The Bio Passport and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

Friday, 4 October 2013

This post isn’t about doping. Instead it’s about procedures and probabilities so if you want something more exciting, wait for the preview of this Sunday’s Il Lombardia race due out soon.

Team Sky’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was pulled out from the British team going to the worlds at the last moment and there was talk of an injury with some and fatigue from others. But the weekend saw the story that he was being questioned by the UCI about his biological passport data. What has happened to get these questions and what is next?

The Passport Process
A reminder that the bio passport is a record of an athlete’s haematological parameters. A variety of measures are taken when a rider is tested and these are all logged into a database and over time a “longitudinal profile” is established. Unlike the binary positive or negative of toxicology testing where a lab tests for banned substances, the passport looks at changes in levels, using logic and mathematics, for example Bayesian statistics, to look for anomalies. Here’s a screenshot of the passport software:

This process is run by the Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) which is a WADA-funded scheme based in Lausanne, Switzerland – just around the shore of Lake Geneva from the UCI’s HQ. The software rings an alarm bell if an athlete’s numbers deviate from an established patten. When this happens an expert with a background in clinical haematology, sports medicine and/or exercise physiology reviews the data from the system. The expert has four options:

  • do nothing because the data look normal to the human eye/brain
  • recommend the athlete is placed on a list for target testing
  • alert the athlete that they could be suffering from a serious illness
  • state improbable natural causes, a likely doping case

In the event of the fourth option, the procedures continue for the APMU. Two more experts are asked to evaluate the data and they can each recommend one of the four options above. All three must review the same data set and only if each concludes that, in the words of WADA’s procedural manuals, “it is highly likely that a prohibited substance or prohibited method had been used and unlikely that it is the result of any other cause” will the case proceed. If this is the case then the APMU creates a dossier with the athlete’s age, gender, sport and a range of other information such as the chain of custody for the samples taken, whether the athlete was at altitude and so on. This file is reviewed and once again all three experts have to unanimously concur for an “adverse passport finding” and then an anti-doping organization is notified, in this case the UCI.

The UCI then contacts the rider and WADA to advise them that it is mulling an anti-doping case and includes the APMU dossier with the data, sample custody and more along with the request for the athlete to explain the data in the dossier.

Tiernan Leak
This is where the Tiernan-Locke case is at and apparently it relates to numbers from 2012 when he rode for Endura Racing. Only there’s one big deparure from the normal procedure as the case has gone public. It’s not the first time this has happened, see the cases of Leif Hoste and Carlos Barredo which emerged long before a prosecution began. The Barredo case is interesting because he was suspended from races by Rabobank in 2012 after the UCI started asking questions about his data from 2007 to 2011. The UCI announced it would prosecute last October but almost a year on there’s no news. Barredo has retired from the sport and these works as a coffee salesman. But retirement is no exemption from sporting sanctions – just ask Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich – so the delays with the Barredo case are strange. But that’s another story.

Carlos Barredo

Barredo had his bike taken away from him

The leak is messy. Mere suspicion is damaging and the fact that Tiernan-Locke’s name is out there is bad for the rider both in terms of reputation but also the suspension from racing costs them in several ways. It’s embarrassing for the team and not good for the anti-doping effort as a whole because leaky info undermines faith in the system. But if they are suspended from racing the news has to come out because fake stories about injury cannot be used to cover things up. It’s happened before in cycling and seems common in tennis too. In a statement Team Sky said “He has withdrawn from racing whilst his response to the UCI is prepared” and it seems this suspension precipitated events and journalist Kenny Pryde has a good piece on the leak with Cycling Weekly. As with Barredo, the suspension of a rider who is still innocent is a heavy penalty. Although note that if David Walsh had the news then it’s his job to print it, especially given the prior talk of injury and fatigue.

What next?
Tiernan-Locke is reviewing the APMU file sent to him by the UCI and presumably getting expert help to chart the anomalies. He can respond – an athlete doesn’t have to – and the response will then be judged and a decision whether to bring a prosecution will be made, probably during the next couple of months.

Bias and probability
This isn’t “one of your numbers looked odd, can you pop in for a chat” but instead three experts have a unanimous conclusion that it is “highly likely that a prohibited substance or prohibited method had been used and unlikely that it is the result of any other cause” and again those are WADA’s words. But I can’t stress enough that there’s a bias because we don’t know how many other cases are opened and shut. Many things can seem highly likely… until they get explained.

With the biological passport it makes a real difference if, say, the APMU software flags up plenty of athletes and the experts call on plenty to explain data and they can respond so that case is dropped. We do know that back in 2009 the software was flagging up 10-15 cases a week according to a presentation given by the UCI’s Doctor Zorzoli. But we don’t know the amount of cases where the three experts proceed to question an athlete. In short your attitude to Tiernan-Locke might vary if you knew what percentage of requests for explanations led to the case being cleared or going to prosecution.

Statistics and probability are complicated by false positives and more. Here is an example from the New York Times:

Suppose that police pick up a suspect and match his or her DNA to evidence collected at a crime scene. Suppose that the likelihood of a match, purely by chance, is only 1 in 10,000. Is this also the chance that they are innocent? It’s easy to make this leap, but you shouldn’t.

Here’s why. Suppose the city in which the person lives has 500,000 adult inhabitants. Given the 1 in 10,000 likelihood of a random DNA match, you’d expect that about 50 people in the city would have DNA that also matches the sample. So the suspect is only 1 of 50 people who could have been at the crime scene. Based on the DNA evidence only, the person is almost certainly innocent, not certainly guilty.

In the example above we go from thinking there’s a 99.99% chance – 1 in 10,000 expressed as a percentage – that the suspect is guilty with the DNA match… to a 2% chance. And all this is just by measuring probabilities before an individual gets to speak about their actions, present an alibi and more.

Conclusion
Hopefully you have a better idea of how the biological passport review process works. It sounds serious for Jonathan Tiernan-Locke given three experts agree on a high probability of doping and this is why the leak is damaging with the headlines it has generated. But since we don’t know what number of athletes are called to explain themselves and silently cleared it’s hard to get a feel for what is coming next and whether this case is routine or exceptional.

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{ 64 comments }

Stephen_M October 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Since it’s cycling, it is hard not to take a cynical view… but, I guess we can all view this as a great chance for JTL to prove that his meteoric rise at Endura was done on bread and water? Since nobody was willing/able to fund testing at the time, the innocent parties now have a great chance to prove that it was all natural talent and hard work.

I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome of this, or continuation of the process (if it stays live in the media). It would be really reassuring to see that the BioPassport does have some useful roll to play.

Guy October 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm

If Endura were not part of the bio-passport scheme how does WADA have Tiernan-Locke’s data for that period? Was it submitted voluntarily?

Out of interest, what other sports employ the passport?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm

As part of the British team for the worlds in 2012, Tiernan-Locke would have joined the registered testing-pool.

I know athletics, cycling, rowing, swimming, and triathlon and XC-skiing all use the scheme and think tennis is looking at it, they might be using it. Hopefully more sports copy it and there are moves to make it more than a blood passport but also take endocrine values, ie for steroid profiling.

Ronan October 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm

He would have been routinely tested as the leader and winner of the Tour of Britain too, I would have thought.

Given that Endura had asked for JTL to be added to the bio passport in early 2012 as questions were being asked of his performances, it should have been proactive and had blood samples taken and stored independently. Such data would help fill out his passport and perhaps show some troughs in his data rather than one unusual spike at the start of his testing.

Is a period of less than 12 months long enough to get a fair analysis of a rider’s blood profile?

Sam October 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Its an interesting point. Ignacio Velez, one of the major architects of the resurgence of Colombian riders, had the vision to put in place a form of a bio passport and pretty stringent internal testing (carried out by an independent party) for his Conti team, Colombia Es Pasion (later morphed into the 4-72 team). This meant that the likes of Quintana and Henao had data on their blood values over time to show to European teams interested in hiring them. Velez had to set aside a significant chunk of the team’s budget for this – but he did it.

Sam October 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Its a Sep test that’s proving the anomaly. Could have been the start of the UCI building up his bio passport ahead of him joining Sky.

Other sports that use the passport include athletics – they’ve been catching a fair few athletes this year, tracking back to 2011 and so on.

In the last few months the ITF have begun the process of testing to build up the passports for tennis players. AFL are introducing their own version of it.

noel October 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

so… if he did just train better or harder/come back from illness and just ‘eat bread, drink water’…. if he has done nothing wrong, how can he actually ‘prove’ his innocence?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

If he can convince the panel of three that there’s a plausible explanation then the case can be dropped. Normally this happens behind closed doors and nobody mentions a thing. But if it is dropped then he’s entitled to sing about it and insist it’s heard, perhaps even insist the UCI issues a press release to confirm this.

Bash October 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Tom Southam’s blog piece suggested that he’s had a really unlucky season this year – afflicted by bugs etc that meant his blood values throughout the season have been low.
i.e. Last year when he joined the bio passport thing, he was on top form and his blood values reflected that. This year he’s been ill and his blood is rubbish…. so the ‘normal’ presented throughout this season is actually not normal at all.

I have no idea how plausible that actually is… but it’s an explanation.

Sam October 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I suspect that’s going to have to be the basis for his defence. He’ll have to provide supporting evidence of those bouts of illness.

John October 4, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Isn’t DNA evidence usually like one in millions correct?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Someone else will have to reply with the range of probability but the point above is to show how probabilities can be used to different effect, to support or knock-down a guilty or innocent hypothesis.

Robert Merkel October 4, 2013 at 3:58 pm

It’s not that simple.

Say that there’s been a murder committed in Reykjavik, Iceland. A police officer in Iceland randomly chooses one person in the world to DNA test – Goonie, internet commenter from Melbourne, Australia. As it turns out, it’s a “99.99999% match”. I must be guilty, right?

Not necessarily.

What the 99.99999% means is that 1 in 10 million people is an equally good or better match for the DNA sample than I am. So there are roughly 700 people in the world who match the DNA profile at least as well as I do. So, suddenly, the absolutely compelling DNA evidence that I am the killer is not compelling at all.

You can model this kind of situation formally using Bayes’ Theorem, but the abovc should suffice to illustrate one way that probabilities can be used in a misleading fashion.

Brian October 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I’ve just finished a book called Naked Statistics, the subject of DNA testing is mentioned in there. The accuracy of the testing depends how much of the DNA sequence the police have managed to get hold of. If they’ve got a longer sequence, the chances of this matching to that of somebody else decreases. Obviously if they only get a small sequence, the chance that it could be found in more of the population increases.

Apologies to anybody who actually knows about this if my explanation isn’t entirely correct, but I hope to have at least explained the gist of it.

Andrew October 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Whilst I’m in favour of anything that catches dopers / drives drugs out of sport I just can’t convince myself that the biological passport is, for want of a better word, fair. Whilst there is some level of safeguard that 3 experts are required to agree, to what extent are they coming off the same knowledge base. In other words, if the first expert sees something that they cannot explain other than through a prohibited substance, what chance the other two will disagree? The whole process appears to be the old Sherlock Holmes approach of “once you have ruled out all other possibilities then what remains…….”, how well placed is an athlete to introduce a new possibility that the three experts did not know about?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm

It’s a good point but note this is why the athlete explanation matters. In summary for the piece above, the probabilities can suggest something but it’s far from a trial. We’ll get the explanation and only then can they decide on a prosecution. Then if this goes ahead we get a trial where each side can examine the other’s arguments.

Sam October 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Its not perfect – but frankly its an extra tool in the fight against doping, and goes beyond the something of a lottery that is catching someone with a known banned substance in them at that point in time.

And its a very useful deterrent.

Interesting article inc input from Ross Tucker, here
http://mashable.com/2013/01/22/biological-passport-sports-doping/

Andrew October 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I guess my point is that if the scientific experts are agreed to point 4 “improbable natural causes” and that it is “unlikely that it is the result of any other cause” then what argument does the athlete put forward? WADA don’t just say it “IS LIKELY” to be a prohibited substance but also that it is “UNLIKELY” to be anything else. So if your defence is that you were unwell last year, had a virus, and that affected your values, well surely that should have been considered, in principal at least, as it would fall within “any other cause”.

Patterson_hood October 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Scientifically, they can only consider the data they have. So if you were ill, the locations are wrong or a significant block of training occured prior to the test, you had a TUE they don’t know about etc. then the panel can’t consider that. This is what a rider could bring forward.

In terms of the experts agreeing, I would assume they review the data independently. I don’t think it would be the case of one thinking it was doping and then the others are asked, that would be a massive flaw in the system any layer could poke huge holes in.

Chris Campbell October 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Can’t see what’s “messy” about this leak.

Sky comments. His agent comments. His mate chips in his twopenn’orth. And now we wait.

Can you imagine the feeding frenzy over the identity of an anonymous Sky rider if the team hadn’t managed the disclosure of his name through a trusted reporter?

Folano October 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I am unclear as to the purpose of your piece on false positives in relation to this story. Surely the purpose of longitudinal studies and expert interpretation is to minimise the incidences of false positives? Besides, false positives and false discovery rates should be treated with caution, especially when dealing with a complicated substance such as blood, hence the requirement for expert insight.

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I agree but am saying the case is at the point where the experts think something is likely but the rider hasn’t presented anything. I’m not here to judge the case, the piece is really to explain the process here and explain at what point the case is at and where things are it’s hard to know if many cases get explained away.

Gordie Blue October 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I think that what is most interesting is that a British riders anomalous reading was leaked, possibly by the UCI, just before\during an election which resulted in a new man at the helm. Might it be possible that the previous president had something to do with the leak? Just speculating

Fred B October 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Or, given who JTL’s manager is, was the leak from the otherside! Or no conspiracy at all!!

Gordie Blue October 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

ah yes, PMQ son’s. Fair point.
Conspiracy point nulled.

buckle October 6, 2013 at 9:56 am

Carry on with the theories, I say! The strange issue is how Walsh got hold of the leak? Pro-Sky and NI employee but enemy of the UCI. Why was Walsh targeted with the info? All very strange.

Adam October 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm

This is great, as usual. One question: are we sure that this request for him to explain himself is a formal request in line with these procedures (i.e. that we are already at the ’3 unanimous experts’ stage’), as opposed to an informal/procedurally dubious invitation that the UCI has decided to issue ahead of that stage being reached?

Your explanation is obviously spot on if the procedures are being faithfully followed, but we can’t always take that for granted in cycling, so reassurance on that would be the final bit of the story (so far).

mendip5000 October 4, 2013 at 5:01 pm

There is a process underway – JTL has three weeks to explain – how long after the end of that 3 weeks do the UCI have to decide on the next step? That bit appears to be in doubt for Baredo. Is this set out somewhere?

This will end up as much a test of the new UCI management’s ability to observe due process in a pragmatic way given the inexcusable leak as it will for the rider.

However, I still can’t get over Walsh’s tweet prior to the publication, trying to emphasis how we should change our view of him. Sadly this has change my view of him but perhaps in a way that he would prefer it not to have.

A late night tweet for those who wrote and thought "Sky's bitch." Buy tomorrow's Sunday Times.— David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) September 28, 2013

Sam October 4, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Have to say that was totally lacking in class on his part. As if JTL and his situation are just pawns for his ego.

RocksRootsRoad October 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Agree 100%. He obviously didn’t think twice about violating a rider’s privacy just to prove the fact that he was not a “yes” man for Team Sky. Forming a slightly different opinion about Walsh now.

LM October 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Great piece.

It seems to me that the only unethical action that we can be sure of at the moment is the leak. It surprises me that no article that I’ve read on JTL’s predicament even speculates about the leak. Who could have leaked the existence of a UCI letter to JTL? And what was/is their agenda?

Prior to the Sunday Times article it would seem that 3 entities knew about the letter; the UCI, JTL and Sky Cycling management. It’s doubtful that JTL would leak the info to just one journalist unless it was a complete mistake while announcing his withdrawal from the Worlds. After that, somebody has an agenda. To the general public, the only solid clue is the recipient of the leak, Walsh. Walsh has obvious ties to Sky, but that’s not enough to make any conclusion.

Who and Why?

Skippy October 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Great explanation of the ” Bio Passport procedures ” , that help those on the sidelines better understand what takes place .

When the disclosure appeared in the ST , via David Walsh , i had a chuckle , since phat the rat team’s timing was once again off . Had it appeared weeks earlier , then i doubt there would haver been as much controvers y ?

I feel that there has been unjustified leakage in this matter , which has worked against the racer , but if it had to happen , could there have been a better time , since the season is about over ? Hopefully when the dust settles , J T-L has still got a full 2014 season to work his butt off and prove that whilst the Experts were wise enough to ask for explanation , that his blood values were caused by the reported health issues .

@briancookson is the new twitter handle and the campaign blog has concluded today , but in the past week there have been many other changes initiated . Would not surprise me to see reports of WADA & IOC discussians having taken place also , with the outcome leading to the ” INDEPENDENT Anti Doping Unit at UCI ” , thus avoiding future ” leaks ” of this sort ?

andrewp October 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Do you not think that if the leak of this information had come from within the UCI – Walsh (with his reputation and dealings with that body) was 85-100% as likely to have made that his story either as well as/instead of the name of the cyclist involved?

The case for the it being the UCI, and that not being mentioned, looks very very weak.

LM October 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Incoherent, but pretty good.

LM October 4, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Are “Discussians” Russian conversationalists, or is it a code word for Makarov infiltration?

Robert Merkel October 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Incidentally, I don’t think it’s a slam dunk at all that David Walsh was compelled to publish this information.

Journalists make judgements about what they choose to write about all the time. In this case, at least, it appears that a) the correct procedure is being followed, and b) the athlete’s innocence or guilt has not been established.

What public interest was served by Walsh publishing this story?

Not saying that Walsh did the wrong thing – and indeed the default position of a journalist should be to publish information – but think there’s an argument that can be made either way.

Stephen_M October 4, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I think the public should be generally interested when it’s being lied to?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Given it had been put out that he was injured/fatigued etc, if the journalist knew what was actually behind it, ie the suspension, then they’ve got reasons to publish. David Walsh was keen to point out that this story could show he’s not, to use his own words, “Sky’s bitch”
https://twitter.com/DavidWalshST/status/384087722266091520

mendip5000 October 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

So who leaked it to Walsh? Make him come clean. Ah no – journo’s professional code is based on the ability to keep secret their sources ;-) Their own special omerta.

John October 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I epxect that any help JTL is getting with his explanation will cost money – who (if anyone) will be helping him with these costs?

Stephen_M October 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I guess it will come down to the definitions in Team SKY contracts – their PR claims that if riders are in breach of their zero-tolerance policy, then they must leave team immediately. ‘If’ a bio-passpost infringment is defined as a breach, then he’s on his own (although British Cycling elite squad might still provide some support?).

In reality, I suspect the Team SKY senior staff will be providing lots of support. Possibly even at an enhanced level from the standard Brailsford/Peters look-him-in-the-eye test?

channel_zero October 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm

When this happens an expert with a background in clinical haematology, sports medicine and/or exercise physiology reviews the data from the system.

As I read the WADA documents, this is not an automatic process. To be ridiculously clear, the APMU has the positive and then the sports federation has to order the service from the expert and then they are billed for the expert’s time regardless of the recommendation.

channel_zero October 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Trying again,

If the APMU has a positive value, someone at the sports federation has to see it and do something about it. It’s been suggested by WADA there are positives that have not been sent onto experts.

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

It can be that way but the APMU can appoint the experts too. I’ve tried to shrink the process down to simple terms above.

channel_zero October 4, 2013 at 6:52 pm

While I appreciate the very well done summary, authority in the APMU belongs to the sports federation. WADA’s funding is severely limited in this area to limit their ability to do anything beyond what the sports federations request. Armstrong’s case was extraordinary and definitely not the norm for a NADO.

I realize I’m arguing points that don’t matter to most, but I’m trying to highlight the ample opportunities the sports federations have to suppress positive results despite the bio-passport system.

Wastrel October 4, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Why is it Walsh’s job to publish?

Sure, if he knows that the case is meant to proceed, but then it never does, then he ought to tell people about that. But all he’s done now is publish to strip the anonymity from the accused and interfere with due process.

Lots of people are accused of lots of things. That’s no reason to drag their names through the press. I don’t see how this is in the public interest at all.
And no, Sky having used a euphemism (or him having used one to Sky) is not an excuse. So long as JTL isn’t actually racing, I’m not harmed in any way by thinking it’s fatigue rather than an accusation. Public interest only comes in when accusations are hushed up – not when the authorities are following proper due process.

Trial first, conviction after, that’s the way I think it should go. David Walsh’s personal glorification is not an adequate reason to publically name and shame an (so far as we know so far) innocent man.

[And, while I do think the BP is a good thing in general, from a conceptual point of view I have to wonder about how fair it really is. If you're judging the chance of doping based on the recommendations of the experts, you need to know how likely those experts are to be wrong, and to have missed some viable innocent explanation. Have these experiments (getting the experts to adjudicate on the passports of totally-monitored elite-level athletes who definitely either are or definitely are not doping, and seeing how accurate the experts are) actually been performed? If not, then it's not really a scientifically sound procedure, is it? Meanwhile, how is some random athlete meant to deduce a natural reason for blood value variation if four experts haven't been able to think of it? I haven't been blood-doping, but if a panel of experts said they were sure that I had been, I wouldn't be able to mount any sort of meaningful defence against that accusation! Finally, surely it cannot be entirely fair for whether to prosecute to be decided by people who know the name, nationality and team of the accused? Shouldn't that be done only on the basis of the medical facts, with the name being revealed only after the decision had been taken?
As I say, I'm in favour of the BP, because at this stage I think it's more important to weed out the cheats, even if that means some false positives, and I suspect the number of those would be small. But it really doesn't seem a particularly fair system to me.]

channel_zero October 4, 2013 at 7:01 pm

But all he’s done now is publish to strip the anonymity from the accused and interfere with due process Sports administration is not judicial. There’s no due process or habeus corpus or whatever else you wish to imagine.

then it’s not really a scientifically sound procedure, is it? Said the reader who cannot be bothered to read WADA’s documentation. But, don’t let facts get in the way of your suspicions.

Shouldn’t that be done only on the basis of the medical facts, with the name being revealed only after the decision had been taken? Medical facts is what crossed some longitudinal threshold criteria. Samples and profiles are anonymous to everyone on WADA’s side. The leak came from someone on the cycling-side.

Be aware that JTL’s situation is not a positive. They’ve only asked for an explanation for positive criteria. Which should highlight just one ways sports federations can easily circumvent the bio-passport process.

Fred October 4, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I wonder if Froome uses badzhilla to explain away his values to the APMU?

Jon Doe October 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Good to see you missed the main point this blog article contained. You don’t get popped this way unless it looks like doping is the only likely explanation but carry on slandering riders …

LM October 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I think he’s referring to rumors that a “rare blood disorder” has been floated as JTL’s excuse for erratic performance just as Froome’s story of contracting Schistosomiasis in Africa is his.

Regardless, Froome innuendo does bring up a potential Achilles’ heel of the Bio Passport. With the passport alarms being set off by a variation in haematological parameters, is it possible to circumvent the passport by initially being tested as a juiced rider? Either by starting their pro career relatively late, like Froome, or by starting to dope at a relatively early age?

The Inner Ring October 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm

The passport can be gamed, see “DIY Dracula” from last year.

Fred October 5, 2013 at 12:10 am

Correct. More to the point if a rider is “flagged” by the software they do have the opportunity to explain their values. If a reasonable explanation is given the case goes no further. Might explain Froome having his repeat occurrences of the diseases.

Also interesting that ‘altitude’ can be used to explain away your fluctuating values. No wonder Sky spend so much time in Tenerife.

Regardless it almost seems impossible to be flagged. There’s a very wide margin for doping. The parameters are set very wide.

Larry T. October 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm

About the leak – did this go public BEFORE the rider in question knew of the findings? If not, who cares? Once a name is put to the file and the rider is informed, this kind of stuff, well…….leaks out. As to false positive/damage to the rider’s reputation it seems to me, based on the explanation of the procedures, there are plenty of safeguards that prevent innocent riders from being snagged in this way. One must assume the computer software itself has some tolerance so they don’t end up with hundreds of flagged results. Then a lone analyst looks at ‘em and only if he thinks something’s fishy do they then get looked at by two others. Only if all three of them (independently I assume?) each report something fishy does the thing go to the point where someone MAY determine the ID of the rider and ask them to explain? I’d guess there’s some subjective judgement in this case too or is UCI somehow forced to notify WADA and start the process if the three experts say something is fishy? Finally, let’s all remember this isn’t the criminal justice system, it’s simply enforcing the rules of SPORT that all participants agree to play by when they take out a license. Nobody goes to jail or is executed, they just don’t get to play for awhile if they’re caught cheating.

Othersteve October 4, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Conspiracy Theorist Unite,

I would imagine the APMU pool of “experts” who are the screeners of the “abnormal samples” have a high degree of familiarity with the science associated with the Bio-Passport. presumably they are Physiologist or Hematologists or similar clinicians.

What is stop these individuals after a period of familiarizing themselves with the procedures from going to work for themselves as “consultants” for teams or individual riders?

channel_zero October 5, 2013 at 5:18 am

What is stop these individuals after a period of familiarizing themselves with the procedures from going to work for themselves as “consultants” for teams or individual riders?

Doing what exactly? They aren’t exercise physiologists. Reading and verifying test data requires deep understanding of both the WADA system and the tests and samples.

If you mean to game the bio-passport, plenty of guys with no formal training can sort through WADA’s documentation on the tests and figure out parameters. Being a doctor of some kind helps, (Ferrari, Fuentes, Galea) but not a requirement. (ex. Chris Carmichael)

channel_zero October 5, 2013 at 5:26 am

Ok, Carmichael probably had no clue, but his time at USA Cycling poisoning teenagers including Armstrong, Kaiter definitely qualifies as doping athletes.

Zed October 5, 2013 at 7:02 am

Which is was Ashenden does now.

Richie Porte told him some things!

Yikes!

LM October 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm

What do you mean “Ashenden does now”?

Larrick October 5, 2013 at 3:00 am

So just to confirm, if an athlete is doping using a substance that is yet to be captured by testing (as nearly all PED’s are at some point) and is using when the they start to collect info for the passport, the only way the parameters will set off the alarm is if they stop doping?

Also if an athlete has lower than average levels of x and y and doping raises their capabilities to above average but still within possible levels, then nothing will look abnormal to the experts.

channel_zero October 5, 2013 at 5:23 am

Also if an athlete has lower than average levels of x and y and doping raises their capabilities to above average but still within possible levels, then nothing will look abnormal to the experts.

The now old discussion of the UCI setting an arbitrary hematocrit level is a perfect example. Let’s imagine someone who has a natural level below the threshold. A little micro-dosing of EPO might help. The same is true for Testosterone. Just don’t cross the threshold test.

To be fair to WADA, the IOC was never interested in an anti-doping system that prevented doping. With retrospecitve testing, athletes could be much cleaner. They just didn’t want anyone dying and to control anti-doping controversy.

Johnny October 5, 2013 at 3:06 am

Viruses do not usually affect haematological parameters much. Especially red cells.
With regard to schistosomiasis unless it is chronic it shouldn’t affect haemaglobin and if it is chronic anaemia is the least if your worries

Alex October 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Great piece and well done bringing in that very useful explanation on DNA matches and probability of guilt.

BobS October 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm

The issue of “false postives” is something I have wondered about. I would reframe the question in terms of “sensitivity” and “specificity”. The sensitivity of a test is the likelihood that a true postive will be detected by the test. The specificity is the likelihood that a positive test is truly positive and not a false positive. In general, as the sensitivity of a test increases, the specificity tends to decrease. The decisions that need to be made are 1) how serious is the problem to be detected and 2) what level of false positives should be accepted to detect the true positives. A corrollary of question 2 is, how harmful is a false positive? As you have outlined, a false positive can be very damaging to a cyclist’s career and might dictate accepting a lower level of sensitivity.

Carn Soaks October 6, 2013 at 4:57 am

This was leaked as an attempt to stall BRIAN COOKSON’s run at UCI President. Two simple reasons help us make this assumption.
A. As the article supposes, there are many cases that don’t reach the media, we don’t know that number, but the earlier figures (2009) give us a reasonable example of where this refined system might be now.
B. The platform Cookson runs on is countered by PMQ’s proven results and administrative successes. He has introduced the Passport, and here it is, working to clean up cycling, fingering a constituent of Cooksons own territory. An obvious attempt to smear Cookson and British Cycling.

Thank Gaia for the result in the end. 24-18 is a resounding dismissal of PMQ’s credibility.

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