Winning clean?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Vansummeren wins

I just wanted to make the observation that we’ve seen the likes of Johan Vansummeren, Matthew Goss and Philippe Gilbert winning big so far this year. So what? Well both Vansummeren and Goss belong to squads with a big anti-doping ethic and “Phil” has long been a supporter of clean cycling, ready to denounce those cheating.

With all the talk of doping investigations in Italy, with the ongoing Contador-CAS saga and more, it’s almost gone unnoticed that teams and riders reputed to be the strictest supports of anti-doping measures are winning.

Of course, just writing this is risky, I’m venturing into a minefield, in fact a marsh that contains land mines, you can get bogged down and blown to pieces. So I don’t want to labour the point. But if you make the assumption that any of the three names mentioned here are doing things right then it marks a big change from times in the past where you needed to scan the results for a rider who wasn’t linked to an investigation or a dodgy doctor.

And a final point that we now more into the hills and mountains. Performance enhancing measures… enhance performances even more in races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège or the Giro d’Italia. So if it’s fraught drawing conclusions now, it’s even harder to extrapolate for year ahead. But again, some teams are making big efforts to support clean riding and it seems to be paying big dividends. That just didn’t happen. And it’s a nice foil to the negative stories of police raids and UCI politics.

Andy Powers April 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

One can criticise the UCI as much as you like, and in some cases the criticism will be warranted, but the introduction of the biological passport has to be one of the bravest moves by a governing body to combat doping. Anne Gripper deserves a lot of credit for her vision and tenacity in seeing it through.

beeline April 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

s/b “That didn’t just happen.”

jza April 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Yeah, the Classics must be the cleanest races int the world. They NEVER have a positive.

The Inner Ring April 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Andy Powers: I agree, it’s helped a lot and credit to Anne Gripper, the UCI and WADA too. But it’s only one tool, it can’t work alone.

jza: of course. It’s just teams that made a virtue out of riding clean have, in the past, tended not to win. Like I say, this is a minefield but against all the talk of police raids, it seems teams trying hard to keep things healthy can get rewarded with wins.

gilbert April 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I share your thoughts in particoular having read that : “then nobody could match up the two races (fw+lbl) until Argentin in 1991. More recently, we have seen Davide Rebellin in his Ardennes treble in 2004, and Alejandro Valverde in 2008.” in pavé’s fleche preview, really symbolic records. it’d rise some suspects if p.gilbert despite his immense class would be able to make the treble, itìs why i hope he will win “only” lbl.

CT April 19, 2011 at 8:53 pm
CT April 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I forgot to say that the graph doesn’t make much sense without reading the text that’s linked to the graph:

“The green blocks show abnormal samples where reticulocyte percentage is HIGHER than normal – either 2 to 2.4% (light green) or above 2.4 to 5% (dark green). Remember that a higher reticulocyte % means more immature blood cells, suggesting EPO use or blood removal. So quite clearly, in 2001 and 2002, you had a high percentage of samples that suggest EPO use – between 9% and 11% of all samples, and 80 to 90% of suspicious samples. No surprise there.

Then comes the introduction of the urine test for EPO in 2002, which I’ve shown with a blue line. Suddenly, things change – now, you have much larger pink bars. The pink represents LOWER than normal reticulocyte percentage – either 0 to 0.2% (dark) or 0.2 to 0.4% (light)

So clearly, the EPO test changed things – from 2003 to 2007, between 6% and 10% of samples had low reticulocyte %, and these tests make up 80 to 90% of the abnormal test results. Remember, this suggests blood doping, and a shift in practice after the EPO test was introduced!

Then comes the Biological Passport, shown by the red line in 2008 and a substantial drop in the total number of tests with abnormal reticulocyte %. This is clearly a good finding, because only 4% of all tests have unusual reticulocyte percentages, a drop from 14% in 2001. That’s an enormous impact, and while it does not prove that doping is reduced, it does suggest that the Biological Passport has had a measurable and expected impact on the sport.”

Cam Austin April 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I think that Vincenzo Nibali’s performance in the 2010 Vuelta was clean, tough and gritty…
Especially when you think that Ezequiel Mosquera attacked and won on the Queen stage, while Nibali continually chewed bartape to hang on to the top 5 riders, taking the GC without winning a stage.

In addition to Nibali, Xavi Tondo has started winning on the big scene after a lengthy career lurking in the shadows in lower ranked pro teams. After outing a doping outfit in Catalonia and racing (and losing) clean for many years, it’s cool that he’s winning now.

Always difficult to definitively answer the doping question, but I think the sport’s moving in the right direction, which is good for sponsors and junior/semi-pro outfits who, ironically lose the most when doping scanals in PC teams hit the news.

Gingerflash April 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm

You could have said that at this point last year, clean riders winning the classics: Fabian x 2; Gilbert; Evans. Shame it was all spoilt by Vino at LBL.

Smith April 20, 2011 at 2:52 am

Calling certain teams and riders “clean” is such a slippery slope as to be practically meaningless at this point. Blogs like Inner Ring and others trying classify this or that rider or team as “clean” is killing the sport. There is nothing to suggest that some form of micro-dosing of PED’s and use of homologous blood transfusions are not widespread among the pro peloton. That is reality. Slipstream guys never tended to win because their team was weak and Matthew Goss is on HTC (when did that team tend not to win)? I am not comment guy on blogs, but this post pissed me off.

Twisted Spoke April 20, 2011 at 3:01 am

Matt, this is a smart and timely observation. Yes, Garmin in Roubaix, HTC-Highroad in Milan San Remo, two big results for the clean teams. And your second/last point is also well-made. The performance enhancement becomes more “mandatory” in the mountains, multi-stage. A thought-provoking chapeau to you for reminding us to think again.

Lucky April 20, 2011 at 4:46 am

I really enjoy your blog! You have done an amazing job of reporting on all the different aspects of cycling at a much deeper level than most. Unfortunately, doping is an issue that can only be addressed knowledgeably and truthfully by those with personal experience. Although you put a disclaimer in this post, it doesn’t do credit to what you have presented so well up to this point. I can appreciate fully that you can say what you like when you like, but voiced opinions on doping don’t carry much weight when we will all continue to support the sport regardless of the knowledge that widespread cheating is occurring. Sometimes, I think a true cycling fan would be the first one to boycott spectating or otherwise supporting the upper levels until he could be assured that only the minority was cheating. That may not be realistic, but at least optimistic. I have respect for most peoples opinion until doping comes up because they can only know the truth as far as the tip of their nose and everything else is wild speculation. Keep up the fantastic work and thanks for providing a space for me to ramble!

Jarvis April 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Smith: I’d love to know how you consider labelling riders or teams as clean is killing the sport, especially as dopers almost did kill the sport. What evidence to you have to support your reality that micro-dosing etc. is “widespread”?

Lucky: So you are saying that only those who have doped are allowed to comment on doping? By extension this means that you want to allow doping to continue as those who do will not speak out and those who don’t aren’t allowed to speak out thus stifling all debate on the subject.

I think the performance of Gilbert in La Fleche shows how far cycling has come in recent years. Not to say that the sport is clean, as it clearly isn’t, but there is no way that Gilbert could have won Amstel and Fleche if the condition of the sport were the same as they were in say, 2004.

Larry T. April 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm

It’s risky suggesting something printed on paper in an electronic world but “the ethics of doping and anti-doping” by Verner Moller 0415484669 offers a good education on this subject. Not too scholarly or academic for the average cycling enthusiast to get through, Moller has criticism for both sides but ends with some excellent suggestions on how we might clean up sports.
Disclaimer: This book is part of a series, Sports Studies/Ethics and Philosophy of Sport. My wife is one of the series editors, which is how I discovered it.

GreaseMonster April 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Jarvis, it is when “no name” riders get popped yet the select few grabbing the glory come through clean that you must start to question how widespread doping is. Why do domestiques have to dope to keep up?

The ease of avoiding detection, Frei openly admitting he only got caught because he forgot to follow post doping protocol; drink a lot of water. WADA saying HGH has been in widespread use through out the sports world yet there are hardly any caught using HGH because the window in which one has to be tested is so small. Atheletes are there to win, it’s a competative environment where your job is dependant on your performance on the bike.

For me the above does not sit well, I remain hopeful that riders are clean yet realistic enough to not be surprised when the next Festina/Puerto/Galgo affair rears it’s ugly head.

PS Don’t forget to ignore old dirty DS’s running teams now.

Lucky April 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm

@Jarvis
I ‘m saying that anyone is allowed to comment on doping, but in my mind those comments don’t mean anything unless you are speaking from personal experience whether that be from a person who participates in doping or a person who doesn’t dope but watches it happen first hand. The debate (and Inrng’s post by extension) I am referring to, about who is or isn’t currently doping, has no basis in facts only opinion and speculation. I find that debating a topic is more valuable when arguments are based in facts. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but that doesn’t resolve the debate or add much value. Go to the Cycling News Clinic forum and you can see first hand how effective debating/speculating on doping is. I was just saying that for me Inrng discussing doping discredited the other pieces of writing on this site a little, kind of like reviewing products would, at least in my mind. Cheers!

JustJoshinYa April 21, 2011 at 12:25 am

“Of course, just writing this is risky, I’m venturing into a minefield, in fact a marsh that contains land mines, you can get bogged down and blown to pieces.”

Totally agree.

To me, cycling is a beautiful and dirty sport all at the same time. I think progress has been made, but “winning clean” is a leap of faith that time will prove to be true or not. I’m hopeful but skeptical. Tests have tended to be half a season or more behind these guys. So, maybe this time next year I’ll feel better about these guys (but likely it will have to wait till after their “memoirs” are published). Maybe, after all, I am more jaded then skeptical? Anyway, regardless of this, I loved every one of the races thus far this year…I screamed at the live feed and celebrated the wins (and was disappointed when “my guy” lost). On the day I don’t think “he’s doped” and that is a major difference in some cases…

The Inner Ring April 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

As I said, a bit of a minefield. I’m careful not to draw specific or deep conclusions, just saying some teams stand out and they’re winning. But as with many times in the past, it’s too easy to latch on to clues saying it’s all clean and great, too many look for the signs and ignore the history of widespread doping.

Smith April 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm

CT is pretty selective of what he picks from the SportsScientists article. I would’ve also included the following:

“Does this prove that doping is not happening? Of course not – riders are smart, they micro-dose, they mask doping by using EPO to switch RBC formation back on when infusion would normally switch it off. There is still corruption, and no science, however powerful will be 100% effective if there is any hint of cover-up.”

The point is that you can’t really say what “clean” is, let alone who or who is not a “clean” rider or team. It would be better to stay away from such speculation. Jarvis may like to watch Paris-Roubaix on cyclingfans and hope the link doesn’t go haywire in the last 5km, but I’d like to watch the race someday live on TV in HD. That’s never going to happen when the narrative thread of the race is whether the winner was “clean” enough to please the sport’s orthodoxists.

HJR April 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

please don’t tempt fate….

wiganwill April 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

You may want to criticise the UCI quite heavily, and occasionally you’ll get it right, but when they introduced the biological passport, they really distinguished themselves among governing bodies when it comes to the fight against doping. Anne Gripper really got a grip on the issue and should be lauded for what she did.

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