Questions over Sergio Henao’s Case

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Team Sky have announced that Sergio Henao has been “taken off Team Sky’s race schedule” following “out-of-competition control tests”. The story first appeared in La Gazzetta Dello Sport where British journalist Daniel Friebe picked up on it. Within minutes Team Sky put out a press release.

Little is known and it leaves many scratching their heads while others are happier to fill the vacuum with speculation and more. But at the risk of thinking out aloud, let’s try to review some of this.

First we have the news in La Gazzetta, via Henao’s agent, rather than Sky putting out the news. It seems that the story has to be flushed out by a newspaper rather the team putting the news out. Now who controls the story and the media agenda is a second order concern but all the same, when did the team see the test data and when was Henao stopped from racing?

Next up are the “out-of-competition control tests” which don’t state that they are blood tests. Can we presume this? Only by joining some dots: given the talk of altitude and that these are tests requested by WADA; it’s unlikely as if he was setting off alarm bells by setting big power numbers. Similarly it seems – and I stress this is just trying to understand the news – that this is related to blood values in an anti-doping context. Now not for the first time let’s assume Henao is innocent but clearly the results of the tests came back in way that caused concern. It wasn’t that the values were different or even unhealthy, a theme of the press release is discussing Henao’s values with the UCI and its anti-doping agency, the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF).

Native
We also have the concept of altitude and “natives”. Contrary to what many might think, living at a high altitude doesn’t confer extra athletic ability. Instead it’s moving to altitude, whether to Tenerife for a month, two weeks in an altitude tent or several generations of a family or even a tribe that moved upwards. But there are some populations that live at high altitude and by history have genetic traits. It’s not moving that created this – sorry Lamarck – just selection. Anyway see some folk in Tibet or the Andes. The science of sport at altitude and the field of altitude training is still very weak. As an anecdote when EPO came out many sports scientists thought its abuse would slow athletes because the increase in blood viscosity from all those extra oxygen-carrying red blood cells would make it harder to pump the blood around. Yes it was harder but ask Bjarne Riis or hundreds of others whether they got slower after injecting EPO. There are studies on native populations and their haematology but surely none on native elite athletes moving up and down. Plus is Henao a genuine native in the genetic sense, does he have similar DNA to those tested in Andes for example.

Note Henao isn’t the only rider from altitude at Team Sky. They’ve just signed his cousin Sebastian Henao and Rigoberto Urán spent three seasons with the team. At least if Urán doesn’t have the native DNA he could be a useful control as another who lives at altitude; similarly what about Henao’s past values as he shuttles between Colombia and Europe? Although in the name of science, testing should really evaluate a large group. Which brings us to the “research”. Here’s Dave Brailsford:

We are commissioning independent scientific research to better understand the effects of prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level, specifically on altitude natives.”

This could be an interesting study but is it in the name of science or just an exercise in testing Henao, for example he’s taken back to Colombia and kept on a tight leash with regular testing to see what happens and then he is brought back to sea level, whether in Colombia or Europe and his values are monitored to see what happens. Science is about expanding knowledge, will this “research” be public?

Henao vs Tiernan-Locke
The case might be different to that of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. The UCI has asked the British anti-doping agency to prosecute “JTL” and his case is ongoing. If “once is an accident and twice is coincidence” then the media will be linking these two stories although for now there’s little of substance to compare. Instead it’s more stylistic with JTL being dropped from the Sky website while Sky commission a private research project in Henao’s name. On style over substance again we should note the news of JTL’s suspension was flushed out by journalist David Walsh who started asking questions about his absence at the Florence Worlds; from memory we were given tales of “fatigue” by the media.

Let Sergio Ride
I’m not necessarily proposing this but there’s a good argument that says Henao should be racing rather than doing a science project. If he’s not been busted by the UCI then could he not appeal to them to race? Indeed it OK for teams to stop their riders from competing? Sky seem to be employing the Precautionary Principle and this can be praised for the pro-active nature but condemned too because it means different teams are left to different actions rather than a shared approach for all teams. Maybe one or two would think “stick this guy in a race because he’s red hot”.

The paradox of transparency
Sky might be applauded for their caution in benching Henao but it invites more scrutiny too. Sky will not be enjoying this but would other teams act in the same way or might they opt for a more aggressive stance and tough out any odd-looking passport data, knowing they can always dump the “lone wolf” if the UCI opens a case. The UCI issued a tiny statement but it says even less than La Gazzetta this morning.

The main missing item is context. Remember for the UCI to open an anti-doping biological passport case against a rider it has three experts who must arrive at 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” in order to launch a case. We simply don’t know how often the UCI is finding curious, interesting or even outright suspicious data on riders but which falls short of the unanimous likelihood of doping in triplicate required to prosecute. We do know thanks to a conference presentation by a UCI doctor that in 2009 the Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) – a WADA-funded scheme based in Lausanne, Switzerland, just around the shore of Lake Geneva from the UCI’s HQ – was flagging up 10-15 cyclists a week.

False positives
Statistics and probability are complicated by false positives and more. Here is an example from a New York Times blog I’ve used before:

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.

So given we don’t know whether Henao’s out-of-competition control tests were merely interesting or red-alert status be careful of associating his status as a rider being removed from racing (which is unique) with that of a rider with alarming test results (we simply don’t know how many others look ill, curious or dodgy).

Finally for all the news it could be that Henao’s blood values went in the opposite direction to any performance-enhancing plans and it merely indicates illness; but the tone of the press release references the CADF rather than rest and recovery.

Summary
Do you know what’s going on? I don’t and today’s newspaper story and the subsequent press release didn’t explain much either. So we’re left with more questions than answers, ranging from when his withdrawal began to whether other teams or the UCI have seem similar test values and what they’ve done.

The above gives some more thoughts to things but it’s more important Sky and others like the UCI move to fill the vacuum otherwise, as we see in the aviation world right now, daily speculation will fill the rest.

 

BC March 19, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Speculation in public leads nowhere. What we do know is that SKY have reason to undertake an investigation into the circumstances and values in a test taken at altitude. I think we should be congratulating the team on taking a pro active position.

It is a shame that they have still not learnt the fundamental lesson that allowing information to leak out through the media, only leads to more questions. Are SKY not a media company ?

Dave H March 19, 2014 at 8:52 pm

I have to admit to being thoroughly bewildered by this case but my first instinct, like yours, was that Sky look cleaner for having withdrawn him. It was almost amusing to note, however, the alacrity with which the anti-Sky brigade on Cyclingnews linked this to Froome and Porte’s withdrawals from Tirreno-Adriatico as evidence of Sky running scared of new effective testing.

Clearly the best thing to do is to wait until we know more before drawing any hard conclusions but the striking thing once again, as you also say, is how bad Team Sky are at public relations.

Ceramic Cyclist March 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I wouldn’t say Sky are bad at Public Relations. More that in circumstances like these, they’re caught between a Rock and a Hard Place whichever path they decide to follow. In these days of cynicism, any team engaging in Public Relations is accused of just that. PR has a bad name. Deservedly so perhaps, because it was this term and practice that “replaced” the term and practice of Propaganda. The Political equivalent is called Spin. Of course we all know that these things are essentially the same. Sky are Damned if they do and Damned if they don’t.

Sam March 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm

When it comes to PR and teams, personally I’d quite like a few journos to, FOR ONCE, and for the benefit of transparency for interested cycling fans, their experiences in dealing with teams such as OPQS and BMC on the PR front (to name but two teams).

OPQS: flatly refuse to answer any questions re their continuing employment of Jose Ibarguren Taus
BMC: Ochowicz refuses to be interviewed, despite being the General Manager. Given his history its no surprise he doesnt want to face difficult questions. Also BMC will not answer questions about their employment of the likes of Max Testa (for one), a man heavily implicated in overseeing doping in Macur’s book, Circle of Lies.

All we ever hear is how terrible Sky’s PR is. Journos will not share their negative experiences publically about other teams on the PR and comms front, so we get a totally one-team-focused view.

I wonder why.

Quentin March 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Given that (1) Sky defines themselves as taking a scientific approach, (2) they seem to be willing to commit resources to doing internal testing, and (3) they have had several Colombian riders, if they are really a proactive team, they should be doing their own science on the effects of altitude for altitude natives vs. non-natives. Obviously they don’t have that many data points, but it might still be more data points than the rest of the scientific community has.

LM March 20, 2014 at 1:49 am

“First we have the news in La Gazzetta, via Henao’s agent, rather than Sky”.

So, no leak this time. And, Sky is a media company; shipping Henao a third of the way around the world where he’s harder to reach, private scientific study which is support for a WADA or CAS defence are possibly a team acting positively, beyond MPCC behavior.

The questions that pop up first in my mind are, why did Henao’s agent go public first? Why was it so important for him to give the first version? Why does it look like he forced SKY’s hand?

hoh March 21, 2014 at 12:13 am

If it’s just a matter of minutes, then maybe pro-Journalists typing faster than Sky IT/PR?

LM March 22, 2014 at 5:48 pm

This is certainly possible, but why wouldn’t they act in concert?

Stephen_M March 24, 2014 at 3:24 pm

err, perhaps not – many reports stated this came from a Bio-Passport test. WADA have jurisdiction here and SKY should be following the process.

There’s zero proactive here, except a poor attempt to confuse journalists/public with some bamboozling nonsense about ‘experts’, ‘tests’ and ‘investigations’. Obfuscation, is probably the verb they were actually searching for…

izoard March 19, 2014 at 8:24 pm

are we talking about science or plain ethics ?
well, let’s ask the rider. are you a cheater, sergio ? (only kidding)

Netserk March 19, 2014 at 8:42 pm

RE: Let Sergio Ride

How long would he have to be sidelined, before the team could be forced to use him like Reda?

ShortsNL March 19, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Some of the questions left unanswered:

Why did Sky only suspend him now, if the anomaly in Henao’s values happened in October, and if the Gazetta first had to report on it?

Why does Sky not just name to name the what irregular value Henao has? How does that go for transparency?

Why does Sky say they first informed UCI/WADA/CADF of irregular values, on a test they say that was introduced the authorities this winter, and not the other way around? How does that make sense?

If Sky doesn’t understand the readings, why does it suggest it must have been caused by living at altitude and nothing else? How can they say that if they don’t understand the readings in the first place?

How are we supposed to trust research that is fully paid for by Sky and completely deterministic in nature with its only purpose to give an explanation (excuse?) for Henao’s values?

The Inner Ring March 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm

All good questions, thanks.

Nick March 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm

They are based on a number of assumptions, though.
1. We don’t know whether Henao’s values appeared anomalous back in October, or only more recently – possibly once back training/racing at sea level in Mallorca/Oman. Their statement says they only picked up in a recent monthly meeting.
2. Covered by their statement about wanting to be fair, and not jump to conclusions. They weren’t claiming to be transparent.
3. Again, it depends on whether values only appeared anomalous once put in the context of other tests. We don’t know whether Sky had access to more information about their riders than the UCI/WADA/Colombian authorities did, but it’s a fair assumption.
4. This depends on what the anomaly is, but it’s known, and mentioned above, that spending time at altitude and moving between altitude and sea levels can affect some blood values. Presumably these are the values where the anomalies lie. After all, Sky are saying that they don’t know what the readings mean, not that they don’t know what the readings are.
5. Quite an assumption about the purpose of the tests, but it is a fair question. Sky say they want to use WADA-approved labs, and share the results with WADA, UCI and CADF, but we’ll see.

Evan March 20, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Regarding the new test. It’s quite possible that sky matches their internal testing to the testing protocols the UCI conducts on riders. If it’s a new test, it’s not surprising they got a new or unexpected result that raises new questions. This makes sense regardless of whether or not you trust sky. If you trust them, they just found out Henao is suspicious. If you distrust them, they just found out Henao is catchable.

MartinGT March 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Lets look at the bigger picture

Henao – These dodgy values
Porte – Falls ill at TA after a great 5th place
The Froome Dawg – Pulls out of TA after a ‘bad back’ yet Tweets pics a few days later of him climbing a hill covered in snow and ice?
Dombrowski – Not ridden a race in 2014 yet.

Shawn March 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

So, if we connect those dots, Sky was behind the disappearance of flight 370? Brilliant!!

BenW March 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Magnificent. You win the Internet :D

Toe Strap March 19, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Oh no! I hope the comments here don’t start descending to cyclingnews depths!
Most people come to this site for balanced and rational debate.

Toe Strap March 19, 2014 at 11:19 pm

That was a reply to MartinGT btw

BarrySlinger March 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

hehe!

channel_zero March 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Regarding false positives, the WADA standards account for false positives a number of different ways to the point it’s not something to consider.

I’d argue the heavy necessary bias toward minimizing false positives enables some doping.

RooBay March 19, 2014 at 10:15 pm

“Sorry Lamarck”. Quality.

Mountain goat March 20, 2014 at 12:39 am

Yes quality work on the Lamarckism reference, the type of insightful writing that makes me come back here daily.
For what it is worth I think Sky are trying to do the right thing, so kudos to them. Maybe they need to work on the media department though as mentioned. Still lots of questions unanswered but for now let’s give Henao the benefit of the doubt.

Bundle March 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

There is actually a lot to discover about the epigenetics of altitude… http://jap.physiology.org/content/112/1/33.abstract?etoc
Hello Lamarck?
I think the best news here is that a scientific research has been commissioned. (But if it has been commissioned, it cannot be “independent”, Mr. Brailsford).

DrStav March 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Depends on the stipulations of the commissioning.

DB: “Hello Institute XXX, here is £X thousand for a detailed literature review and practical investigative program to see if there is any correlation between the blood values obtained and the expected. We have put Henao at your disposal and we’ll have an overview just to make sure we are accountable for our rider. We hope to hear your findings in the next 3 months”

Institute (Possible result 1): “Sorry DB, the blood results can’t be explained due to either genetic or epigenetic factors when compared to altitude natives and/or athletes from either altitude or Europe. We are inconclusive therefore open to suggest malpractice. Are recommendation is to look for other factors which may have greater significance such as undiagnosed underlying medical issues or doping.”

Institute (2): “Hi DB, we’ve checked the values against both the native populations and European norms for both athletic and non-athletic lifestyles. The results obtained are anomalous compared to European norms and athletes but are within tolerance of altitude natives who have undertaken fitness programs. From our findings, natives of altitude have an innate advantage therefore we recommend genetic screening for particular markers to be included in the biological passport. “

channel_zero March 19, 2014 at 10:21 pm

The reason for no positive could be because of the nature of the violation may be very hard to win all the way through CAS. This has happened before in and out of cycling.

And yet, the UCI has pursued other athletes with weak/complicated cases.

The seemingly random treatment of doping violations doesn’t help clean up the sport. It doesn’t discourage doping at the athlete’s level.

Anonymous March 19, 2014 at 10:22 pm

The problem with people who are obsessed with conspiracies is that you can never reason with them as *something* is always hiding in the background.
I think Sky should be commended.
Why follow and take an interest in pro cycling if you start with the assumption they’re cheating.

gabriele March 20, 2014 at 12:33 am

[OT]
I’m not taking a stance pro or against SKY, here. Instead, I’m taking a stance supporting “conspiracy theories”, in general, whereas not necessary in this specific case.
Since a lot of conspiration has been exposed along history, and since “conspiring” (others would call it “not to allow information leaks” or “being careful with public relations”) has shown itself so many times like a pretty good way to exercise power, it’s just silly to discard any “conspirative” hypothesis as such.

The systematic study of history is known to have nothing to teach… nevertheless, if anything, we may learn that, yes, something *is* always hiding in the background.

Many times the question is if what may be hiding is plausible, if it’s comparable with similar phenomena and so on. Aliens supporting jewish bankers in a world wide fumigation against, I don’t know, a secret service collecting information from private communications? Have we ever had any disclosure about something like the first? Mmmm, no. They hid themselves so damn well *all* the time. Every time. The second example? We’ve got an impressive collection of situations like that along the centuries!

Normally, it’s not a matter of proofs (that’s the first thing a good conspiracy will wipe out from the public view), but of coherence and sense of what’s being suspected. Or, even better, it’s a problem of lack of coherence in what you’re being officially told.

The whole Lance affair, details included, had been disclosed entirely on many… internet forums :-) well before the justice took care of it. Those who believed in the man just said that all the story was “conspiracy theory”. This doesn’t even remotely mean that SKY is the same, or that any crazy theory should be trusted without serious reflection… But when people start crying out against “conspiranoia”, that’s when I start worrying something is really hiding out there ;-)

LM March 20, 2014 at 2:17 am

It is a little hard to believe that a team funded almost completely by a corporation that is ultimately controlled by the same person who ultimately controlled the News of the World, is clean. Murdoch is the poster child for winning at all costs, not ethical behavior. But that’s just a thought.

Nick March 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Whereas the other teams’ backers became multi-millionaires because of their easy-going and considerate natures?

LM March 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm

No, I’m not saying that at all; I was commenting on SKY, Henao’s team (The team with the much publicized zero tolerance policy), specifically and gabrielle’s cospiracy theory post generally.

RocksRootsRoad March 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Comparing Team SKY to the secret service is a bit of a leap no?

gabriele March 20, 2014 at 3:29 pm

…?
I wasn’t meaning anyhting like that, I just found silly to argue against hypothesis or questions saying “that’s conspiracy theory”.
Since so many theories of that kind have proven right, especially but not exclusively in cycling (and saying this I’m not denying that just as many proved to be wrong), critical thought and systematic doubt against official / interested versions shouldn’t be dismissed as not reliable on a general basis.

[SERIOUS DEBATE MODE OFF]
Anyway, just for the purpose of sheer dialectic, you may know the so called “Rule of Three”… Team SKY’s means aren’t comparable to the secret service’s, but neither their alleged ends are.
Just as LM pointed out, SKY’s owners were involved, indeed, in some secret-service-like controversy :-)

Doubter March 25, 2014 at 1:08 am

Wait…. the hundreds (thousands?) of pro cyclists who we have known to have cheated and you propose assuming everyone is clean…????

It wasn’t 15 years ago that virtually EVERY pro cyclist was using PED’s…..

Spatz March 19, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Nice discussion

I believe in Sky but have to agree (with others) that their PR & general handling of the media is very poor & at times a bit embarrassing.

Igam Ogam March 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

Hiring top-notch PR pretty much a guarantees that you are up to no good (dare I mention a certain Mr. Gunderson…).

I prefer the very British, DIY style, sometimes bumbling but seemingly genuine efforts of Sky, at least you get a feeling of genuine frustration and anger from Brailsford & the riders whereas a PR pro would just smile with over-engineered teeth & look blank.

Coach H March 19, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Here is how I see it

SKY’s review sees something that does not look as they would expect. It’s not something obvious enough for the UCI to raise as a confirmed issue and may be so slight that the UCI didn’t even spot it (they have a pool of thousands to screen NOT a pool of 30 after all).

The data cannot initially be explained, but it is there. SKY want/need to be able to explain it for 2 reasons; 1) the results may indicate doping or IMHO far more likely 2) SKY and Henao do not want the UCI to spot the anomaly in later tests, raise a formal concern and then be left with no way of explaining the results (particularly in light of JTL).

They have to pull Henao from competition whilst they look for the explanation as if the results turn out to be 1) they are all ****ed and if it turns out to be 2) SKY and Henao will be accused of knowing there was a potential issue and SKY of turning a blind eye by letting Henao race, a PR disaster as shown by the JTL case. There is also the possibility of the locations/racing skewing any data.

I think that ultimately it is the only sensible method of reducing the risks to SKY and Henao until the data can be correctly explained. It is quite common for scientific results to be available well in advance of an explanation (Gravity for example)

Looks like good management to me but in the short term must be tough on Henao

channel_zero March 20, 2014 at 4:02 am

That’s not how passport management works.

Speckled Jim March 20, 2014 at 10:10 am

How does/should it work then?

BenW March 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Precisely. How does it work, Channel Zero?

Ben March 20, 2014 at 1:06 am

With Sky’s dominance, people are just WAITING for an excuse to label Sky cheats. As everyone knows… “Sky is obviously on the NEW epo”.

Doubter March 25, 2014 at 1:11 am

Was the Armstrong contingent this blindly loyal to their man based on his nationality as the current Sky supporters?
Using faith to assert facts just seems a little silly.

Goonie March 20, 2014 at 7:11 am

The people who run Sky aren’t stupid. They would have known that resting Henao for unusual blood values was going to cost them some adverse publicity, on top of not having a rider available for a substantial part of the season.

And yet they’ve gone and done it anyway.

One can only conclude that they felt that his blood values were pretty damn unusual.

Denny March 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

I think you have to commend Sky for their move.

How many other teams would withdraw a rider if they spotted anything unusual with test results?

Furthermore, how many other teams actually examine their riders’ test result data close enough to know if anything unusual is appearing?

LM March 20, 2014 at 3:02 pm

This is, Possibly, just how polished SKY is; as I read it, They didn’t spot the issue, they were told of the issue after an out of competition control test. Additionally, they didn’t release the news, Henao’s agent did. But they have gone to lengths to make it seem like this was all their idea. I’m not saying that Anybody is doing anything wrong, just that the chain of events so far are worth considering.

I think every top team is analyzing test results every week. That being said, Brailsford has a group of employees who’s job is to analyze test results; Luca Scinto probably has a more casual regime. And, I am not being critical of Scinto, he’s just a pretty good example either way of a guy who has a much smaller budget.

BC March 20, 2014 at 10:28 am

The Henao situation is unfortunately part of the inevitable fall out from Armstrong.

It would be reassuring if other teams were taking the same precautionary action when data suggests clarification is required. That they are not gives cause for concern. It is not statistically possible that only one unexplained irregularity exists in the large pool of tested riders.

Hats of to SKY for having the courage of their convictions, and shame on those who are jumping to unfounded conspiracy theories on other web sites.

Bundle March 20, 2014 at 10:29 am

The last thing we needed this year. All very worrying and mysterious. Altitude seems to have become all-too-important. Ok, I’ll shut up. I hate speculations.

The Inner Ring March 20, 2014 at 10:38 am

Altitude is important for training whether riders sleep in tents or near the top of a large mountain like Teide in Tenerife. But it’s also been cover for other manipulations, Dr Ferrari was recommending altitude training camps as “cover” for blood manipulation because athletes presenting strange values could deliver the altitude training camp alibi. The point of this is that the UCI and others seem to struggle with the values resulting from altitude.

LM March 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm

“The point of this is that the UCI and others seem to struggle with the values resulting from altitude.”

Why is it that cycling and most if not all endurance sports have agreed for a long time that there is value in altitude training (It was ages ago, and probably a magazine article, that the first article was written about altitude tents), all major armed forces use it, and yet there is still no published definitive study? In the crusade for clean cycling, this would seem to be one of the areas with the potential for more than marginal gains.

The Inner Ring March 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

There’s value but quantifying the responses and distinguishing between natural adaptations and blood doping is hard, it’s one thing to put a red flag on the numbers and another to prosecute. As mentioned in the link there, Bertagnolli says Ferrari advised him to use altitude training as cover for blood bags.

gabriele March 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I think their use is not allowed in Italy, it’s considered blood doping. Since the year 2000. The police seized some during the 2005 Giro, if my memory serves me right.

The Inner Ring March 20, 2014 at 3:39 pm

“Altitude tents” or nitrogen pumps are not allowed, that’s correct. But Bertagnolli means going Etna, St Moritz or Teide etc.

LM March 20, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I’m only saying that it is surprising that no entity, commercial or otherwise, has rounded up 200 people and tested them for a decade. Goodness knows, the Sherpas wouldn’t turn down the money. I’d bet there are more than a few Colombians that would be happy to earn some extra money.

A lot of people have spent a lot of money and time training at and simulating altitude, it’s hard to believe that it could be just a doping cover-up and a flim-flam to get another $5k from Fred.

And, I agree,” it’s one thing to put a red flag on the numbers and another to prosecute”. It seems that it’s possible that there might not be a very grounded rational for flagging at all aside from a potential for a cover-up.

The Henao story is interesting. But, the question of what really are the effects of training vs. genetic evolution at altitude is even more so.

Nick March 21, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I’d understood (from David Epstein’s excellent “The Sports Gene”, rather than reading the science myself) that the 3 major human populations who have lived at altitude for generations – Andean Indians, Tibetans/Nepalis, and Kenyan/Ethiopian highlanders – have all adapted to the low oxygen levels in different ways.

Equally, they don’t necessarily adapt to it in the same way as a “genetic lowlander” who is raised at altitude – Kalenjin marathon runners, Chris Froome, Rigoberto Uran, people from Colorado.

Tovarishch March 20, 2014 at 12:13 pm

My guess would be that having spent an extended period at altitude (more than 40 days) he recorded high haemocrit levels that dropped significantly once he was back at sea level. The question would be were those high HCT levels abnormal for someone of his physiology. I am not sure there is, necessarily, anything to be concerned about at this stage but it would make sense for Sky to keep quiet until the cat was let out of the altitude tent.

Beth March 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

This is my interpretation too. Sky’s press release refers to ‘new’ out of competition tests at altitude – this possibly means it’s the first time Henao has had an OOC passport test taken at altitude, and indeed, after he had been at altitude for a period of time. These results have not (yet) triggered any official concern via the UCI biopassport process but when Sky reviewed the results they decided there was sufficient variation from his normal (non altitude) values that they need to understand what’s going on.

At this stage, it seems from the outside that Sky’s actions are proactive, reasonable and proportionate. Perhaps other team managers are shifting uncomfortably in their seats and looking at the floor at this point.

gabriele March 20, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Possibly, I’m terribly wrong, since I’m going by memory… but I remember something from the Ferrari-Parisotto dispute about the fact that variations due to altitude – and a lot of other factors – are generously included and weighed in the current bio-passport models (Horner’s rather impressive shifts in hematologic values weren’t enough to trigger any official concern). All in all, hematology – including specific studies on athletes or peculiar populations – isn’t exactly in its prehistory…

DrStav March 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Can I point you towards this link re; genetics of altitude natives

http://decaironman-training.com/2014/03/19/the-challenge-of-monitoring-altitude-natives-in-professional-cycling/

I’d also point out that the last influx of altitude natives was in the 90’s just when the EPO era was kicking in. Any data based on the performance of pro-cyclists in this era would give very dubious data sets. I think Brailsford is right to request fresh, peer reviewed and unbiased data.

othersteve March 21, 2014 at 12:16 am

Sky, Conspiracy, possible PED use, always a crowd favorite.

INRNG you can pick the hot topics

Anonymous March 21, 2014 at 4:37 am
Luis G March 21, 2014 at 11:19 am

This is the second time Henao has shown 50+% hematocrit level. The first time was in Vuelta a Colombia 2007 for under 23 cyclists, in which he was one of the favourites. He was taken out before stage 1 started.

http://revistamundociclistico.com/ruta/131-podio-de-corazones-en-la-vuelta-a-colombia-sub-23.html

Speckled Jim March 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Where did you get the 50+% Luis? This is not something I’ve seen in any reports on this matter…

The Inner Ring March 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm

That news is an old story but it’s come out again given the recent news.

I don’t know about you Speckled Jim but not all news from U23 amateur Colombian cycling events gets on the radar ;-)

Luis G March 21, 2014 at 3:01 pm

There’s many things the English speaking cycling press doesn’t pick up, like Oscar Pereiro admitting on a Spanish radio interview in Jan this year that Hincapie paid him for letting him win the TdF 2005 stage 15.

http://youtu.be/D9Ud6obZ85w

Speckled Jim March 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

True that!

My question for Luis is in relation to this current situation being the “second time” his haematocrit has exceeded 50%… I’ve not seen this reported anywhere else, and everything about the story seems to point towards an ABP anomaly, not a high haematocrit number (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course).

The Inner Ring March 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Good point, we should be careful in assuming his current trouble is haematocrit related.

Luis G March 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Ok, fair enough.

I agree that I was making assumptions. I tend to try to connect the dots when information is incomplete. And on both cases there was a blood test detecting unusual levels, the rider pulled out of races and altitude was used as an explanation.

OJT March 21, 2014 at 10:36 pm

I think this is a reticulocyte issue. I agree with Speckled Jim, Henao’s problem is unlikely to be purely the 50% test. Blood antidoping work has been more focussed on reticulocytes than hematocrit for over ten years now. My feeling is that when Henao changes altitude he responds differently. Either his body over-reacts when he returns to altitude and the reticulocyte percentage – proportion of young red blood cells – briefly rises more steeply than other athletes (his results look like he’s taken an EPO injection), or his response is somehow less than one would expect (more like a blood bag) and his off score moves unusually. I suspect the latter.

The Inner Ring March 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm

It’s a reasonable hypothesis but we’re still guessing if it’s haematological, it could be hormonal.

Anyway running with your hypothesis, note if it is reticulocyte-related then the biopassport data only flags up big changes in the off-score and other parameters.

RDS March 23, 2014 at 1:30 am

What did Sky when they hired JTL? If the the rider had problems in his BP before coming to Sky, as stated by the team, why was he hired then? Did they look at his BP?… Looks like they didn’t…

Mel March 23, 2014 at 1:42 am

He was on a small pro team and wasn’t part of the GB national squad so didn’t have a passport before joining Sky. Only the highest level riders/teams are included

The Inner Ring March 23, 2014 at 9:47 am

Correct, Endura was a UCI Continental team, the third tier of teams, and the passport only applies to the World Tour and Pro Continental squads plus the top-ranked in the world from other disciplines like track and MTB. For example there are 26 British riders in the UCI’s registered testing pool from Froome and Cavendish to Pooley, Wyman etc but Britain has many more registered pros.

RDS March 25, 2014 at 9:12 pm

I’m sorry to say, but that is not correct, while:
1st, Sky states that his problems with the Bio Passport happened before he joined them (check here: http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/16012/Sky-insists-Tiernan-Locke-was-clean-in-2013-says-he-is-suspended-from-all-team-activities.aspx)
and
2nd, a rider even from a Continental Team, can be part of the UCI’s RTP (riders Registered Testing Pool) which was the case here (check here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/uci-opens-biological-passport-case-against-team-skys-jonathan-tiernan-locke).

Now that the UCI opened the procedure, it looks like that any possible explanations of JTL (towards the team and then UCI) do not positively justify his blood profile problems, which let me conclude, in any case, that the team should have done a better job before hiring this rider.

Stephen_M March 24, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for a non-emotional overview of the Henao case. Certainly a lot clearer than the jumbled mess that SKY put out in their press release.

I think I now am starting to understand them though? For example;
– during the 2012 Tour, we were told that they ‘did every possible check’ prior to signing Froome.
– unfortunately their ‘internal experts’ missed his debilitating illness from either his BP or power files.
– same internal experts then missed JTL, because even ‘a panel of experts wouldn’t have found it’.
– SKY then hire a ‘panel of experts’ for their future internal testing.
– SKY now hire a new ‘panel of experts’ to check any anomolies from the data that the first ‘panel of experts’ highlighted.

So, that’s all pretty clear then? Eh? Before you know it, they’ll be so open that they’ll publish the Deloitee Audit from 2011??? Or, are they likely to pull together a panel of experts to reviews its contents?

I appreciate I’m cynical (due to following cycling), but it seems to have caught my attention just how many injuries and illnesses suddnely seem to have cropped up within Team SKY since this was announced? Even Sir Brad has just pulled out of Catalunya , to go and train in the mountains for a few weeks to prepare for a flat cobbled classic? Perhaps a panel of experts felt there just wasn’t enough climbing in 7 days in Catalunya?

Chris March 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

I know this is now “old news” but Colombia’s El Tiempo published today a short interview with Henao about this issue:

http://www.eltiempo.com/deportes/ciclismo/sergio-luis-henao-hablo-de-su-aislamiento-del-sky_13723957-4

Seems the kid is diplomatic about it…

The Inner Ring March 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for sharing, I had not read it

Alan T March 27, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Henao now racing at Coppi e Bartali. See steephill photos for stage 1.

The Inner Ring March 27, 2014 at 9:05 pm

His cousin Sebastián

Alan T March 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Of course. Forgetting that!

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