Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"ARMSTRONG LIED"

That was the headline seen on the front page of a popular French sports newspaper, "L'Equipe." The article, in French, can be found here. For those of you who don't feel like running it through a translator or don't remember much French, the BBC ran an article about the allegations, entitled "Armstrong denies drug allegations."

Now, as everybody reading this probably knows, I'm a fan of Lance. I'm sure he was given steroids AND some type of EPO drug as he recovered from cancer, though I also believe he did not use any performance-enhancing drugs over his 7 consecutive Tour de France wins. Even if I weren't a fan of Lance, though, as a scientist, I'd have a lot of problems swallowing this new allegation (well, this new iteration of the allegations, as these allegations have been tailing him since he first won in 1999).

Here are my reasons for thinking that this article is just more "Lance-bashing" by the French press and that the allegations are unfounded:
A) They're doing guilt by association. The BBC says, "The paper said there were 'characteristic, undeniable and consequent' signs of EPO in what it claimed were Armstrong's urine tests, carried out by France's national anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry. The laboratory said in a statement that it had 'conducted EPO tests on samples from the 1998 and 1999 Tour de France races'.

But it said it could not confirm that any tests it had conducted belonged to Armstrong."
The key phrases, in my opinion are, "...what it claimed were Armstrong's urine tests..." and, "...it could not confirm that any tests it had conducted belonged to Armstrong." I know that this is France, not America, but since when has guilt by association held up as "undeniable proof"?

B) He's been tested over and over and come up negative. I've read that he has had more drug tests than any other athlete, and anybody familiar with statistics knows it's MUCH more likely to get a false positive than a false negative. Multiple false negatives are virtually unheard of.

C) In addition, the BBC article notes that, "Tests on the samples were carried out in 2004 because cycling's governing body did not start using a urine test for EPO until 2001, the paper said." SO. The TdF testing group held on to the samples for 5 years before testing?!?! Who's to say ANY of the samples hasn't been contaminated some how in an effort to smear Armstrong or any other cyclist?

D) This is SO FAR after the fact that it seems ludacris to bring it up now except to fight his image. I mean, the race was in 1999, but the samples were not analyzed until 2004 and then they waited until after the 2005 Tour de France to try to discredit Lance? That just doesn't make sense. If this testing was done in 2004, why not mention it THEN as "credible proof" (albeit wooly in my scientific opinion) of his alleged doping activities? Why hold onto it through 2005's TdF? Lord knows the French have allegated that Lance has done this for a long time, I think they'd lust for "proof."

E) Note, this came up because of something posted in one of the forums I subscribe to, where somebody asked why we don't give Barry Bonds or anybody else the same benefit of the doubt that we give Lance when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. As far as Bonds or any other athlete involved in denying taking performance enhancing drugs and actual testing for said drugs, well, for me, the proof is in the pudding, as it were. Bonds, as far as I know (and I admit I don't know much) hasn't been tested, yet categorically denies taking performance-enhancing drugs. Palmiero denied taking them, but tested positive. It seems that of all the people involved in this type of allegation, Lance has the complete package, having been tested more times than most other athletes and testing negative and denying taking performance enhancers.
It's one thing to deny taking these things. It's another to be tested. And it's wholly another to test negative. Lance has all three, which as far as I know, no other athlete tied to performance enhancing drugs has.


Maybe I'm just being optimistic here, but I find the entire thing wooly, particularly in the age of the sample (and unknown contamination, because I *WOULDN'T* put it past people to contaminate it, even if it was thought to be secure), the lateness of the publication of the result, and the lack of credibility admitted by the study authors. Personally, I think this is the kind of sour grapes that might be used in a good French whine.

UPDATE/EDIT TO ADD:
On one of the forums I read regularly (one within the online soccer management game, Hattrick), somebody posted this little bit on EPO, which I thought might be useful for anybody who doesn't know what it is: "
Why people call EPO roids is beyond me....EPO isn't anywhere related to steroids. It boosts red blood cells so your muscles get more oxygen, hence allowing them to work better longer. It has nothing to do with making muscle grow faster."

This was later followed up by "It's a fancy way of blood doping. I mean, the "old fashioned" way of doing it is to take blood out a month or so before an event, then infuse it back in just before the event. So EPO just does that without the blood bank in the middle (i.e. it does it chemically)."

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