SCA) deposition.  Jeff Tillotson attempts to link the $25,000 donation given to the UCI by Lance Armstrong to suppress the positive 2000 Tour de Suisse synthetic EPO test: money that was allegedly used to bribe Hein Verbruggen to silence.  Of course, Lance Armstrong attempts to skate around the issue the best he can while looking like a total fool. Lance Armstrong can't remember what the $25,000 donation was for, how the money was spent, or whether the donation was related to any specific event.  At one point, an exasperated Jeff Tillotson asks Lance Armstrong: "Why the UCI?  I mean, why give money to the UCI?"  Always good for a laugh, giving money to the UCI to combat doping.  Of course, the official reason given by the UCI for the donation was the purchase of a highly sophisticated blood diagnostic unit that could aid in the detection of performance enhancing drugs: specifically synthetic EPO.

But back to Mr. Landis;
"I had learned at this point how to do most of the transfusion technicals and other things on my own, so I hired Allen Lim as my assistant to help with details and logistics.  He [Allen Lim] helped Levi Leipheimer and me prepare the transfusions for Levi and me and made sure they were kept at proper temperature." P.363; italics added.

Allen Lim followed Floyd Landis around in Spain during his training rides, helping Floyd Landis reach the Michele Ferrari magic plateau of six watts per kilogram, the power output needed to win the Tour de France.  Floyd Landis referred to Allen Lim as a walking machine, a human calculator.  Allen Lim spent time calculatating the proper blood transfusion temperatures for Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer.  Where is Allen Lim today, still designing ice filled time trial jerseys?  Allen Lim is another example of people who should be banned from cycling.  How does a sport maintain a set of ethical principles when a person like Allen Lim is permitted to be employed by cycling teams after his involvement in scheduling doping products for riders?

 Go read Seven Deadly Sins.  You are bound to learn something new if you are a neophyte doping researcher, or a seasoned professional sleuth.  Seven Deadly Sins does tie up most lose ends.  I give Seven Deadly Sins my highest rating.

Conclusion:

We all know how the episode ended.  Not to be outdone by Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton raced to the airwaves and did an incoherently manic interview on 60 Minutes. The U.S. government was not far behind.  Jeff Novitzky launched a criminal probe trying to link the expenditure of U.S. Postal Service money to drug trafficking.  The subpoena mill started churning, ex-teammates of Lance Armstrong were whisked off the streets, held for affidavits and depositions.  Grand Jury testimony was heard.  Although the criminal probe was dropped, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) quickly launched an investigation which terminated with civil complaints against several ex-members of the U.S. Postal Service team, including Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Luis Garcia del Moral, and Pepi Marti.  Michele Ferrari "doctor blood" was also charged with facilitating the use of performance enhancing drugs on the U.S. Postal Service team. In response, Lance Armstrong filed a legal challenge in U.S. Federal Court against USADA over jurisdictional issues. Lance Armstrong insisted that USADA had no jurisdiction because his cycling license came under the jurisdiction of the UCI, therefore USADA had no standing. U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks dismissed this argument as facetious stating that when Lance Armstrong was issued his license by USA Cycling, he agreed to be tested by USADA, therefore he fell under USADA jurisdiction in all doping compliance issues.  In a second amended court challenge Lance Armstrong contested the validity of the arbitration process as an unfair kangaroo "star chamber" proceeding. Judge Sam Sparks dismissed Lance Armstrong's argument, ruling that the current arbitration structure provided adequate due process protections.  After this ruling, Lance Armstrong, in a surprise move, announced that he would not contest the USADA charges in arbitration.  There exists a stipulation in the USADA bylaws (some might call it a loophole) that states: if an athlete decides to wave the arbitration process then USADA is free to impose an award; including a lifetime ban, if the ban is agreed to by the UCI and WADA.  Travis Tygart imposed a lifetime ban on Lance Armstrong and Michele Ferrari both of whom waived arbitration.  Pat McQuaid announced that the UCI would not contest the Reasoned Decision: a compilation of evidence and testimony gathered by USADA as the bases of their complaint.  The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) soon followed suit.  Then, of course, there was the Oprah confession which ended all doubts of everyone for all time and proves that Lance Armstrong was nothing more than a joke.  Thus ended the "greatest fraud in cycling history."  Investigatory journalist David Walsh was vindicated.  David Walsh, who from the start stated that the Lance Armstrong was Griska Otrepyev, or the false Dmitri, the son of Ivan the Terrible who was assassinated by Boris Godunov, or the false Czar, or pretender to the throne, was proven correct.  In a curious aside, Griska Otrepyev was assassinated after one year of rule, his body was cremated, and his ashes were fired out of a cannon.  Lance Armstrong was merely burned in effigy, the only thing missing was the cannon!

David Walsh makes several references to LA Confidential, but since I have not read the book I will not comment here.  But I have read From Lance to Landis!  No comment here either, make of it what you will.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 Tour de France: Dope Free!

Yea, I had to emerge from my cave, cause it is time for the Tour de France, all reformed from the chronic days of dope, dope, dope!  Sure enough the riders will go through the sham physical to measure their fitness levels, three thousand miles of hammering throughout state of France with variable weather and terrain features is no joke!  It would be great if the physicals also collected urine from the entire peloton and farmed out to those infallible WADA laboratories for examination, prior to the grand depart, then there would not be so many rest day surprises. There always seems to be somebody who tests positive during a rest day test, much to the chagrin of the teams who end up packing their bags for an unceremonious exit.

Not to worry, though.  The UCI has swept the garbage out the door, the days of bribery and cover-ups has  gone through a state of metamorphoses.  The old UCI was best compared to rats emerging from a sewer.  But behold, the new and improved UCI is now praised as a shining beacon of truth, straightforwardness, and transparency!  The UCI mantra is zero tolerance and eternal vigilance.  Don't attempt to dope!  Vampires are waiting, and if we don't detect you with a urine or blood sample, there is always the UCI Biological Passport waiting in the wings; and as everyone knows, the UCI Biological Passport is superior in all aspects to positive tests.  Trends and tendencies takes precedence over solid, indisputable evidence.  If you don't believe me go ask USADA, who claims that Lance Armstrong's 2009 and 2010 longitudinal data prove that he used performance enhancing substances during those years.  Of course, Lance Armstrong claims that he used nothing post 2005, but who you going to believe, Lance Armstrong or the UCI Biological passport?

So watch out Christopher Froome and Team Sky, we are ready to "pounce" on you if we detect the slightest variation in your physiology; not that we suspect you and your team of doping!  Three years of dominance by the same team in the Tour de France seems impossible without artificial aid of pharmaceutical origin; but maybe I am being cynical, being burned and lied to by my past heroes time and again.  There is nothing worse than watching a breathtaking performance on the bike by a professional rider in a physically demanding race, mesmerized, transfixed with attention, heart pounding, zealously applauding your hero as he drops the group at a fatal moment up some beyond category col; the deciding moment: only to have the whole performance exposed as a charade fourteen years later.  These episodes are devastating to pure cycling fanaticism, and are perhaps not singular, either.  But they certainly don't catch every Tour de France champion who used performance enhancing drugs, or do they desire to expend the effort to investigate every case, the trail does grow cold after years of inactivity, cold cases do prove hard to solve, but there is plenty of antecedental evidence available if one were inclined to play the sleuth.

After all doping didn't start in 1999 and end in 2010, give me a break!  Ever done leg breaking intervals up a steep incline in a large gear in fifty degree Celsius heat?  Sweat streams off your face in buckets, you feel like you are going to die.  Try doing that for four straight hours over a hundred hard mountain miles; category three, two, one, HC, cols: how do those professional riders recover from such demanding physical tasks without taking a daily saline solution to re-hydrate?  How do these riders replenish their glucose stores in one day after such demanding physical tasks?  Pasta and meat chunks?  The feed zone?

Mitochondria works best with oxygen, baby!  What's the best way to provide oxygen to the mitochondria?  A blood transfusion with your own stored blood.  You reduce the risk of infection and the vampires can't detect a thing.  By the way, blood transfusions used during the Tour de France didn't start in 1999 and end in 2010!

So get ready to play the sleuth.  We may not have justice for past crimes that will never be punished, but we sure can "pounce" on the crimes that have yet to be committed.