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Saturday, July 12, 2008

le Tour de France 2008: Beltran tests positive for EPO

Was it too good to be true?

Alas, perhaps the good start to the tour this year was too good to be true. . .for it has been announced that Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) has returned a positive for EPO from the samples taken on the first day of the race. He has been fired from his team and is out of the tour.

EPO is a long-abused drug in cycling, but last year we did an in depth post on exactly what it does and how it is meant to work. Unfortunately this takes the attention away from the great racing that we have been seeing so far, and is "sad" in the words of Team Garmin-Chipotle team director Jonathan Vaughters. However all is not lost, and there are many reasons why you should still watch the tour. For those we direct you again back to last year during the race, when we posted on just this topic.

We will follow this story and bring you the any of the science that emerges, but in the meantime let's focus on the racing---it is a close race and tomorrow sees the peloton go over two Category 1 climbs before the Hautacam mountain finish on Monday!


Ashish M said...

Johan Bruyneel stresses how much of a "team sport" bike racing is. He went on and on about that, actually. If that's the case, why isn't the entire "team" disqualified when one rider tests positive, as would happen for, say, a running relay team?

By the same logic, as Lance's ex-teammates test positive one by one, even if Lance himself does not have a positive test, when do his victories get called in to question, seeing as they were created in part by teammates who are proven to cheat? (Okay, proven today, not at the time.)

Bob, NY said...

Just how are we supposed to "focus on the racing", when most of us suspect that at least half these guys are doped to the gills?

Its a joke, pure and simple.

Something far more sophisticated is necessary to show fans that the men appearing at the start on day 1 have been testing clean for months before the race.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ashish, bob

Thanks for the comments.

Ashish, Lance's victories were called into question long ago. Unfortunately, proof is a hypothetical concept - even a positive test these days means nothing given the aggressive challenges it faces in various courts. By the same token, a negative test means nothing either, look at Marion Jones, Dwain Chambers et al., who got away with drug use for years and never tested positive until the very end. Jones was eventually convicted despite never testing positive!

So cycling is in a serious mess - in some respects, the cyclists are in a terrible position - they are guilty by implication, and cannot prove innocence. But they also get away with it too often to deserve my sympathy, I'm afraid. The sport is where it is because of years of "neglect" by its administrators and the riders themselves.

As for the team issue, that's a good point. Last year, when Vino tested positive, the whole team left the race. This year that hasn't happened, and I'm not sure why. As for Armstrong's wins, the key is that they never tested positive at the time, I guess. Given that this is a guy who sues and threatens anyone who even suggests he doped, this form of attack would be dismissed without a thought, unfortunately!

Then to Bob, I'm with you. This year's Tour is the most open in many years, exciting racing and so forth. But it's also tepid and lacking bite, more than usual, and speaking personally, that's due to the issues of doping that have gradually suffocated the sport in the last ten years. It's very difficult to enthuse about any rider given the mistrust of the whole sport, so you're right.

I think though, that one can still appreciate the racing as it happens and remain above being so cynical that you turn the TV off when you see the race. I certainly wouldn't condone doping - I've lost interest in the sport, as you'll have noticed by the fact that in 2008, we haven't covered cycling at all, until a week ago. But the Tour is a great race and spectacle, and when the high mountains arrive, it's still a great experience to watch the guys in the moment. The cynicism is reserved for later, when the doping rumours start!


Thom said...

Last I read, only Beltran's A-sample was positive and he was not fired. He was removed from the Tour by his team.

These tests are far from perfect. The B-sample could come back negative.

As usual, someone leaked his A-sample result, which is against the rules (why aren't the labs ever sanctioned for breaking the rules?), triggering the anti-doping hysteria we now have to put up with.

Ray said...

I'm going to turn cynical for a moment. I can't help but feel that the media plays a dominant role in how cycling (and other sports) is perceived.

How many people are disgusted by drugs in sports, simply because that's all they hear or read about?

How much of the hype is done on purpose to generate sympathy and funding for anti-doping agencies?

I found the focus on Tour de France last year particularly unusual, considering the drug problem is not new, and not unique to the Tour de France.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ray

I agree with you 100% that the media play a vital role in the perception of the sport. But I disagree that this is a bad thing.

In fact, I say "full steam ahead" to the negative perceptions of the sport in the media! This is THE ONLY thing that will drive change and help clean up the sport. In fact, if the media had adopted this approach long ago, we'd never have fallen into this situation. It's the effect of media on teams that is most profound, because the companies that sponsor the teams are doing so for the positive coverage they gain.

The fact that the coverage is now negative, is, in my opinion, the force driving sponsorships out of the sport. That, in turn, scares the life out of the fat cats at the top of the sport, and they are now pressured to clean up. Before, there was no incentive, so the problem grew and grew, unrestrained.

So I say the media should take a bow. If only the media in other sports did the same, because then you would see that cycling is not the only one with a problem.


Anonymous said...

A bit off-topic but Chris Horner from Astana is in the news:

And these are the sort of news I like to read about cycling! Kudos to Chris Horner.


Mike T Nelson said...

Interesting topic here! As a grad student in exercise phys I love the site and really appreciate the passion (and hardcore science too).
I just post a huge blog about EPO on my blog if anyone is interested. Pretty dry and technical though, so you have been warned!
Keep up the great work!
Rock on
Mike N