Thursday, July 27, 2006

Not Landis! Anyone but Landis!

Well after not posting yesterday I figured I had to post something today, though with all the server trouble I had from the beginning of the week, I'm horribly behind on everything, so I'd better make it short. (It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't taking two days off next week, and three days off the week after that, and now that I think about it one day off the week after that.) The big news is of course Landis...

So as far as I can tell, here's the story: Someone's "A" sample tested positive for excessive amounts of testosterone. As soon as that story broke, everyone scrambled to figure out who it was. And this is the part that bugs me, because it's only the "A" sample, at this point the UCI waits for the results of the "B" sample before they do anything, because the positive on the "A" sample could be an anomoly, but despite this Phonak decides to come out and say, yeah it was Landis, and it was on that legendary day when he took back 8 minutes (I may never forgive them for tainting what was otherwise the single greatest ride that I've may ever witness.) But as far as I can tell the "B" sample has not been tested, so all of this seems pretty premature, for one thing.

Secondly, if we assume that he did take some sort of drugs, then what was the motive? The obvious answer is that his motive was that he took drugs so that he could take back those 8 minutes, but with the exception of something like some kind of amphetamine, would a drug work in that short of time frame? Because you have to remember that he was tested before that, and those tests presumably came up negative. So is the story that on the morning of Stage 17 his doctor injected him with a big syringe of testosterone? Of course they point out that high testosterone is a side affect of steroids, but cyclists (with the possible exception of sprinters) don't want big muscles, they want a big engine.

In any case I don't know what to think, the whole thing would obviously be tragic if it weren't so damn annoying. The only possibility for something even vaguely amusing to emerge is if the "B" sample is positive and Landis has is Tour title stripped. Then, improbably, my Dad will turn out to be amazingly prescient in not picking Landis on the eve of the Tour when the first of the drug accusations broke. And that's just enough of an interesting end to that story, that I might be able to pull something good out of all this ugliness.

Cycling drug free since the late 70's


Anonymous sti said...

Having correctly picked Floyd Landis as the strongest American cyclist, and further correctly predicted that an American would stand on the podium; I now feel a need to defend Floyd.

Others have noted that it would make no sense for Floyd to take testosterone during the race. There are other things about this particular test that are fishy as well.

The one thing that really jumps out at me is the threshold ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone the triggers a test failure. Last year it was 6:1, this year it was lowered to 4:1. Normally we expect it to be 1:1. It is all well and good to say that normal is 1:1, but that tells us very little unless we also know what the natural variation is around 1:1. It's like saying the average young woman (18-25) in the United States is 67 inches tall. Does that mean that a 6 foot tall woman can't be from the United States? Of course not.

In the article I read they stated that the 4:1 level was selected because that corresponded to two standard deviations from the mean. It is astonishing that they would pick such a low threshold. No one in industry would make a control chart with the Upper Control Limit just two standard deviations from the mean. (Four is more standard and Six Sigma is the oft stated ideal.) Let me put it in terms of the height of young women. The standard deviation for young women's height is 2.5 inches, so two standard deviations above the mean is 72 inches. If the WNBA operated like the UCI, they would ban any woman player over 6 feet tall because they would assume she must have taken illicit growth hormones.

How much do we really know about the physiology of elite athletes? I once observed a medical test where a fasting patient was injected with insulin with the express intention of sending him into insulin shock. The dose of insulin would have been fatal without treatment. The attending physician carefully monitored the vital signs of the patient all the while testing his rapidly falling blood sugar level. The patient was white, comatose, covered with icy sweat, and with a heart rate approaching 200 bpm before the physician released a massive dose of glucose into the patient's blood stream through a previously inserted IV. The whole thing was stomach churning. It is still deeply disturbing to remember watching a healthy young man being brought right to death's door in the name of a medical test.

The whole idea of the test was to check out the endocrine system. In layman's terms, when the pituitary gland sees that the body is dying, with it's own last gasp it releases every hormone it's capable of making in the pituitary equivalent of panic. By taking a blood sample at this moment, it is possible to see if the pituitary has full functionality.

I think we can all agree we saw something unique in Stage 17. After Floyd bonked on Stage 16, while he was in no danger of dying, who can really imagine the magnitude of his inner torment. It is my contention that this personal crisis triggered a hormonal response that was picked up by the drug test. Was it unusual? Certainly, the whole Tour de France is right at the margin of what is physically possible. Was it doping? I seriously doubt it.

3:27 PM  

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