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Monday, May 24, 2010

Beyond a simple explanation of doping

Taking an integrated approach and looking beyond the physiology

First of all, who watched the Giro stage on Sunday up the Zoncolan?  If we put down the the debate about doping for just a second, and examine the stage out of the doping context, it was epic.  The final climb up the Zoncolan was insane, and more so when you consider that they did things like 4.3 km at nearly 10% average before hitting the Zoncolan---which averaged 11.8% and had sections of 20-22%.  Ivan Basso prevailed, dropping Cadel Evans about halfway up the climb.  You know the guys are going slow (and therefore the gradient steep) when the spectators are practically walking alongside then cheering!

Anyway, we had plenty of feedback from our posts on Floyd Landis' admission to doping and his naming names.  One reader commented that our coverage sounded more like the "Psychology of Sport" than the Science of Sport.  But in fact he was exactly right.  The issue is that to really understand exercise performance and the physiology behind it, you have to take an integrated approach.  By that I mean that we cannot simply say that is low muscle glycogen concentrations alone that cause fatigue during endurance exercise, but instead that factor is one of many "inputs" that lead the the slowing down we see during that type of exercise.  (For the full explanation, check our series on Fatigue.)

In a similar manner, to understand and explain doping we also must take an integrated approach.  The physiology is but one piece of the puzzle, and we try to understand what the effects of certain substances are on performance, the characteristics of the muscle, the effects on the brain, etc.  But beyond that you also have to consider the psychology of the athlete and the culture of the given sport (the "Social Science of Sport," perhaps?).

The culture of cycling:  omerta is enforced directly and indirectly

In cycling the rule of silence, or omerta, has been well known for decades.  We all know the colloquialism, "spitting in the soup," referring to cyclists that vocalize their concerns about doping or who admit to it and name names.  Therefore this force works to keep many from speaking up about what they did or saw, because to do so will immediately make you a pariah and might eliminate your chances of working in the sport.  When one considers the typical European cyclist (i.e. most of the pro peloton), who are these individuals?  To go back to the "social science of sport," typically they have no formal training, probably no advanced degrees, and as a consequence have few options upon retiring from the peloton.

The one option they likely do have, though, is remaining in the sport, perhaps as a coach, team director, or serving a pro team in some regard.  In this way the omerta serves to keep them quiet because speaking up will almost certainly eliminate their chances of working in the sport, which might be their best chance at a very decent living.  Cycling is the sport they love and therefore want to be a part of, and by the time they retire from the peloton it is probably all they know, having spent a sizable proportion of their lives to that point in the saddle.

Perhaps it is the result of omerta or perhaps from something else, but I am amazed that since Trevor Graham mailed a used syringe was sent to USADA and started an investigation that would lead to the BALCO scandal, not one cyclist has banked some used supplies, photos, or other evidence to help protect himself down the line.  In the age of cell phone cameras it would be relatively easy, it seems, to photograph or record people in the act to help corroborate a story at later time.  What if Landis had taken photos or salvaged a part of the medical equipment that might contain DNA when he was allegedly left at Armstrong's house for a few weeks to look after their blood in the closet fridge?

The psychology of a cheat - psychopath or just bad judgment?

Although we are not trained psychologists, it is possible to understand how the psychological component is expressed in doping.  I will rely on the psychologists in the audience to chime in and correct me where applicable!  First let me say, however, that everyone does indeed have choices, and no one is forcing athletes to dope.  The reasons why one chooses this path are varied, and we hear admitted dopers like David Millar and now Landis talk about making changes so younger athletes are not faced with the kinds of choices they were---namely, start doping or retire from the sport because you cannot compete in spite of your best efforts.  That might simply be considered bad judgment, because the logical choice should to go ahead and retire rather than compromise one's ethics and morals.

Taken together with the "Prisoner's Dilemma" described by Michael Shermer in his Scientific American article, these athletes realize that the risk of getting caught is far less than than the benefits to be gained by doping, and therefore it becomes a rational choice to adopt a doping program.

But based on the information I have, I classify dopers into at least two categories.  First are the ones mentioned above, the ones trying to survive, trying to keep their contract.  In cycling these are the athletes doping simply to be able to do their jobs as domestiques for their teams.  They are not interested in getting to the pinnacle of the sport, but might enjoy the occasional stage win in a Grand Tour because this adds value to your profile as a cyclist and helps you "survive" by getting another contract.  These are the ones who, when caught with a positive sample, mostly suck it up, refuse the "B" sample analysis, which is an admission in and of itself, and either retire from the sport or serve their ban.

The other category contains the champions, the athletes willing to do practically whatever it takes to get to the top of the their sport.  For them winning might even be a positive consequence of annihilating the competition.  Think of the angry, macho athlete, in contrast to the quiet but humble champions.  I am not saying the the quiet types are not doping, but rather that they have better control of their behaviour and can keep their mouths shut.

In this category we find the athletes who deny, deny, deny, often making grand public statements declaring their innocence.  It is possible that in their own minds they do not believe they are doing anything wrong.  This might be the result of their psyche or the rationalization of their behaviour along the lines of, "I see all the others doing it, so I am just leveling the playing field, and therefore it is not cheating."  One striking feature of many convicted dopers is, looking back, we ask ourselves how these people can sit there and lie and lie and lie to the camera, and this is one explanation---that they do not even perceive themselves to be lying.

Psychopathy as a contributing factor for success?

One final point here is that perhaps those who express some degree of psychopathy are more likely to achieve greatness in their given sport (or profession), because these individuals are often willing to climb over anyone and do anything to get to the top.  Keep in mind that I am not saying all champions are psychopaths!  Rather, I am saying that the lack of traits such empathy, for one, will be a contributing factor that "allows" an athlete to strive to demolish the competition.  Again, the idea of winning being a positive consequence of beating the pants off the competition.

To use an example outside of cycling, think about Tiger Woods.  Especially for those who might not follow golf closely, myself included, he seems like the consummate "nice guy" champion.  Then came the scandal at the end of 2009, and suddenly we see that perhaps he is not such a nice guy after all, but again, this might help explain why he has achieved what he has.

To be sure, this is an oversimplification of these issues.  But part of the point I am trying to make is that it is indeed a complex series of issues, and to understand doping fully we must try to understand all of them.  Physiology is part of it, but only a part, and so we must think about these other "sciences" if we really want to understand the problem fully.

On the horizon - Comrades!

Meanwhile, This Sunday 30 May is the Comrades Marathon.  It is televised in full each year in South Africa, but unfortunately Ross is in the UK with the South African Sevens team, so we will not be doing any live updates on the day and will have to rely on other sources for any analysis.  For American running fans, Josh Cox is running, although I do not rate his chances for the win at all.  We mentioned a few posts on ultra-marathons recently, and I hope to deliver a couple of those this week prior to Comrades.  For now there is plenty of racing left in the Giro with a few cyclists still in contention for the maglia rosa---be sure to watch the mountain time trial on Tuesday!



Steve said...

You're talking as if you have some insider knowledge that doping is rampant in cycling. What is your reason for being so sure? You also seem to be presuming guilt of the top American cyclists (at least according to previous posts). What is your basis for this? Another topic that would be worth covering: why did Landis get caught and others not?

Marc Hansen said...

Steve should check out past posts like this or this which make the point that some of these amazing efforts are simply not humanly possible without some sort of artificial assist (or genetic mutation).

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Steve

First, it's interesting that anyone who disagrees with the view on doping (particularly from American cyclists) does not debate the actual issues but rather attacks the credibility of the messenger. Whether it's Floyd Landis or this site, it seems that the details are not at stake, but rather whether the person expressing them can be undermined first.

But I have to ask the question: What would it take for a person's opinion on doping to carry weight? When Floyd Landis confessed, he was dismissed as a cheat and a liar. If someone who is not an "insider" comments on the doping problem faced by cycling, then they're dismissed as igorant or biased from the outside.

So you see, no one can win. There is no argument with merit, because the person who knows lacks credibility as a liar/cheat, and the person who is credible lacks knowledge. It's a wonderful position for cycling to be in! Ultimate deniability!

But to answer your question, and thanks to Marc for pointing those articles out, our insights into doping come from our work with cyclists, our following of the sport, and yes, insider information gleaned from working with coaches, riders and scientists who are involved in the sport, scientifically and medically, and from within the media. You will no doubt dismiss this as weightless, but it is one degree of separation from the people we comment on (See:http://www.sabinet.co.za/abstracts/ismj/ismj_v9_n4_a4.html)

as for how we "know" cyclists dope, ask an accountant whether a company's financial transactions are suspicious. They know because they know the ins- and outs of the accounting process. I'd like to think we have some insight on the physiology of cycling. Some would disagree but then we've never said we proved anything. Just put our opinion forward, and that opinion is that the performance you see on the bike in July are not believable unassisted.

Combined with history of the sport, relationships with people inside the sport, and we offer our thoughts.


new london said...

following up with Steve's comment.....I posted a comment asking for some rational explanation of why landis and hamilton elected to go to phonack...doped to become champions
...like heras when he left discovery

why did they not get caught at discovery.....suddenly acheive elevated performances and get caught but yet this somehow implicates lance

what is the logic behind that....it seems counter intutitive to me

i do not know whether lance doped or not.....and clearly it is an open question

Second....give up the Tiger Woods analogy...it just seems so odd that his extramartial affairs is the only way you can explain that things are not always the way they appear

Finally, and despite my criticism of your analogy I do enjoy reading here and learning something new

but enough Tiger...what are you jealous:)

Steve said...

Thanks for the explanation. You are certainly entitled to expressing your opinions. And I'm not saying I disagree or attacking you in any way. You had just made such strong statements that I was wondering on what grounds you were making them. I don't know what I believe yet about this whole doping thing. But I do find it difficult to understand how these cyclists could be subject to so many tests before, during, and after these big races and never be found positive. Perhaps that's my own ignorance about the effectiveness of the tests or maybe it's due to conflicts of interest somewhere in the cycling community. But one thing that is almost certain is that Landis did dope and that he was caught. On the other hand, he said he doped a lot and was only caught once, so maybe the cyclists really can get around all the tests. However, it's interesting that the one time he got caught was when it mattered the most. If he needed to test the limits to win, wouldn't others have had to and also been caught? I may be naive, but my preference is to focus on those who have failed doping tests. If there is suspicion that the tests are ineffective, then it would be interesting to hear about how people get around them (though you may already have written about that and I missed it).

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi folks,

Thanks for the comments.

To new london:
Don't forget that cycling is a team sport, and to win a grand tour one needs talented and strong support riders to do the work of controlling the bunch and helping in the mountains.

My point is that the cyclists on US Postal/Disco were already turning in "remarkable" performances even before they left the team. There were days in both the Alps and Pyrenees in the early 2000s where Postal/Disco sat on the front over all the major climbs, and when I say "sat on the front" I mean most of their riders were there setting the pace over all the climbs.

The question about why they did not get caught while on Armstrong's team is a valid one, and can perhaps be answered by an article translated by Andy Shen at NYVelocity.com

A Dirty Deal

Re Tiger Woods, I hear you, but to me he is a classic example of the champion nice-guy athlete who has been made bigger than his sport. No athlete is bigger than their sport, no matter what the administrators say about ratings and sponsorship. The sport will always live on even when legends retire, but the short-sighted approach is that the sport authorities think they are doing the best thing by protecting a star athlete and not exposing scandal or doping.

These are the allegations in cycling and it would be naiive to think it is not happening in any other sport. Also, golf had no anti-doping program until 2008, and so it is plausible that Woods was in fact doping up to and even beyond that point. Given zero testing, we can see from sports like baseball and cycling and American football that athletes will only take advantage of that situation and use drugs.

To Steve:
Yes, you are being naiive! :) I think you have come to the table a bit late, though, but I am also sure that in short order you will catch up. But cycling is rife with doping, and there is plenty of evidence to support that conclusion. In case it was not clear, I was not trying to say only top US cyclists are doping, because the reality is that no one nationality is free from it.

The biggest flaw with your thinking now is that you invest heavily in the testing, and therefore a tested athlete with no positives is therefore clean. The list of dopers who have never had a positive test continues to grow each year and is highlighted with names like Kelli White, Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones, Bjarne Riis, Erik Zabel, Bo Hamburger, Ivan Basso, Frankie Andreu, David Millar. . .the list goes on.

Testing is important, and a positive will help "convict" a doper, but as in science, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Admittedly, it is hard if not impossible to prove a negative, but the first step in understanding doping is to realize it is not as simple as a positive or negative result.

But you already are coming to understand the situation, because you admit that it is hard to explain how athletes admit to being testing on numerous occasions while doping, only to get caught once.

Thanks again for both of your comments!

Kind Regards,

new london said...

I will read the article...thanks.

Basso's team looked just like discovery yesterday.....and then the armstrong battle of old basso and evans

It is extremely frustrating that doping is wide spread and certainly agree that baseball and football have been in the forefront

nothing like looking at the griffey/bonds rookie cards and then looking at the incredible difference betweeen the two now

as far as being too big for your sport...yes i agree.....thats greed at its best and worst....maybe boxing being the worst

Ron Wolf said...

i follow SoS for many reasons, but i follow you more than any other sports blog or website for one reason - time and again you provide deep thoughtful and nuanced takes on tricky topics at the intersection of sport performance and society. the recent series on over-eating, on gender, and your developing thoughts on what it takes to win, for instance. terrific!

a friend recently got interested in bike racing and now doping. with an open and curious mind she says,

"I've been reading up on doping in cycling a lot and it really tells a tale of guys who were of questionable character riding bikes through insane conditions. The were referred to as Convicts of the Road. By the '30's drugs were such a part of the Tour, the sponsors sent out a flyer reminding the riders THEY don't provide drugs."

so there is little here that is surprising or new. discouraging as that may be...

Anonymous said...

Basso's avg power output up Zoncolan was 5.68 W/kg...

voline said...

This link has Basso's power data for this climb.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. A few ideas:

Check out Dr. Dan Ariely's book and blog on predictable irrationality (http://www.predictablyirrational.com/). I think he'd argue that a cyclist making the decision to use a performance enhancement is just as likely to made from an irrational point of view vs. a rational one. Either way, one's rational behavior is another's irrational so I'd be cautious to describe cyclists as either.

As far as past posts that describe certain performances as being not possible without the support of an illegal substance, I would offer (to your readers) that science is based on evidence. Science is a discipline of observations and repetition that lead to an increase in confidence that something is likely to be "true" or "false". These posts may be spot on (or not), so I would not accept them as the only possible explanation leaving doping as the only answer.

Otherwise, great stuff!!

Unknown said...

Interesting post, thanks guys. I'm a sport psych PhD studying this very topic - looking at the personality, motivation, social influenes and decision-making processes athletes go through when they choose to dope. Unfortunately, finding participants willing to speak honestly about their doping experiences has been EXTREMELY difficult (4 athletes in 3 years). So if you have any ideas/contacts that might move my research along, send them my way!
WADA have funded a lot of social science research since 2005. Further info. on funded projects is available at the following link: http://www.wada-ama.org/en/Education-Awareness/Social-Science/

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with some of the posters here who question your "Science" when it comes to cycling.

You seem more at ease with gossip and speculation and vendetta!

first - yes a huge problem existed (and probably still does) with doping in cycling.

However, there is only one answer (assuming you care about science): PROOF! And comment based on fact not hearsay.

If there are ways to catch cheats, in all sports, great lets debate and add value.

If you're just (once again) going to accuse all cyclists and cycling culture overall of being cheats, then please change the title of your blog.

At least cycling is now controlled in a more scientific way regarding doping than most sports... and I don't for a second think there is less of an incentive for other distance athletes, or certainly tennis pros etc to performance enhance!

I saw in a previous post that you were quite sure (just a personal hunch by the way, not based on data) that 90% of cyclist doped but only 10% of runners (words to that effect).... OK so are you saying that only the top 10% of running results are in doubt? And that the most sophisticated testing regime in sport still allows most cyclists to cheat??

Well Iguess you must be saying science can't do anything to stop doping, and are advocating giving up and allowing open doping?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To the last anonymous poster:

It's rarely a good idea to put words into a debate. So when you quote from previous posts, try to avoid things like "something to that effect".

Also, at the end of your post, you seem to arrive at a conclusion that we want doping to be allowed because science can't catch it? I'm not sure how you made that leap. We're exactly the opposite. I for one hate doping, abhor it, and I want it eradicated from the sport. I want the cheats exposed, and I support all anti-doping efforts. Jonathan will be the same.

But cycling doesn't want to eliminate the problem, and that to me is worse than doping. The authorities and the media do not wish to expose their own cancer, and that's why Jonathan and I are so strongly against it.

With respects to the science, your thoughts are duly noted. However, I've said before and I'll say again, I don't feel the need to defend your suggested lack of science, because the mission and vision of this blog are very, very clear. What you are talking about, the "proof", is something that both Jonathan and I are both involved in, and we try to publish research regularly in peer-reviewed journals. but this site is not a peer-reviewed journal and nor does it try to pass itself off as one. The vision and mission are clear for everyone to see, and the way we've covered this doping story fits our mission exactly. In our history (apart from that one post you've mentioned), we've covered doping from the scientific point of view, the physiological point of view, the social point of view, and the media point of view.

And finally, where did I accuse ALL cyclists of doping? In fact, if I recall, I've even written about those who don't dope whose rights need to be defended. But if you disagree that cycling culture is tarnished, cancerous, then I'm afraid you're watching a fictional sport. Yes, at least it is controlled, but as I've said many times, cycling is controlled because the media and sponsored threatened to pull the funding, and the men in suits and ties who eat caviar using that money were compelled to act. Cycling had its act cleaned up. And now, faced with this problem, it is doing its very best to dismiss it.

Oh and then just to respond regarding the runners. I believe that the African athletes are not doping to the same extent as in cycling. I said this fully disclosing that it was a hunch (which means your jibe about it is unwarranted). I base this opinion o the fact that I know the athletes and I know their circumstances. I don't read about in a newspaper and then decide. I put forward what I said was my opinion based on what I know of the people and of physiology.

I have never, ever said that athletics does not have a problem. It's certain that it does. And my attitude towards Marion Jones, Regina Jacobs, Dwain Chambers, Montgomery and co is the same as for cycling.

So by all means, we must challenge athletics, tennis, soccer, every other sport. But let's not use diversionary tactics to downplay the fact that cycling's champions have been dopers, that cycling has a terminal disease, and that the people fighting for cycling's credibility are the sponsors and media, not the authorities and "old boys".


Anonymous said...

I dont follow cycling so i can't add substance to the debate as such...only a question:
I know that in weight lifting they use polygraphs to expose dopers in smaller competitions. Obviously if it were hugely successful then it would be more widely used but even so cant they get some of these cycling guys to take lie detector tests? and then follow on from these with interrogations or something? human rights may become a problem though!

Ray said...

It seems that a lot of people assume that Landis is trying to "go after Lance" with these accusations, in his e-mails.

I understood the purpose of Landis writing private e-mails to the different organizations, first, as an effort to clear his conscience, so he can sleep at night, but second, and more importantly, to finally make an effort to clean up the sport.

Isn't this what Lemond encouraged him to do 4 years ago? This isn't so much about catching past cheats, and smearing Armstrong's name, but about catching future cheats, by detailing how he, and others, get away with it.

Gene said...

I think you're over your head in this psychologizing about doping and cycling (and sports). Though not the focus of your post, your comment about Tiger Woods strikes me as indicative in one respect. Admittedly, you are not close follower of the golf, yet the idea that someone of his caliber is a nice guy competitor - and his personal life has absolutely zero relevance here - is very unexpected coming from someone who is as close to sports competitors as you and Ross are. Sure, on the surface of it, Tiger, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong (issue of drugs aside) seem nice guys publicly and follow the etiquette of their sports. But beyond exceptional ability, what makes the best what they are is a combination of 'killer instinct,' intimidation, facing down their opponents, wanting the pressure and wanting their opponents to feel it, taking advantage of (pouncing on) their opponents' weaknesses and even injuries, etc. (Ironically, the rap on Rafael Nadal, and the apparent big change this year, is that his play tended to become overly defensive at times, instead of counterattacking and turning things around. He seems to have spent some time amidst injuries working on that.)

With regard to drugs and cycling - or any sport where drugs are common - doping appears effectively to be an occupational requirement at the top levels. In that sense, it's near meaningless to individualize it; it's first of all an economic and sociological issue. Sure, individuals have a choice; they can refuse on principle, quit and go find another occupation. Much easier said than done, especially in economies where unemployment is structural (if you couldn't be a sports scientist or use your skills and inclinations in something similar, what would you do for the rest of your life?).

Sponsors and media companies want to make money and thus expect results; directors and coaches choose and keep those that perform; political leaders want to point to their countrymens' successes; and so forth; i.e., it's first of all a collective issue. That's why I think harping on the psychology of lying and denial is largely beside the point, however interesting the subject is (such as: it seems hardly accidental that Lance Armstrong and George Bush are good friends). If we are first of all, and largely, products of our environments, then it's there we should first look when there are widespread problems.


Check out this interview with greg Lemond On doping in cycling;http://runwitharthurlydiard.blogspot.com/2010/05/greg-lemond-ethics-doping-and-future-of.html
I think Greg might well have been the last 'clean' winner of the TDF.
drugs have always been a part of cycle racing from the very early days of the Tour,its part of the sport and I doubt you will ever get rid of it, maybe the only answer is allow drugs to be used in pro bike racing under doctor supervision!

Unknown said...

Basso's ascent of Zoncolan was 1:40 slower than Simoni's a few years ago when he was riding for Saunier Duval

Garzelli's time on the Plan de Corones TT is 1:02 slower than Peliizotti's time last time on the same(or near identical?) course. All the big guys like Cadel and Ivan were blown away today so somebody has been cutting on the dope lately?

johnfothers said...

Hi Ross and Jonathan

Thanks as always for your insightful and sometimes controversial blog-phew!! lots of emotion out there as there always is when doping and cycling are discussed.
I was very interested to correlate your latest post to the interview that Landis gave to ESPN's Bonnie Ford. At no stage did he indicate regret at the doping-more that he was sorry about the mountain of lies he then told. The scariest part for me was the negation of the health risk element to doping and that "there is always a risk with blood transfusions but its small" Is it though? Certainly that is not what I believe as a Dr. It terrifies me that there are cyclists out there with blood in normal fridges with no back up systems and safe guards. Clearly as the Psyc part of your post suggests, some elite cyclists believe that the end justifies the means.
Machiavelli and pro cyclists make for strange bed fellows...
Did Comrades once and once only!! looking forward to yr coverage.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Gene:

I think you may have misunderstood Jonathan's use of "nice guy", in the sense that he was applying the global perception of the athlete, not his known.

Neither Jonathan nor I believed him to be a "nice guy" (that was true both before or after the allegations, and was true for both on- and off-course), and you're 100% right, there is something required of an elite athlete that goes for the kill. That doesn't mean they're not nice guys, though. The elite rugby players I know are very nice guys, but they'll be the furthest thing from nice during the game in order to win (within the rules, usually. Hopefully, at least!).

But the point is, we weren't saying any of these guys are nice, but rather, what I got from Jonathan's post and comment is the concept of the general perception, which actually agrees with you. You know this, we know this, most don't. So I feel you may have misunderstood that one.

Aside from that, fair points. I don't think we're "in over our heads", but just as entitled to opinion based on the collection of our experiences. They need not be agreed with, sure, but not lacking merit for that reason.

It's true that analyzing the psyche of a doper is difficult. But we don't have to guess. We have testimony after testimony, stories from both sides of the fence and from independent observers (people like David Walsh, for example), and so we can construct a summary of the issue, and it's certainly not besides the point.

Lastly, you have lost me with the concluding statement that we should look at the environment when there are problems. I'm not sure what you mean by this, or where we should be looking? Surely when we talk about the pressures faced by athletes, we're doing exactly the same thing you were doing in your final paragraph?


Joe Garland said...

Speakling of David Walsh, I just came upon a new article.

Anonymous said...

Ross, you continue to use totally bias language on this issue.
"cycling doesn't want to eliminate the problem" along with other references continue to suggest that cyclists/cycling etc are one group... of dopers and doping apologists.

I'll leave aside that you both suggest the media is part of the issue, and also the only thing helping solve it, and move on to the main point.

"cycling" by which I mean ALL those involved in participating, regulating, testing, sponsoring (etc) the sport has done more and is doing more in the last few years than any other sport to rigorously and scientifically monitor for doping and eliminate it.

No one else has the level of blood testing in and out of competition unannounced tests and longterm biological profile (passport).

However you dismiss that as outsiders cleaning up the sport. But you cant then say its still "terminal" with a "cancer"...

asides from the logical flaws, the language and hostility you continue to use in a kind of sports-racism against cyclists and cycling is really kind of shocking. Your blog may have a very very clear mission that you choose to separate from your scientific and professional duty of standards. But I have to say that any professional that thinks they can be so biased, emotive and loose with their thinking and language online and not have it degrade their "scientific" credentials has their head as much in the sand as did the UCI of the 1990's who you still think is running the sport.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To anonymous

But it is. It has a disease which is being treated through interventions of those outside it. May I suggest that you read the following:


Then again, I'm sure you believe that Walsh has an axe to grind as well, and cannot be believed himself.

I'm sorry you feel my credentials as a scientist are undermined by my opinion. Perhaps your opinion of science is that it exists without opinion? You are sorely mistaken.

Nevertheless, you are not forced to believe what I say. And you're entitled to your opinion on your sport. Yours is no different to the opinion expressed by those who disagreed with me on Oscar Pistorius, but who went strangely silent when Pistorius' own scientist published a paper saying he had 10 second advantage in a 400m race. Back then, some guys even wrote in and suggested they would contact my University to have me relieved of my academic post. They too have gone silent.

Some wrote in and mocked by scientific credibility for questioning that an amputee could have the advantage. They said it was "clown" science. Someone said the same about our series on dehydration.

There is a pattern here - every time someone disagrees, they attack "science" and credibility. I find it quite tiresome. Perhaps you stumbled across this site and expected a journal. Maybe you'd be interested in this piece:


Point is, science looks at doping all the time. As do I. On this site, I express my opinion. The site is an extension of my personality. Needless to say, you probably wouldn't appreciate it either!

The problem is, you disagree, and that disagreement becomes the basis to assault credibility and credentials. It's a great pity because we've had this running conversation but have never really debated the facts or issues, because I defend my background and purpose while you attack a bias that is obvious and irrelevant to the facts. If you and I were standing in a torrential downpour, I would point out that it's raining while you challenge my qualifications as a meteorologist.

And at the end of the downpour, we stand there sodden, soaked through, but no better off.

If you decide not to visit again, because you don't enjoy biased opinion, I'm sorry to have lost your readership.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks, as always, for keeping this discussion going.

To Gene:
Ross had it right, I was not trying to say Woods is a nice guy competitor, but that his public persona is that of a nice guy "champion."

Interestingly, I was just reading testimony from Michael Anderson, a former employee of Armstrong. I think we will all agree that Armstrong was never a nice guy competitor, as many winners never are, but according to this testimony he is also not a nice guy in any part of his life---especially once you fall out of favour.

It is bloody long, but in case you want to read it you can find it here.

Regarding that last bit about the environment, this is exactly what came out of the "debate" at last year's ACSM meeting betweeb Bengt Kayser and Tom Murray (The Hastings Institute). One of Bengt's points was that the societies in fact condone "doping" in many professions and in life in general, and therefore accusing the athletes was a misguided approach because first we should examine and address our societal values (or lack thereof).

A fine example of this came from one of my colleagues here at UIC, an NIH funded researcher and prominent name in his field. We were discussing cycling and Armstrong, and he said to me (paraphrasing), so what if he doped? He is trying to get to the top of his profession, so how can we fault him for using any means to do so?

I did not ask but perhaps my colleague could even be using ritalin or modafanil or another CNS stimulant to help him focus while writing his grants! There was an article in Nature called "Professor's Little Helper" that examines the use of these cognitive-enhancing drugs by professionals.

So 100%, the "environment," if that is what you meant, Gene, is a crucial determinant of doping, and to be sure it must be examined at the same level as all the other issues, which just shows us how complex the problem really is.

To johnfothers:
Agreed that it is kind of scary how lightly these guys treat infusions, injections, and transfusions. What we do not know is how often these athletes fall ill or suffer some ill fate from non-sterile practices, because you will never hear a team director say that a cyclist is retiring from a stage race because he has septicemia (or another ailment) as a result of a bad injection or contaminated equipment!

Instead we hear about GI problems, stomach viruses, etc etc., which often times might be legitimate but I am sure sometimes are a ruse to cover for adverse and/or unexpected side effects.

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

Ross - dont be an arse all your life... by having a blog you open your self to others opinions, not just create a platform for your own voice! Yet you get really angry when your own words are repeated back to you and questioned.

I attack the manner and agression of yours that are levelled blanket across a sport, rather than just at dopers - that my opinion. And its one about your style and lack of logic, NOT an attack on science. I hold a science degree, son of scientist etc.... don't try and hide behind casting those who disagree with you as anti science! I'm saying the style and conjecture of some of your writing on this particular subject does you (and science) a grave misservice. Sure science and scientists have opinions and hypothesis, but engrained emotionally charged bais in your argumentation and language that ignores basic facts IS anti scientific.

At the end of it you STILL cant adress the fatal flaw in your argument: Cycling has more stringent, scientific and longterm testing than almost any other sport, yet you basically rubbish it and all its athletes as inherently, terminally (you may want to remind yourself of what that word means) flawed... thats just plain annoying to any reasonable analysis of the current and future situation!

Anonymous said...

and just to clarify, and borrow your metphor.... the downpour in this argument is "what other sport tests more, and so is better positioned to stop cheating as much as is scientifically possible?" and your response is "the sport is terminal because of doping, they're all dopers, look at the past." er hello? answer the question.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again people,

To Anonymous:
We can agree that cycling does more than any other sport---the biological passport is clear evidence of that. However, our point is that these kinds of decisions were not proactive moves by the UCI but rather reactive moves in response to bad press after 1998.

In this is cycling is very different from the NFL and the MLB, because both of those leagues have had scandals (baseball more than football). In all three sports their hands were forced, but in the NFL and MLB the response has been very, very weak, with leagues refusing to fall under WADA's umbrella of testing and with players being allowed to test positive for banned substances numerous times before suffering any kind of serious ban.

Cycling has done more than them, to be sure, but any one involved in cycling in the 1990s knew full well about the abuse of EPO, but instead of doing their best to stamp it out, the only move the UCI made was the 50% Hct rule which is so feeble by design it meant nothing. The use of drugs was very much an open secret, but there was practically no response from the UCI until after the scandal of 1998.

We are both cycling fans and in fact cycling is my primary competitive sport, but at the professional level as a sport it has huge problems. The fact that an active cyclist donated six figures to the UCI and it was not disclosed at the time is just one illustration of this. That is a massive conflict of interest, even if the UCI is a non-profit organization, and it is debatable if an active rider should even be allowed to donate money to the body that has the power to sanction him or her.

And there is definitely something wrong with any organization who reacts as Pat McQuaide did to Landis' confession. Surely if you are serious about the problem, you would welcome with open arms confessions from athletes both retired and current, but especially from current athletes. After all, they are the insiders with all the knowledge and evidence, and confessions by them should at least be taken seriously until they can be shown not to be serious in nature.

I will be called a cynic for this, but the large sums of money involved in international sports are clear incentive for the governing bodies to control things as much as they can, and also for athletes to lie and cheat to maximize their own earnings. Ten years ago we had a huge match-fixing scandal in cricket. Not too long ago here in the USA the former NBA ref Tim Donaghy made allegations that the league attempts to prolong playoff series via the refs. One more example is Robert Hoyzer, the German soccer referee who fixed Bundesliga matches in 2005.

So there is likely some degree of control and/or manipulation by governing bodies in all (big) international sports, and we would be naiive not to acknowledge this as a possibility in any sport.

Finally, on the issue of bias, we all bring some bias to the table in each and every debate. To say someone is unbiased is a gross oversight, because all of our prior experiences shape our beliefs and opinions and therefore also affect the way we even interpret scientific data.

Scientists like to believe that the are not biased, that they are objective. But we all are biased to some degree. I can accept this because it is what makes us have differing viewpoints and ultimately moves us forward via discussion and debate.

Thanks for comments again to all, looking forward to more discussion.

Kind Regards,

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again

Well, I've been called many things, but 'arse' is a good one. And "all my life", that's good too, considering you know me from a blog post.

Anyway, point taken about attacking the science, and I can appreciate that you weren't attacking science per se. That's fine. It's just that if I had a dollar for every person who has beaten us over the with the old "science" stick I'd be sipping pina coladas on a beach instead of grafting late night in hotels in Scotland! So you must appreciate that your criticism is very similar to that received on countless topics, every time someone disagrees with us.

As for responding to the fatal flaw in my argument, it's odd, because I'm actually worried about repeating myself, I've addressed that question so many times.

But I shall try again:

The issue is not that cycling is doing nothing. I've acknowledged many, many times that it is. Last year, you may have read it, we even featured a series on blood passports and we interviewed Prof Yorck Schumacher, who was one of hte scientists who devleoped the testing process.

The conclusion of that article, which I would recommend you read, is that cycling's doping problem has been reduced. There is less doping, controlled doping, if you will. We gave Prof Schumacher that platform, and openly expressed the thoughts he shared, no editing.

We then did the same with Prof Bengt Kayser on doping.

We've covered Marion Jones, baseball, Barry Bonds, Usain Bolt and doping, all these sports.

So I hear you on the other sports, I have acknowledged many times that they have problems.

The thing about cycling, however, which I've tried to emphasize is that they're not serious about cleaning up the sport. You've read our strong views, and my comments in this discussion, and you've ignored (wilfully or accidentally, I don't know), the historical context of our views on this debate. The UCI are complicit in the doping problem. As are much of the media. They do not wish to acknowledge it.

The only reason such strong measures exist in cycling is because some sponsors, and some media, decided that they would not cover the racing, but only doping. Suddenly, the dollars and euros were in threat and something had to be done. The authorities thus catch the odd rider, but make no mistake, many have eluded detection because the system doesn't wish to catch them.

No one has ever said the biological passport system is a scam or worthless. But what I am saying is that the current reaction to the doping issue smacks of the historical denial that got the sport into this mess in the first place.

So if I may use your own question in your second post: If you asked me "what other sport tests more, and so is better positioned to stop cheating as much as is scientifically possible?"

I'd answer. "Cycling has the most comprehensive testing process. It began recently, thanks to the efforts of private teams, law enforcement (let's not forget who blew the Festina scandal wide open) and pressure exerted by the media. And it's helped bring doping under control. It's just a pity about the previous 20 years, and I hope it still gets exposed."

And that's about it.

Lastly, I'm really sorry you disagree and don't respect my opinion as either a scientist or a commenter on the sport, but save the name-calling, please.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Just one thing to add.

I think that the separation of the historical context of the sport and its current state is completely reasonable in this debate.

Remember, the context of the present discussion is Floyd Landis, whose accusations most definitely do not exist in a vacuum, but have asked some serious questions of cycling once again.

But these questions demand a look back. If you ask our opinion on the current state of the sport, then the answer is different. Currently, doping is happening, but the level has been controlled (this, incidentally, is a view shared by a few who are involved in the anti-doping controls). I believe this because Yorck Schumacher believes it, and he is an authoritative voice, a realistic voice and one without a conflict of interests (like the UCI has).

But this debate is not about the current situation. That has been covered in previous posts. This is a commentary on the sport, its history, its possible future. And I think it's entirely justifiable to look back in order to understand what is happening right now. The sport, combined with the PR machine of some riders and teams, has convinced many that it is squeaky clean. I don't know if you are one of them. It certainly sounds as though you're willing to defend the sport, which is fine, but not at the expense of denial of what still exists, and the defense of some people who have nurtured cycling through the doping era all the while denying that it has a doping problem. Men who covered it up, who turned a blind eye, until their hand was forced by the courage of a few cyclists and the efforts of media who they shunned in return.

To borrow from David Walsh, "I would love if we'd been able to tear down the sport, because the sport needed to be torn down. When I talk about the sport, I'm just talking about professional cycling. It NEEDED to be torn down. And sadly, there weren't too many people out there with journalistic responsibilities who were prepared to do it."

That's what drives my opinion. I believe that if people like Walsh, Kimmage and co had been around in the 1980s, we might be better off than we are today. So I adopt the extreme position, I want to tear down the sport, because it needs to be fixed. And I'm sorry that offends you. But again, you did attack my scientific credibility, and you then attacked personally (unless "don't be an arse all your life" wasn't mean that way).

I wish cycling had David Walsh, Kimmage, German and Swiss media, and co 20 years before. We'd have avoided this mess.


Anonymous said...

The doping record of athletics is hardly better than that of cycling, yet the IAAF are doing less to expose cheaters.

Nicholas Childs said...

It seems to me that it's an odd world where we so worship sporting celebrity that we cannot see even the possibility of fault within it.
I just don't know how people remain as apparently ignorant as our Mr Anonymous.

I love cycling and always have. I have 3 bikes hanging in my apartment, but If you can't see the mountain of anecdotal evidence about the problems of cycling culture then you haven't even begun to looking.

I have all of Lance's books in my bookshelf and in some ways they were the trigger to seek more information on what I now believe to be the mythical figure contained in those books.
I know close relatives of tour level cyclists and generally we get along because we have a common interest, but it always amazes me how cold the room turns when you mention doping. Everybody inside the circle knows exactly what is going on. Everybody knows it is wrong.
Nobody wants to be the first to stop because it will mean a premature end to to an already short career and essentially life as they know it.

Anonymous said...

hello - one "Mr anonymous" (note I'm only responsible for some of the above posts!)

Glad you refer back to the context and the historical separation issue here. I honestly haven't seen any of the serious cycling media or fans ignore the history, which particularly in the 1990's was clearly close to completely dope fuelled. Thankfully there are now decent testing procedures and reasonable ability for the labs to test for EPO and derivatives. (which to give the UCI some small credit for the ultimately ineffective 50% rule, was not the case until fairly recently!)

The only two things I think cyclists would ask is that

1) it is acknowledged that the sport has very strict controls and is in a pretty good place to say with evidence that it catches cheats. - partly thanks to work done by teams, partly done by UCI (passport) and partly done by the normal WADA and individual country controls. - As a Note, I'm not sure why you talk about "outsiders" in dope control as if that's evidence of a bad system in cycling! - show me a sport reliant on dope controls done by those who finance and profit from the industry(insiders) and you show me a doping system that can't be trusted!

2) That not everyone is branded a cheat every time some case comes to light, or back into the light in the case of Landis.
Tackle the issues and follow the evidence don't do a guilt by association - or as I read above a "sport-racism" against the whole of cycling.

Its particularly alarming in the Landis case that its used to again rubbish the whole sport as it is both about things that happened 10 years ago, and its so devoid of new evidence (Landis says he has no evidence, and still denies the evidence that convicted him!).

Truly what a dope!
The guy was caught cheating, he denied it and still denies using what he was banned for, but now not only says the tests that caught him were falsified but that lots of others were cheating in x,y,z manner. It might all be true, some of it probably even is, but the circumstances, timing and build up to the accusations are so clearly about mudslinging and personal revenge it is laughable. This is so clearly not a case of whistle blowing! He could have done that before but didn't, in fact did everything opposite to exposing the how+whos... now he stilll doesnt help uncover the real suppliers and system behind his own cheating, but accuses others of use.

Best of all is his UCI accusation - as if Landis knows (but WADA and the labs involved in the testing) how a case in 2001 was covered up for money! Ha ha. The UCI can be faulted for lots of things in the past, but the specific allegations Landis makes implicate the whole drug testing system from WADA on down and are things that are both systematically impossible and also things he would never have been in any kind of position to possibly know. Yet it gets given serious weight.

He's wasting our time, and not helping cut doping further. While the cycling media (at least anglophone) who are blasting the Ricco's and Kohl's of recent years for not fully disclosing their suppliers and systems in an open way, are chasing real stories, that might help make a difference.

Frans Rutten said...

Mircea said

I did compare 2010 with 2008. Since the road now was better prepared, weather quite similar, it's fair comparing 2010 with 2008.

From a statistical viewpoint it's important that 27 riders did both. Not many for statistics, but okay.

14 riders were slower:1358 seconds.
13 riders were faster:1086 seconds.

The bunch almost together (146) came about one hour (3276s) short.
109 riders accounted for a loss of 4191s; 37 riders for a win of 915s.

If you look at the riders in the upper half of the peloton (most promimently be expected taking drugs) you will see, that 11 riders lose an amount of 1149s and only 3 riders win in total 173s.

Comparison with placings (1 vs 1, etc.): no relation to individuals.

Top-7 loses an massive 636s.
Nrs. 91-100 loses only 140s.
Nrs. 131-140 wins 293s.
Nr. 146: wins 39s

Pro cycling is effective cleaner than for quite a while.

Anonymous said...

This article will be of interest regarding the science/medical aspect of what Floyd did to win. WADA/UCI, etc reaction to this information just makes no sense - they should be all over it - IF they really want to clean up cycling:



Anonymous said...

interesting article and good to see some details coming out from him that will help improve the passport etc (though I'd guess they're already well known by the doctors and labs guys who run the testing).

It helps show why riders like Rebelin, Di Luca, Ricco etc thought they could get away with it... but also why that confidence is misplaced as the can easily mess up and then get banned (as those ones did, despite presumably doing all the tricks to avoid testing positive).

Seems like WADA etc are on the case, but they cant just magic up new procedures etc.
Just as in other sports they can't even agree to implement "whereabouts schemes" like in cyling because of legal issues and push-back... Andy Murray among other tennis pros I remember reacting to the suggestion quite angrily, as if it would take away tennis pros basic human rights to be on-call at anytime to be drug tested!

Anonymous said...

Yep. Looks like some improvements on way, so that the testing does not rely on slip-ups so much:

perhaps will add to or change the way the passport and where-abouts-scheme operate, or at least the way the software analyses the results.

Hard to know what else they can do in terms of physical availability of the athletes, as they already have 24/7/365 blood/urine/hair collection powers.

That's why Rassumusen was kicked off the tour de france - not for failing test, but for lying about where he was on a given date.

Drew Johnston said...

The "Power output of Tour champions" post that Marc linked to is very interesting and relevant to this discussion, especially if you are in the Aldo Sassi camp that has any sustained power output over 6.2 W/kg on a long climb as suspect.

It seems to suggest that most of the titans of our sport are on the juice, especally Armstrong and unless the figures are lying, Contador.

Jim said...

"But I have to ask the question: What would it take for a person's opinion on doping to carry weight? When Floyd Landis confessed, he was dismissed as a cheat and a liar. If someone who is not an "insider" comments on the doping problem faced by cycling, then they're dismissed as igorant or biased from the outside."
I am a huge fan of yours but Floyd Landis is simply not credible. He has a long history that proves this point. On the other hand, of his doping allegations, he brings no proof. The debate and investigation on doping is important and necessary but Floyd just doesn't merit serious consideration. If we were in a courtroom (in the US) he would be worse than useless. He has no credibility.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Jim

I agree that he lacks credibility. But i haven't argued in favour of his credibility. I have argued in favour of doing justice to the possibility that his allegations may carry some weight.

I agree that in a court, unless he provides evidence and back-up corroboration of his claims, he'd be dismissed. However, we don't know that he doesn't have this - as I understand it, he is now talking to authorities more and possibly providing links that can be cross-checked.

But returning to credibility, my point is not that he is credible. I know that he is not. My point is that he may still be telling some truth, and it requires investigation.

I think the most telling thing of all is that his allegations are not new, they are not isolated, they do not exist in a vaccuum. They are consolidations or advancements on the same things we've been hearing for years and years re cycling and how it works. The nuts and bolts of his accusations make sense to scientists who know that micro-dosing is being used, and he has described to them (Ashenden) how it is done in a way they believe is credible.

Again, none of this is proof, but I believe that dismissing Landis simply because he's lied in the past and is not credible is an error, because of history and insight that only he can provide. I mean, what are we waiting for? Do we need someone to come forward and allege doping who has never doped? They can't possibly know. So we need dopers and liars to allege. But wait, they're liars and can't be believed. Too convenient to hide behind that catch 22. If Tyler Hamilton spoke out? No, he's a liar too. What about Heras? Liar. How about a team physio or sponsor? No, they don't know the inside story, and they're probably out for revenge.

It's too easy.