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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tour de Farce?

Note from Buck: We will have several guest bloggers while Mero is on his honeymoon. George knows more about cycling than you know about your mother.

Several weeks ago Buck and I were on our feet, cheering wildly for a dude riding a bike in some very revealing clothes. Floyd Landis was kicking some ass in Stage 17 of the Tour de France. And not just regular ass-kicking. This was the greatest comeback in the history of professional cycling.  

Floyd Landis
Looking goofy is not a crime.
Landis had been dominating all year. 1st, overall, Tour of Georgia; 1st, individual time trial, Tour de Georgia; 1st, overall, Paris Nice; 1st, overall, Tour of California; 1st, individual time trial, Tour of California. He's having a career year. 

Even so, I'm a skeptical person by nature, and as Landis' comeback was unfolding I couldn't help but think if he had something "extra" in the tank. But I brushed away those thoughts as foolish and enjoyed the conclusion of the race — an American had won the Tour de France, again! The elation wouldn't last though: Days later Floyd Landis was busted for doping.  

Makes sense right? This guy rides past every other rider like they were standing still, after riding a bike 100 miles a day for the better part of three weeks over some huge fuckin' mountains. I wouldn't want to drive a car the distances that these guys pedal their bikes. Turns out Landis had elevated testosterone levels. The ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone was 11:1. Normal human ratios are closer to 1:1. Sounds pretty bad huh? 10 times the testosterone than he should have? He must have 'roided up before that amazing comeback. Everything adds up. Throw the book at him. 

Hold on. Something's bugging me. It's not that simple. 

Landis was tested eight times during the tour. The sample taken after Stage 17 was the only one that came back positive. The other tests were taken two days before and two days after Stage 17. You have to realize that steroids aren't used as a one day pick-me-up. They are usually taken weeks ahead of time to "load-up" your system. You don't really reap immediate benefits from taking them.

The 11:1 ratio is also a source of question. The UCI never stated wether Landis' testosterone level is high for a human, or if it was just high relative to the epitestosterone in his system. Really high testosterone or really low epitestosterone, big difference. 

Steroids are a very non-traditional drug in cycling. Cyclists seek to have their endurance increased, not necessarily their strength. So it seems strange to me that even a desperate cyclist would turn to steroids to enhance his performance.  

Plus, he's a damn Mennonite! Have you seen these people? 'Nuf said. 

I don't know how to explain the rest results except for my conspiracy theories. Hey, he's in France. It's hard to ignore the fact that he's not exactly in the most friendly country for Americans. Not like murder you bad, but you know, spit in your food bad. It is not out of the question that a disgruntled person could slip a mickey into a blood sample to frame Landis. Remember, testosterone can be injected, taken orally or taken topically (cream or patch).  

I don't think Landis' guilt can be determined by one "positive" test. His guilt or innocence will be determined by a hearing conducted by USA Cycling in 5 to 6 months. But as for myself, there are too many odd circumstances and coincidences to label him a cheat right now. Say it ain't so Floyd. Say it ain't so.

Buck adds:

A lot of people have been commenting on Landis' "kitchen-sink" defense, where he threw out like 12 possible excuses for the test in the first week, as evidence that he must be guilty. That's complete bullshit.

Throwing out every excuse you can think of is what you do when you're innocent, not guilty. If you're completely blindsided by an accusation, you start trying to think of all the things that could possibly explain it. "Maybe it's the medicine I'm on. Maybe it was the whiskey I drank. Maybe I was dehydrated...I've got no idea!"

If you've actually cheated, especially the premeditated kind of cheating that cycling requires, you have an iron-clad excuse ready to go. You cover your tracks and come up with alibis well ahead of time.

It's not like the International Cycling Union is some unimpeachable organization. They crusaded against Lance for years, and the entire world of cycling is so infused with drug use and accusations of it that it's hard to trust what anyone says. I generally find conspiracy theories silly and an easy excuse to keep from tackling real problems. But here I'm being asked to choose what I want to believe:

1.) Landis, having the best year of his career, took a drug that gave him no benefit when he knew full well he'd be tested for it as soon as he got off his bike.


2.) The French are shady bastards who are trying to bring down an American sports hero.

Hmmm. Tough choice.


Anonymous Johnny 5 said...

Wow, I'm really glad you guys posted this. I was completely ready to ban this guy from all wheeled vehicles until now. I'm surprised the American media isn't doing a better job of spreading this information.

Blogger J-Flash said...

Something to chew on.

Landis would only be tested if he won that stage. Seems like he could have just come in second, still maintained a pretty solid catch-up, if not the overall lead, and then dodged the test. (I'm not up on my cycling rules, so correct me if I'm wrong).

Supports a conspiracy theory, right?

On the other hand, a good number of people -- across all sports -- are really stupid about steroids. I.e., they don't get it that for a real impact on muscle structure or endurance, it does, yes, take time.

And there are some scientists who suggest that while the above statement is true, there's also a genuine placebo effect, which could help explain Landis' comeback. That would mean he essentially felt better and did better because he thought he'd taken something that worked instantly.

And of course, there can be synthetic testeosterone injections, which are not the same as anabolic steroids (unless I'm mistaken). Perhaps he really is as dumb as the picture suggests, and he thought he'd take just enough to pretend-help him, and not enough to get busted?

I'm sorry... the math teacher in my has to say something... an increase from the ratio of 1:1 to 11:1 is by a margin of 11 times, not 10 times. I know that it doesn't make much difference to those readers out there.

And for all of you English-minded folks out there, don't bother to write about some gramatical mistake I made here. I know there is one. Maybe two. I could mispell misspell for you. Does that make you feel better?

But I do agree with you George. I want the Americans to beat the French as many times over as we can, no matter how its done. And so what if one test was a bit goofy. Who cares about tests anyway?

Blogger Buck B. said...

I've wondered that myself, Johnny. Especially since the media can usually be counted on to play up the "America under attack!" angles.

Flash, a placebo only affects you if you really believe it's going to help you; you can't just take a little bit and fake it. There's nothing dumb about how cheating is done in cycling. Read a little about hows crazy blood doping is. They essentially pump you full of drugs, get your blood full of oxygen, then store it in a freezer until meeded. Halfway through the Tour, voila, you've got new, energized blood full of oxygen.

It takes a lab full of equipment and a team to help you do it. The prevalent image of doping in America may be dumb jock injecting himself in the ass, but no one's the slightest bit dumb about cheating in cycling.

Anonymous Toothpik said...

Nice piece George. Watching skinny guys in spandex ride bikes up a mountain is not my thing. That's why cars and rally racing were invented. I digress though. Public opinion is what mattered most right after these accusations were announced and because he didn’t reassure anybody of his innocence it just served to remind the public of other athletes like Pameiro (lied under oath), Giambi (confessed to a grand jury), any recent track athletes (pick one) and the worst of all, Barry Bonds (possible perjury charges still to come). He should have picked up the phone to call Lance and say "Hey buddy, I'm in a bad spot, give me the name of your PR person and lawyer. Oh, by the way could you give me some good advice?" You never saw Lance act like this assclown did by hiding out for a week before making any statement to the press and then blurt all type of nonsense when he did (drinking beer and whiskey always increases my testosterone!). Bad move. Hopefully, he can get enough credible scientists/witnesses to testify on his behalf to clear his name; in the mean time take some advice from Lance and shut up.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are anti-doping tests really so poorly organised as to allow some goon to poison a sample?

Well, even if they are, the B sample wouldn't show the same results, right?

Let me frame your question again:

Did another professional sportsperson get caught cheating, or is there a large enough conspiracy with no whistleblowers to organise the systematic contamination of two seperate samples, with no evidence of tampering?

One of those options sounds pretty daft to me.

Blogger Buck B. said...

I'm not exactly a skeptic when it comes to drug use by athletes. Pameiro, Gatlin, Giambi, Bighead Bonds? All guilty as sin. But the fundamental difference between those cases and Landis is the complete lack of corroborating evidence.

Pameiro failed the only test he'd ever taken. As Toothpik said, Giambi as much as admitted his drug use under oath. Gatlin had failed a drug test five years previously. And Bonds has never failed a drug test at all, but I doubt that's convincing anyone of anything. More importantly, all these guys are accused of using exactly the drugs that would give them the most benefit.

I admit, it sounds implausible that both samples were messed with. Maybe there's some other reasonable explanation of the positives. Or yeah, maybe Landis is guilty.

But as I said before, keep in mind who's doing the testing: the French national doping laboratory. These are the same guys who tried to pin doping on Lance Armstrong based on blood samples taken six years before. Guess what happened?

The ICU appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman last October to investigate the handling of the urine tests by the French national anti-doping laboratory.

Vrijman said Wednesday his report "exonerates Lance Armstrong completely with respect to alleged use of doping in the 1999 Tour de France."

The 132-page report said no proper records were kept of the samples, there had been no "chain of custody" guaranteeing their integrity and there was no way of knowing whether the samples had been "spiked" with banned substances.


When you're building a criminal case, establishing motive can be as important as finding the murder weapon. I still have yet to hear a single explanation why Landis would take a drug that would give him virtually no benefit, even though he knew he'd be tested for it immediately after the race.

Until I hear an explanation of that, doctored test results sound like a far less daft explanation.

Blogger George Ohhhhh! said...

Whoa. Take a weekend trip and not only do you have to catch up with your work email but also blog entries.

The only reason I even entertain the idea of a conspiracy theory is the lack of trust I have in the UCI as an organization. Just like I don't trust the MLB, NFL or NBA for that matter. These businesses have unbelievable revenues that move up and down depending on public opinion. Look at the demise of the NHL and the revitalization of the NBA. Another American winning the T de F isn't exactly satisfying the constituency. I believe these factors contribute to a situation where tampering may be occuring.

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