Floyd Landis and the Magic Water Bottle: Part III

They Forgot Who They Were Dealing WithEditor’s Note: Here’s the long-awaited third installment to my series on Floyd Landis and his epic Tour de France and subsequent doping controversy. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do have a unique perspective that is based in part upon my career as a professional cyclist and in part upon my education and work in biochemistry and exercise science. If you’re just finding this article for the first time, you might want to read Part I and Part II first. You might also find my views on pharmacological sport performance enhancement interesting or amusing. That post is here.

In part two we talked a bit about doping in cycling and how it is a systematic program and not a fly-by-the-seat of your pants (or fly with the help of a needle more accurately) athlete-as-physician circus act such as the press and the sports governing bodies would like to, and would also like the public to believe. We discussed the stage and how hard the GC contenders had to go on the final climb and finally we saw a quote from Floyd that I believe was an overlooked but enormously important indication of why what happened next well…happened next.

TDF Stage 17 a Miracle on Two Wheels or Something Else?

The 200 kilometer stage 17 from St. Jean de Maurienne to Morzine was the final day in the Alps and represented the last chance any serious TDF contender had of making a significant move in the overall general classification.

On paper this stage didn’t look like a monster.  Unless, of course your perspective was colored by the fact that you’d already raced sixteen previous stages including monster climbs in the Pyrenees and the Alpes, and particularly if you’re perspective was also determined by the fatigue you’d added to your already acumulated fatigue by virtue of a leg shattering, lung searing effort on the final climb to the finish at La Toussuire.

The Role of Cumulative Fatigue and Superlative Effort

On the other hand, if your perception was colored by the facts above the seventeenth stage looked like one to be survived – to be endured – it was a perfect stage to let a bunch of no-hopers role on up the road and gain fifteen minutes and suck up all the points for the KOM and the Green Jersey along the way.  It looked like the perfect stage to have your lieutenants ride “tempo” all day – just fast enough that no one got any ideas but not so fast that the leaders would have to call upon those weary legs to do anything more than the minimum required to just finish the day in the same GC position as from the day before.

If you’ll recall in Part II of this series I wrote about the effort that the leaders must have made up the final climb to La Toussuire.  As you might imagine you pay a price for an effort of this magnitude, a price that is made all that much steeper by the previously acumulated fatigue, by the fact that it was made at the end of a long, hot stage, by the fact that every rider was dehydrated before the effort began and of course by the fact that the following day they had to get back on the bikes and race once more.

You might also recall that I pointed to Floyd’s statement the he could “only go one speed that wasn’t very fast” on that final climb.  In other words his bad day – whether he was bonking, fighting a virus, or whatever – so limited his performance that even though he was trying as hard as he possibly could he simply didn’t have the strength or the energy to go any faster or – and this is important- to hurt himself very much.

This last may seem counterintuitive so let me try to help you understand it.  Lets say you lift weights.  Lets also say you have a coach that is a few points shy of having a genius IQ and he has you do biceps curls every day for a month.  Then, on the 31st day he has you try and do your 5 rep maximum.

Now you might try very hard, but if your arms are trashed from the 30 prior days of lifting your five-rep max isn’t going to be all that impressive.  What’s more, since you’re probably sore as hell already you’re not going to be able to push yourself so hard that you’d make yourself all that much sorer.  In fact, the impact of your five-rep-max effort would probably be so minimal that on the 32nd day you wouldn’t be any more sore than you were on the 31st day, follow?

Now on the other hand, lets say you have a coach that’s a bit more capable and he has you train biceps only once every five days – he knows that your maximum strength and recovery capabilities are going to be on the fifth or sixth day post your last effort. So he has you train biceps only five times during that same month and then on the 30th day (which will be five days after your most recent biceps workout) he has you do a five-rep-max.  I can guarantee that you will absolutely crush your five rep max from the prior coach.  Your arms will have been fresh, but well trained and totally recovered.

Fresh enough and well enough recovered in fact that they’ll be strong enough to allow you to do an awful lot of damage to yourself in those five reps. I can also promise that you’ll be sore beyond belief on the first and second days after your big effort.

This same principle is at work in the tour.  Floyd was too fatigued and flat on the stage to La Toussuire to do himself much physical damage, but the other riders, the ones that were taking it to Floyd on that final climb felt better and they had the adrenaline of a cracking tour leader coursing through their veins.  They buried themselves.  In fact they did themselves so much damage that I am surprised that more of them didn’t crack completely the following day.

To Drink or To Chase, That Was the Question

But that’s not all by a long shot.  If you look at the route on the seventeenth stage you’ll see that it was tailor made for a long break by a small group or an individual.  The course was serpentine and undulating with small, winding roads that make it especially hard for a team to get a big chase organized and rolling.  It’s also tough on a course like that to see what is happening up the road.

The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is really true and on a course like the seventeenth stage it was possible to get out of site almost right away and from then on the peloton never saw the leaders again the whole day.

The other thing that the seventeenth stage made difficult was for the riders in the peloton to get enough to drink.  With the small narrow roads the cars couldn’t come up next to the peloton which meant that the domestiques had to keep dropping back and ferrying water to their respective team leaders.

This was also a difficult situation – if the same guys that you need to be up front chasing are constantly going back to fetch water they aren’t going to have enough left in their legs to mount an effective chase.

Plus, with that many riders packed together and people getting nervous about the rider up the road the pace was probably very uneven which meant that there were likely brief accelerations where everyone was going nearly flat out followed by extended lulls where the pace dropped to barely 22 miles per hour.

In contrast Floyd, alone in front, had a car right there feeding him water whenever he wanted it.  In fact you saw on the coverge that he was actually dowsing himself with water – you won’t see any footage of the guys in the peloton doing that.  They needed every ounce of water they had just to keep minimally hydrated.

The same thing goes for food.  When you’re alone or in a small break, it is a lot easier to get the food you want and to eat it without worrying about someone crashing next to you or someone attacking just as you grabbed a musette bag full of snacks.

Floyd was also able to ride at a steady tempo.  No huge accelerations, no big lulls, just a steady, AT effort for several hours.

These Guys Forgot Who They Where Dealing With

It’s important to mention something else here too.  Did all the guys in the peloton forget Floyd’s background?  A moutain bike world cup race is basically a two kilometer sprint flat out, followed by blowing up and then scraping yourself together and riding at your AT for the next three to four hours.  Funny, that sounds a lot like the way Floyd rode the seventeenth stage, doesn’t it?

When you take all these factors and add them up, it doesn’t take illegal drugs to balance the equation – it seems to me that it balances pretty nicely all by itself.

Let’s examine it in summary, shall we:

  1. The riders that rode away from Floyd on stage 16 nuked themselves in the process
  2. Floyd was so flat on the final climb of stage 16 that he couldn’t hurt himself nearly so much
  3. The peloton rode a very uneven pace on stage 16 while Floyd was able to ride steadily
  4. It was nearly impossible for riders in the peloton to stay hydrated during the 17th stage
  5. Floyd was able to hydrate very effectively during the 17th stage
  6. Floyd was able to get and stay out of sight easily on the 17th stage
  7. The domestiques that had to fetch water were also the ones that were supposed to be mounting a chase on the 17th stage, a task that was all but impossible given their own fatigue, the small winding roads and their leader’s need for water that they had to fetch from the cars following the race
  8. Floyd was a pro mountain biker, very familiar with and exceptionally well-suited for an effort just like the one he made on the 17th stage.

In summary it seems to me that when you take all these facts and lay them out before you on the table, any rational person is going to see that there are  plenty of reasons to explain the respective performances of Floyd and the other riders in the Tour.

Yes, it was an exceptional effort. But was also the culmination of a series of factors and events that created a “perfect storm” for a miraculous solo win.  Also, don’t underestimate the fact that this was an enormous tactical blunder on the part of all the teams that should never have let Floyd gain so much time.  By the time  these guys realized that they had an emergency on their hands it was already too late to do anything about it.

Honestly – and I hope by now you can see that I really do call it the way I see it – I don’t see how you need doping to explain Floyd’s results on this stage.  Far from it.  I think that the facts that are readily apparent to all concerned, facts that can be conclusively demonstrated to be true, definitively prove that Floyd’s performance can be completely explained without resorting to speculation about doping.

Needles?  We Don’t Need No Stinking Needles

I’ll save the lengthy explanation about why using testosterone would have been one of the most ludicrous decisions imagineable for another post as I’m sure I’ve given you plenty to think about already today.  Before we wrap this up though let me remind you of what I said before: that on a Tour team of the caliber of Floyd’s the doping is not left up to the riders.  The doctors know this stuff as well as anyone – certainly as well as I do so I am absolutely certain that no one on Floyd’s team stuck him with testosterone before the stage.  I think that Floyd would have had a pretty tough time finding testosterone to shoot up with too.  Remember that in previous tours teams and riders had been raided in the middle of the night – recall people even going through the garbage in Lance’s room after he departed from motels during his final tour.

I hardly think that Floyd (as the American leader who was clearly under the microscope) would have been wandering around with syringes and testosterone in his bag or some tube of transdermal testosterone gel in his personal effects. Puhlease.  Why didn’t the “investigation” into his alleged doping ask any of these sensible questions?

Anyway, I’ll delve into the myriad reasons why only a moron would have used testosterone in my final post on this topic.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this one.  Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Oh- and I promise I won’t take another four months to write the final installment.  Oliver

About Oliver

Oliver Starr is a well known blogger, speaker and serial entrepreneur. His current blogging is focused on mobile technology and applications, green (eco-protective) technologies, and entrepreneurs and their companies. He is currently engaged as the Community Evangelist for Pearltrees.com, a new social curation tool. Oliver was also a professional cyclist and six time member of the US National Cycling Team.
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31 Responses to Floyd Landis and the Magic Water Bottle: Part III

  1. Matt N says:

    Thanks Oliver for another superb & thought-provoking post. I have been desperate to read part III for four months, the wait was worth it.

  2. admin says:

    Jean,

    Since it is obvious that you have access to reports and information that the public doesn’t have, and since I have given you an open platform to state your views and contradict my own, I think it is only fair that you divulge your particular affiliation and the basis for your contradictions.

    It seems pretty clear to me that you are associated with some facet of the French anti-doping community, be it the lab at Mawbray or the press, but it is unreasonable for your statements to be accepted without you providing some background information so that we are able to balance our opinion given full knowledge of your particular bias and why you might have same.

    Oliver

  3. Pingback: tour de france results

  4. Jean C says:

    Olivier,

    The only points or answers you can’t find of the web is “Where is Lance’s money given to UCI?”
    Even Lance has said different version during his numerous trial. He didn’t remember How, when, how many.

    Have you ever see an elephant climbing a slope? Despite his strong muscle, it can’t climb easily that is just because his ratio weight is too big for his consumption of oxygen.
    That is the same for athlete and rider. Heavy rider like Indurain, Riis became climber because EPO was able to feed their muscle with more oxygen.
    EPO boost is around 5% for a single injection but with a full programm and long term program 20-25% is possible. Blood transfusion are also similar efficient. See Lasse Viren performance, US cycling, ski-runner Muhlegg,…

    Coincidentaly since the 90’s (EPO release), the output power has increased by around 20% on pass in few years and decreased when hct limit was done, or EPO test was available!
    The difference between the top 100 riders or riders is less than 5%, less than 1% between the top 10 !

    How can a clean athlete beat doped riders like Pantani, Virenque, Ullrich, Manzano, …?

    Some different links about doping:

    http://scienceofsport.blogspot.com/2007/11/effect-of-epo-on-performance-who.html

    http://pappubahry.livejournal.com/262884.html
    http://spoke-n-word-cycles.com/blog.html
    http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-14898139_ITM
    http://outside.away.com/outside/bodywork/200311/200311_drug_test_1.html
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2003/jul/03/1
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/20070708-9999-lz1s8landis.html
    http://www.dailypelotonforums.com/main/index.php?showtopic=5117&hl=noticias
    http://www.dailypelotonforums.com/main/index.php?showtopic=5041&hl=noticias
    http://www.dailypelotonforums.com/main/index.php?showtopic=4889&hl=noticias
    http://www.dailypeloton.com/displayarticle.asp?pk=6730
    http://rant-your-head-off.com/WordPress/?p=457
    http://www.playthegame.org/Home/Knowledge%20Bank/Articles/Anti_doping%20%20the%20Fraud%20Behind%20the%20Stage.aspx
    http://rant-your-head-off.com/WordPress/?p=414
    http://dopingjournal.org/content/2/2/dopingj092005-01.html
    http://gdb237.free.fr/tpe/?page=dopants#epo
    http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200512/lance-armstrong-1.html
    http://www.philippetastet.com/dessin.aspx?code=dessins-cyclisme
    http://forum.doctissimo.fr/sante/cancers/cancer-prostate-apres-sujet_157900_18.htm
    http://rant-your-head-off.com/WordPress/?p=462#comment-19694
    http://www.ergogenics.org/012.html
    http://www.sfweekly.com/2005-09-07/news/tour-de-farce/full
    http://www.cuttingedgemuscle.com/Forum/showthread.php?s=68f64f85697d8ec06c8627ad12c38bc9&threadid=18509&perpage=15&highlight=Lance%20Armstrong&pagenumber=1
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aDe3l5g45w6E&refer=exclusive
    http://www.cyclingforums.com/showpost.php?p=3817531&postcount=34

    Jean

  5. admin says:

    Jean,

    A couple of points: First, my name is not “Olivier” it is “Oliver” please do me the courtesy of using my actual name instead of the French analog to it. I realize this is trivial, but since I used to live in Auxerre I know that the French frequently call me “Olivier” by mistake.

    Second, have you bothered to read the “about” section of this site or otherwise examine my background? I ask because you are writing as if I am completely naive to many things. Among them cycling in general, but specifically climbing vs. riding on flat roads, power to weight ratio, the use of rEPO by many cyclists, particularly during the last part of the 90’s and the early part of the 21st century, the incredibly small differences between the pros and the even smaller difference between the very best of the pros.

    I was on the US National Team for six years and I was a professional on road and mountain bikes for many years after that. I raced with Armstrong before he could climb. I raced with LeMond before and after his hunting accident – I even raced the Tour du Pont with Greg the year he staged his miraculous recovery from getting dropped on every single climb at Du Pont to winning the Tour just a few months later.

    You think that I am not aware of what rEPO can do?

    You also seem to have missed the fact that I’m a biochemist. I have an excellent working knowledge of the drugs in question and the effects thereof.

    As I said in a previous response to your comments, I am not interested in addressing the use of rEPO or other blood chemistry altering methods by Floyd, Armstrong, or anyone else. I mentioned Armstrong because his experience with the lab at Mawbray resulted in an evaluation of that laboratory where it was found badly wanting and I believe that those facts are relevant to the topic I am covering.

    Lastly, I thought I made if very plain in my last response to your commentary that it was unsporting of you to continue to comment anonymously and particularly without showing me and my readers the courtesy of divulging your particular affiliations so that we have full knowledge of your specific bias and can weigh your comments accordingly.

    Your failure to acknowledge this polite but clear request casts everything you have written as well as your motives for writing anything at all in a very suspicious light.

    I have been completely transparent. Up front I stated my relationship to Floyd (or lack thereof_ and made it be known that I had no axe to grind either way nor anything to prove).

    For this reason I believe that my readers see my commentary as credible and unbiased. I have been giving you the benefit of the doubt but when you accuse me of making errors, yet are not careful enough in your reading of the material to get my name correct nor thorough enough in your background checking to be aware of my own experience and history, as well as for the aforementioned failure to divulge your personal angle on this issue I am finding it difficult to take anything you are saying at face value.

    It is very clear that you have an ulterior motive here. That is fine. I do not block comments from people that disagree with me. I believe that sites like this are most interesting when readers engage in spirited discussion. That said, when one reader is open and transparent and another is playing a game and ignoring polite requests to be straightforward it makes the discussion much less interesting because the person who is being obsequious ends up losing so much credibility out of the gate that the discussion is hardly worth having.

    Frankly, I have already invested too much time responding to someone that won’t do me the courtesy of acceding to my very simple request – thus, while I won’t censor your comments as I only do that for vulgar language or racial epithets, I see no reason to give them one more ounce of my energy unless and until you come clean with your credentials, your sources and your reason for posting here.

    Oliver Starr

  6. Ken S says:

    Good post Oliver. I’ve been annoyed by the people who claim stage 17 could have only happened after stage 16 they way it did if Floyd took PEDs. It has seemed to me that the hydration and bad tactics by the other teams were what let Floyd get the time he needed. The additional info you add on muscles and recovery is an insightful addition to my thoughts on the stage. Much like Peloton Jim’s article, I’m sure this would open some people’s minds a bit if they took the time to read and think.

    I’ll be interested in hearing your continuing opinion on testosterone. I’m not an expert on this stuff by any means, but from most things I’ve seen, testosterone the night before stage 17 would have at best offered some kind of placebo effect.

    Ken

  7. admin says:

    Hi, Ken. Thanks for your additional comments.

    Since you asked for my further thoughts on testosterone, you might want to brace yourself. Here’s why:

    While I stand behind my belief that a single use of Testosterone – and specifically injectible testosterone would have been of little to no benefit to Floyd for a single stage performance, there is another way in which testosterone could have been used by Floyd during the tour that could have had “some” impact upon his performance.

    Frankly, I am somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t think about this before, but in an offline discussion with David Brower from TrustButVerify, David pointed out that micro doses of transdermal testosterone could have been used throughout the tour.

    Now this strategy is far different from the use of a single injection and the benefits are slight but they are real. This would explain a number of things that I felt substantially argued against Floyd using T. Among them, the very small increase in the Test to Epitest ratio vs. an injection, the fact that Landis would have felt that he could get away with using Testosterone in this fashion, the benefits to using small amounts of transdermal testosterone are considerably different than the benefits of a single shot too. They include better recovery, improved recruitment of muscle fiber, it can slightly bolster immune function, and can even help maintain a higher hematocrit (according to some research).

    What’s interesting about this strategy is that it is well known that during day after day of arduous exertion, testosterone levels will fall and continue to remain depressed for an extended period of time. A lot of top pro cyclists will have testosterone levels of a pre-pubescent girl following the tour (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much).

    If an athlete knew what his fully recovered testosterone ratio was, he could theoretically boost his depressed testosterone levels back up to the top of his rested normal range and it is likely that he would gain a slight edge as a result.

    While I am still of the opinion that Floyd’s seventeenth stage performance was more the result of the combination of the prior day’s efforts by the others, some tactical errors, the course itself and Floyd’s advantage when it came to hydration, his possible use of micro doses of transdermal testosterone certainly forces me to question whether his entire tour performance was not aided by the use of this strategy.

    I wish to note two things however. First, that transdermal testosterone is readily available to anyone that has a relationship with a life extension medicine practitioner, second that since it is a gel that comes in a tube it is much more easily disguised than vials and syringes and does not require any potentially painful administration practices.

    The one thing that argues against this possibility is that transdermal testosterone that is nature identical is readily available too. So I have to ask – what kind of amateur hour doctor would give his rider synthetic testosterone which is certain to be identified as elicit drug use when the natural form which would not be so damning could be used instead?

    I am scratching my head a bit about this question and the additional questions that it leaves unanswered in my mind.

    One last thing; this is not that esoteric a drug and it is not that uncommon a practice. If indeed this is what Floyd did then he was just unlucky (or stupid to have used synthetic test) but it is hardly likely that he was doing this alone. Chances are that a huge percentage of the field also used this strategy and they were either luckier, smarter, or simply weren’t the ones that WADA wanted to pillory at the conclusion of this race.

  8. Ken S says:

    Oliver, thanks for your additional comments. I had heard about the patch, but not the gel. I could be wrong, just don’t tell anyone I know I admit that, but I had thought from what I’ve read that the helpfulness of the patch in a small overnight dosage was not scientifically proven, though many swear it helps.

    I would have to wonder why if you could get a nature identical transdermal testosterone you’d be taking a synthetic one. Which is just one of many reasons why I don’t trust that the lab’s results are correct.

    I do feel that the overall reason Floyd got the time he did on stage 17, even if he had the help of a banned substance, was tactics – his and the other teams. And I don’t think the lab proved he was on a banned substance so he should still be the winner of the tour. I also readily admit that when I really think about it, yes I’d like to see the athletes play fairly without all the drugs, but I find I just can’t get all that worked up about it.

    Ken

  9. admin says:

    Ken,

    One thing is for certain; there are still far more questions than answers. I agree – as I’ve stated myself that the circumstances of stage 17 from the events the day before to tactics to heat all played a critical role in Floyd’s victory on the day.

    From my offline discussion I’ve learned that a reasonably respectable contingent of informed people are of the belief that what was really happening is that there was widespread belief that Floyd was doing something untoward with his hematocrit – but that the doping lab was uncertain what he was actually doing and did not seem to be able to catch him violating the rules in spite of the fact that his hematocrit was fluctuating in a way that was outside of generally acknowledged parameters.

    When he came up positive on stage 17 it was just the gift (or excuse if you like) that WADA was hoping for as it gave them grounds to get him disqualified for something even if it wasn’t for the substance or practice that actually helped him to win the tour.

    I don’t know what to think about that. I’d like to believe that Floyd was honest and that it was still possible to win the tour naturally, but given the nature of the discussion I’ve read most recently, I am starting to feel like this most recently described scenario is more likely partially or mostly true than the myth of the physiologically superior athlete.

    As for testosterone not being effective – I do not agree. I think – and I have some experience that personally bears this out – that when you are talking about the degree of depletion/reduction in production that is going on during the tour that the difference between natural levels and unnaturally augmented levels probably does play a pretty significant role in day-to-day recovery and immune function.

    With respect to your last comment about the coverage of the tour and the doping controls – have you read my piece about doping in sports?

    At some point the sport is harmed more by the attempts to police the drug use than the benefits to the riders that preventing the use of drugs conveys.

    Honestly, I’m of the opinion that certain sports- cycling included – are so hard that the athletes are probably damaged as much by not using certain pharmacological aids as they are by using them.

    In fact, it might just be that the policing instead of leveling the playing field actually ends up tilting it further askew. How? Well, as we’ve seen, in spite of ever tighter regulation and testing, athletes are still doping. We know this because some athletes are being caught. What we don’t know is how many athletes are doping but NOT getting caught.

    Further, we don’t know if the reason that certain athletes are escaping detection is because they have been employing more advanced technology to evade the tests?

    If this is the case, then it probably means that those riders that were better to begin with, and thus have better contracts making more money and whom are more valuable to their teams are going to put some of that money to use hiring the best and most sophisticated teams of doping specialists around.

    So what happens as a result? The poor work-a-day pros that don’t have the funds to hire the big buck drug docs either race clean and get clobbered or they take the risk and ultimately get caught and hung out to dry. Either way the field is still tilted and the guys who need the help the most are the ones getting the short end of the stick.

    Further, as the testing gets more sophisticated the riders are forced to try ever more extreme means of improving performance. rEPO use is not nearly as fraught with potential complications as blood doping is, but now that rEPO can be detected the riders are forced to risk it by falling back on the more difficult to detect (but also more difficult to safely and properly implement)blood doping.

    Similarly, if steroids are allowed riders aren’t going to try using retroviruses to increase local production of nerve growth factor are they? But when one door is closed, necessity, as the mother of invention, forces another one open, even if that new door might be much less desirable and far more dangerous than the one that was closed previously.

    Of course at some point perhaps the testing will be so advanced that no drugs make it through. Maybe they’ll also decide that we can’t use carbon fiber or titanium or even disc wheels or tri-spokes or aero helmets or even shoes with cleats. I mean, all these things help the riders go faster and going faster is dangerous – certainly more dangerous than going slowly.

    Sure that’s a ridiculous comparison, but in the final analysis the same problems exist and the same guys with more money which affords them more options come out on top. The only difference is that they sport has been so sullied by the attempt to close a door which can most likely never be completely closed that it has lost any significance or prominence and then, with a grand whoosh the final bits of air – (read: MONEY) comes gushing out of the deflating bag and the drug problem, for better or for worse, is finally solved because their no longer exists any incentive to take drugs for a sport with no fans, no money and no future.

    Like I said in my Chemistry in Sports rant, people want to see the biggest, baddest, meanest, fastest athletes setting the world ablaze. Do they really care of they’re drugged to the gills? Only if the media tells them that they should. Does the public really care if an athlete drops dead from a heart attack or cancer? Or are they morally concerned because their children might one day emulate the behavior?

    Look, these guys are professionals and they do what they do with full, informed consent. The doping control debacle is only making the situation worse – worse for the fans, worse for the riders, worse for the sponsors – who wins from it? The labs? The NGOs? The fans?

    Like I wrote before, we don’t pretend to put unleaded into Formula One Cars – why do you think it’s called Formula One anyways? For the tires? Puh-lease. We watch F1 because it is more exciting – it is faster, more dangerous and only the best drivers get to play. No one is telling them that they have to switch to fuel that slows them down and if they did, people would just watch another, faster, more dangerous sport instead.

    People want to see the best and at this point, it is pretty clear that the best are not the best naturally. They are the best naturally and pharmacologically and it has been that way for decades.

    In any case, it looks like the writing is already on the wall for cycling. I just wonder what these journalists and the NGOs are going to do in July a few years from now when L’Equipe and Le Tour are no longer synonymous with one another.

  10. Ken S says:

    Oliver,

    Thanks for all the info. This definitely is not my area of expertise, I’ve only been following more closely because of the Floyd mess and other recent events.

    I know someone who has raced though I don’t believe it was at your level. From what little I’ve talked to him he has said that from what he has heard of Floyd, Floyd didn’t need to dope to win. Of course even if that weren’t just hearsay, not needing to doesn’t mean he didn’t.

    As for his fluctuating hematocrit, I think I’ve heard discussions about that before, perhaps on trust but verify. It may be that they suspected something and got him for what they could get him for. And while going after those you suspect is a good start, from what I’ve seen of WADA and the other agencies I’m not sure that those they suspect and those they want to get are kept separate. And the case against Floyd seems too much like they wanted to nail Floyd so none of their mistakes mattered. But the mistakes matter to me. I’m no scientist, but me no dummy. If they ran a bike shop like that I’d be buying my bike somewhere else.

    I also wonder if we know as much about biochemistry as we think we do. My friend was talking about the old east european rider, whose name escapes me you may remember him, who had naturally high levels of testosterone. More than would be allowed. He and his whole family, even the women, looked like Lurch’s relatives. I think we’re starting to get a good handle on the normal aspects, but there’s still a lot for us to learn.

    My last comment was quick as I was at work late and just wanted to go home. I did read your piece on doping in sports and thought it was pretty good. I don’t know that letting everyone get drugged to the gills is the way to go, but I don’t think doping is the end of the world that it is sometimes made out to be.

    We all want to see the excitement in sports. Most people don’t want to see the athlete drop dead from playing that sport. I’m reminded of a thing I saw on Earl Campbell about former NFL players dealing with chronic injuries. They showed how he can barely walk and at times doesn’t even move that much. The show was clearly portraying it as due to the beating he took in the NFL. However, Earl has said that he has a congenital back condition and that he’d be in this shape soon anyway. The NFL only hastened it, not caused it. I guess what I’m getting at is that we all make choices. I hope that people are able to make informed and wise choices.

    Another thought I have, while I’m rambling, is that what’s legal and what’s not legal as far as drugs and natural body levels is decided by someone. Sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber is ok, but running your blood through a machine isn’t. Is it about the best interest of the athlete, or just about the appearance of the best interest? There’s the LAZR suit in swimming. Do some people want it banned because it’s bad for swimming or because they don’t have it. Often in sports the decisions made look to me as decisions that are intended to look like they’re trying to do the right thing. And science is only going to keep improving.

    Perhaps we should lock all the cyclists up together in the same building six months before the tour. They can all be monitored that way. They’ll all have the same equipment for training, and the same food. And when it comes to the race they’ll all be given the same brand of bikes, clothing and equipment. Though I’m sure someone would still claim one of them is getting an unfair advantage.

    And I would mostly agree, the best are the best naturally and pharmacologically. Though I think you’ve left out mentally. I’ve seen athletes that could have been the best, but didn’t have the drive. And those that were good enough, but their drive put them over the top.

    I like watching my sports. I know not all the athletes are “clean” as defined by their sports authorities. But I’ve also seen the athletes screwed by the sports authorities. It’s not always fair and it’ll never be perfect. You do what you can to try and make it as fair as possible. Then I sit back and enjoy it, mostly.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. It beats working like I should’ve been doing.

    Ken

  11. admin says:

    Ken,

    One last comment relating to your point about the differences between top athletes: I did not mean to imply or disregard an athlete’s mental capability in determining performance. Far from it, I believe at the highest levels this is one of the most critical of all differentiators. I saw it in my own personal experience and I can state with certainty that one of Lance’s greatest attributes (and in my opinion the reason he beat cancer and won the tour seven times) is that he hates (d) losing more than anyone I’d ever met and this fueled his remarkable drive above and beyond any other physical or technical advantage he might have had.

    Oliver

  12. Ken S says:

    If I wasn’t thinking it at the time I should have realized you’re quite aware of the role of an athlete’s mental capability. Might make for an interesting study, if it could be done. Assuming physical talent is about the same; a clean athlete with a tremendous drive to win versus one doped to the gills who’d like to win but doesn’t really have the drive.

  13. transzendence says:

    Just a shot from the peanut gallery – and this may or may not have been covered – or even be relevant, but according to Marieb and Hoene, 2007 Anatomy and Physiology from Pierson, there are receptor sites in the kidney for testosterone, which in turn activate increased production of endogenous EPO. Since this is a renal mechanism, measurable benefit could be discerned after two weeks – but not after 24 hours.
    Ted Burgess
    Cycling Enthusiast, PA student

  14. wbarns says:

    Two additional very important factors in stage 17 that contributed to Floyd’s victory:

    1) The Yellow Jersey’s team was relatively weak but by tradition it was their job to control the peloton and pursue Floyd.

    2) More powerful teams in the peloton did not come to the front because they were all represented in an early break away that stayed in front of Floyd for much of the stage. It was only after Floyd caught the breakaway that other teams became interested in pursuing him.

  15. Oliver, I’ve just finished reading your excellent series on Floyd, and I’ve been following it. Has anyone ever considered that one smear of testosterone cream on the saddle of Floyd’s bike would have had the same effect? Is nobody seriously considering sabotage?

    It seems to me that what got Floyd across the finish line on Stage 17 and in Paris was Floyd-not some patent medicine of questionable utility and unknown provenance, despite what people seem to think.

    He did it himself, bum arthritic hip and all. My hat’s off to him.

    I have added my modest commentary on the contretemps on my blog, not as a knowledgeable cyclist (I am not) but as a trained observer of people.

  16. brian says:

    Looking forward to part IV…less than 3 months away! 😉

  17. Burger1097 says:

    Oliver,

    Thanks for an interesting blog and please continue.

    Iv’e thought of all these reasons for his comeback in stage 17 and they all seem evident when replaying stages 16 and 17. One other issue to ponder is that Floyd told several riders what he was going to do the morning of stage 17. Was there an exagerated level of pity when they let him go on up the road? Smart. Everything he did on stage 17 was smart. He could not have played it any better

    I noticed you didn’t mention Floyd’s power output in stage 17. I think it also goes to show that he did what he was capable of doing. Could you comment?

    The hemo levels are an interesting topic. If doping control sets threshholds and riders stay within those levels which may not be “normal”, are they breaking the rules by staying withing threshholds? Thats not to excuse any of the creepy things they do.

    More on Greg. He pissed me off when he opened his mouth casting doubt on Lance during the 2003 TDF. Pathetic.

    Keep it up-Andrew

  18. youngdoc says:

    “Oh- and I promise I won’t take another four months to write the final installment.”

    Tap-tap-tap…

  19. Stray says:

    brilliant work. I’ll admit that I followed the media and assumed that Floyd was guilty. As a recreational cyclist I am mildly interested in the professional end of the sport.

    All of your points were well made. The case for Floyd being railroaded as the bad guy is very strong.

    Thanks!

  20. ktholden says:

    Thanks for the intel on Landis. I’ve always wondered why everyone was so willing to believe he had cheated, and not that the other riders had made tactical mistakes.

    Also how testosterone could help overnight (granted I don’t know much about it… but it didn’t seem to make since). Also I was glad to hear others state that the bloated former LeMond was a windbag who was showing his ass and childish oh poor me attitude.

  21. ET says:

    Oliver,

    I think you have written the most intelligent piece on the Floyd Landis scandal I have read to date.

    I rode as a Junior in the USCF. I rode in races where as you describe there was no desire to chase the leaders. I remember riding against LeMonde at Nutley and he lapped the field twice because no one thought the could ride at that pace for the whole race. I never heard of drug use until there were some signs of money in the sport. The trainers and team managers started coming over from Europe to run teams like Astro-Daimler and then 7-Eleven.

    I never got the impression that Floyd was that slick to come up with the drug use on his own. He was raised as a country boy in rural USA. So my thought is either the team trainer with his magic cream or sabotage was responsible for his supposed results.

    Does data exist showing the effectiveness of the drugs in question taken in the manner you suggest. Our society has used drugs for centuries and I don’t think is is about to stop. I don’t believe in the concept but think about it, if you can’t sleep a sleeping pill, if you aren’t unhappy a happy pill,… if you are weak why not a pill to strengthen your body?

  22. fatherabe says:

    The TDF got me interested in Floyd Landis and his plight. The 3 articles are incredibly interesting and insightful. I’m a physician and know a little about testosterone and its effects. I don’t think Landis intentionally took testosterone after stage 16. It seems to me he would have known he would be tested, so why would he take the incredibly stupid step to dope? I have felt from the start that this was sabotage at some level. I believe it is common practice to have a massage after a race. I don’t know whose job that is, but it would have been easy for the masseuse to substitute testosterone cream for whatever is used for the massage, rub it into the skin, and voila!, you’ve got yourself a positive urine test for elevated testosterone! Surely this possibility has been considered by Landis and his attorneys.

    Awaiting part 4 of this treatise!

  23. Oliver Starr says:

    Fatherabe,

    Thanks for the comment. Apologies for taking so long to reply. I totally agree with you – Floyd knew that there was a very high likelihood that he would be tested. In every stage of a race like Le Tour the stage winner is tested, the overall leader is tested and at least two random riders are tested. This is the absolute minimum number to be tested and it could be that a lot more riders get tested besides. The new regulations allow for officials to request that a rider be tested both inside and outside of competition anytime, year around. You are obligated to make your whereabouts known at all times.

    A few years ago, Michael Rasmussen, a rider that I know well, and whom I raced against many times failed to provide an honest accounting of where he had gone to train and as a result he was found guilty of doping and pulled from the Tour de France while in Yellow and with a commanding lead over the rest of the pack.

    You are also correct that massages are a crucial part of the post-stage recovery process however I think it is incredibly unlikely that the team massage therapist, also called the “soigneur” would have knowingly done anything to sabotage Floyd. These members of the team’s staff are typically the closest to the riders of anyone except maybe the Director Sportif and it would be very surprising if one of them would ever do something that would jeopardize the trust that riders have for these key members of the team.

    If anyone sabotaged Floyd using testosterone gel it would be more likely in my opinion that it would have been smeared on a saddle for example. Bear in mind too that the test found an illegal ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, but did not find an illegal AMOUNT of either compound in the body. In fact Floyd’s actual testosterone level was pretty low and certainly wasn’t high enough that he would have enjoyed any benefit as a result of what was supposedly found in his body.

    Further, I have said before and I’ll say again that this drug doesn’t offer ANY BENEFIT WHATSOEVER when used on a single day during a race. Training using testosterone well before a race can help with recovery, muscle fiber recruitment, epogenesis and other things, but these benefits come only with sustained, long-term use and not from a single, very low dose of the drug.

    My ultimate opinion remains that the officials were convinced that Floyd was doping in some way that they were unable to detect and that they used this result – which could have potentially even been completely fabricated — as a means to disqualify him for doing something for which they couldn’t actually catch him.

    The question then becomes did Floyd dope AT ALL? Unfortunately I think the jury is still out on this question. I’ve heard compelling arguments either way and at the end of the day I’ve come to the conclusion that the only people that really know the truth and Floyd and the people who provided (or didn’t provide) the pharmaceuticals he may have used to do so.

    Oliver

  24. Seth Hoffman says:

    Hi there…I believe your never finished this blog series…I think its been more than 4 months! :O)
    What do you think about Valverde winning the Vuelta…I personally am only going to watch pee wee and junior and masters races from now on…so disillusioned!
    Enjoyed 1-3 el mucho~ #4 please…
    Seth

  25. Pol87 says:

    Let me throw the truly amazing situation into relief once again. ,

  26. goravetz says:

    Oliver, one thing I would add to the Floyd case is that all samples taken for tour the riders are unidentified but Floyd was legally taking Cortisone for his hip. So it was very clear to the lab which sample was his.
    My question to you is would the Cortisone help him recover better on some stages and maybe add to his stellar performance on stage 17 depending what day his injection was. It is not something you take every day right?
    Cheers

  27. admin says:

    Hi, Greg. Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been traveling and working in Mexico and not on my computer very much.

    In response to your comment/question I completely agree that the samples from Floyd would have been very obvious to the lab – another unfortunate consequence of his hip injury.

    I think the use of corticosteroids is a mixed bag for many reasons – it does make it possible to continue when it might not be possible otherwise – I’ve had cortisone injections into an injured knee during the Tour DuPont and it made it possible for me to keep racing when I may have had to pull out otherwise.

    However any incidental benefit that these injections might provide (and particularly when one has/had an injury as serious as Floyd’s) is probably insufficient to overcome the debility of any injury severe enough to merit the legal use of these drugs during competition.

    I am still of the belief that Floyd was treated unfairly and in all likelihood was the victim of a witch hunt based upon the conjecture that he was using some undetectable drug and thus he was targeted for something that either wasn’t there at all or was introduced to his system without his knowledge.

    Regardless of the how, I remain absolutely certain that any exogenous testosterone that might have been detected had absolutely no benefit on his performance and was merely a means to an end for the UCI and the dissatisfied French officials that were tired of seeing the Euros spanked by yet another Yank.

    Frankly I’m looking forward to this year’s Tour and the anticipation that Lance will lay utter waste to the pretenders and shut the frogs up once and for all about doping and his seven prior wins.

    Anyone want to lay a wager on this year’s TDF?

    Oliver

  28. rAY gORDON says:

    kEN,

    yOU DON’T SOUND UNBIASED AT ALL, AND YOU’VE REACTED DEFENSIVELY TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE lANDIS WAS GUILTY.

    i WONDER WHO YOU THINK SPOOFED THE ip ADDRESS LINKED TO HIS EX-COACH.

  29. George Chamberlain says:

    Oliver,
    I read parts 1-3 back in 2008 and eagerly awaited part 4, which never came…but now, Landis is admitting doping and saying Armstrong showed him how. WTF? You had me convinced, I even felt bad for Lanids getting “screwed. what a betrayal (by him, you were obviously taken in, as many of us were). I don’t believe a word of what he is saying about Lance, FWIW. What do you think? Are you planning to write Part 4 now? (I hope)

  30. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A small number of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any ideas to help fix this problem?

  31. John says:

    Interesting bit of doping archaeology here.

    So it turns out that doping isn’t necessary to explain his “win” – it’s necessary to explain why he wasn’t dropped on this stage and every other. He was doping and so was pretty much every chasing rider.

    So the difference at Morzine does in fact come down to tactic, hydration, and another point that Lim brought up but you failed to give sufficient credit to. Floyd had a rolling microclimate. Those 150 or so bottles of water poured over his back meant he was riding in an environment at least 20F cooler than Kloden and Pereiro.

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