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Friday, July 28, 2006


Floyd Landis

Since I've written twice in recent weeks about Floyd Landis, I have to break from the war news to write about him once again, while he's under attack in the media for alleged "doping." The rush to judgment in his case has been incredible; evidently "innocent until proven guilty" isn't just an outmoded standard for Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Afghan victims of U.S./British/Israeli imperialism (there -- I got the required political tie-in!). Even without the release of a second ("B") test which is required for proof according to international cycling rules (the question of why the initial results were released to be the public before that was done is certainly an interesting one), I have heard multiple pundits on TV pronouncing him guilty, not to mention a front-page column by the main sports columnist of the San Jose Mercury News today, plus the lead editorial in the paper doing the same.

Let me start by repeating two comments I made last night on First Draft:

These kind of ratio tests, based on arbitrary "normal" ratios (as if anyone who could win the Tour de France or even race in it belongs in the "normal" part of the bell curve), are complete bullshit. Mary Decker Slaney was the victim of the same nonsense a few years back.

And the idea that Landis could fail such a test on ONE day, and not have similar levels on other days, is absurd.

And the way it's played in the news, which tends toward the "tested positive in a drug test" as if he were found with some banned drug in his bloodstream, are equally bullshit.

To elaborate on my point above, I think the closest (not perfect) analogy would be banning players over 7'3" from the NBA on the grounds that, since they are so much outside the "normal" range of heights, they must have been taking growth hormones even though there's no proof whatsoever they were.
Now a bit more elaboration on that first point from VeloNews:
The basis of the urine test is the T/E ratio, a balance between testosterone and epitestosterone in the body. Most adults have a range between 1:1 to 2:1, but the UCI has set the threshold at 4:1 to allow for riders with naturally occurring high testosterone levels.

The T/E ratio can vary widely within individuals, and in some cases the T/E ratio may be above the 4:1 ratio without doping while others can stay below the threshold despite cheating. The ratio tends to be constant over time, but wild swings may indicate doping. Other factors can cause swings in the ratio, such as dehydration, fatigue and even alcohol.
Not to mention riding an incredibly hard 5 1/2 hour, 200 kilometer race at the limit of your capabilities. Can anyone believe that blood (or urine) levels of various substances after such an effort can in any way be compared to the results of "most adults"? What an absurd idea. Not to mention the absurdity of overlooking the way steroids work, which is not to cause some miraculous overnight transformation but only to work over the course of weeks; other tests on Landis before and after the stage in question were within the limit, which doesn't just suggest but strongly suggests that the results on stage 17 were the result of natural processes.

Landis is holding a press conference which is being broadcast on CNN, which despite his clear explanations, insists on putting up on-screen labels claiming "Landis tested positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone." He did not. He tested positive for a high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone; indeed, I have "heard" (but can't seem to find written proof) that the actual level of testosterone was low, not high, and that the T/E ratio was over the limit not because of high levels of T, but low levels of E.

I'm done ranting. Your turn.

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