Where Are You?

Last week’s “Wash Your Hands” piece about pros and personal hygiene was a surprisingly popular read. It showed an often unreported but essential part of the job of a pro cyclist. With this in mind, time to look at the topic of “Whereabouts” reporting, the daily logging of location by athletes so that anti-doping authorities can visit for a control.

If you asked many riders about the worst part of the job some might complain about the rain, the crash risks or crappy hotels but many would reply in a flash with one word: Whereabouts.

Out-of-competition tests are an essential component of anti-doping allowing testers to reach athletes anywhere. They’re not foolproof, see doping doctor Victor Conte advising his clients to treat two strikes like “lives” in a computer game, there to be used up on the way to completing a level. Tyler Hamilton writes in The Secret Race about dropping to the floor when testers come to his Girona apartment because he was “glowing”, slang for having enough of a banned substance in his body to test positive.

All cyclists in the UCI’s “registered testing pool” are included. This means every UCI ProTeam and UCI ProContinental team as well as other leading riders around the world in road cycling but also other disciplines. The UCI website page has links to the full criteria as well as all the riders on the list.

Who can test?

  • The UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation
  • The athlete’s National Anti-Doping Organisation based on their nationality
  • The athlete’s National Anti-Doping Organisation based on their racing license
  • A National Anti-Doping Organisation where athlete is staying, for example during a training camp
  • WADA, the IOC and “Major events organizers” like pre-Olympic tests

Riders can be tested anytime with an unannounced test and normally a test is supposed to be unannounced although see the case of Segio Henao who tells how the testers phoned him to say they’d be late.

Where’s Sergio?

One Hour, Every Day
Whereabouts means logging a one hour slot for every day of the year where an athlete can be reached by anti-doping testers for a sample. Note the location data isn’t just for home or training camps, it can be used, say, during a stage race. It uses a system called ADAMS run by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a database where athletes log their location.

3 months in one go
Riders first have to submit their location for three months at a time every quarter. For example riders had to supply their likely whereabouts for one hour a day for every day in April, May and June last week. Failure to submit this batch of quarterly data can itself result in a Whereabouts failure and three failures equate to an anti-doping ban.

As you can imagine it’s hard to know where you’ll be so riders typically submit their home address and state 6.00am for three months in a row. Then they will update with changes as they’re called to races, training camps and other travel.

Along with the address, the athlete has to submit an email address, a phone number along with the following information:

  • a one hour slot where they can be found between the hours of 6.00am and 11.00pm
  • an overnight location, ie where they sleep
  • any periods of travel during the day
  • where they will be training
  • where they will be competiting

The balance of reporting usually falls on the rider except when there is a race on and then a team will often submit the details. But should a rider abandon for example it’s up to them to update with the new info, something that might not be the first thing on your mind with a broken collarbone.

Pro cycling is a mobile job and if riders have target races the best plans often change. An athlete needs to log on and update any changes as soon as they’re aware of them. To help WADA now have iPhone and Android apps meaning this can be done by phone. In an emergency the information can also be sent by SMS but this is only a last resort as the info is not automatically entered into the ADAMS database but noted.

Looks like he’s in Belgium but it could be northern France

Offredo Case
FDJ’s Yoann Offredo was banned after three missed tests. One happened over a simple mix-up, he was racing and hoped his team would handle the admin but they didn’t and so he missed a test. Offredo wasn’t in hiding but racing in public and staying in hotels provided by the race only he was not to be found where ADAMS said so and when the testers came knocking he wasn’t there. It’s just one example of how serious this can be.

The burden of having to submit updates is so tiresome for some that I’ve read quotes from riders saying they’d welcome a tag or a GPS chip under their skin so that testers could locate the rider 24/7. Whether this is a nice idea or horrifying is up to you… but it’s impossible. Imagine a rider who goes to a shopping mall, he cannot be tracked across the aisles by testers in pursuit nor can they follow him for hours if he’s in a sports car. A location has to be reported in advance.

GPS tech is used in latest version of WADA’s ADAMS app as users can use their phone’s GPS position to help signal their location but again only in advance to log where they will be, for example when staying in a hotel for several days.

Admin help
Many riders have better things to do and task their agent or a helper with managing this but this still means the rider has to talk to someone so they can handle the data-entry aspect. In his autobiography At Speed Mark Cavendish explains how he missed a test because some hired help had not updated his status for him. Ultimately the guy lost his job for this slip.

System vs system
The above is all about the system of data logging by athletes. It’s up to the UCI, WADA and national agencies to then use this information to help with their testing regimes. Resources and the frequency of testing are a whole other matter. These two subjects overlap when riders complain about the duty to log their Whereabouts only a portion of the peloton cannot remember their last out-of-comp test and for others the last one was a long time ago. The amount of out of competition testing and the extent of data collection to populate a bio-passport is whole other topic.

The cheap hotels, the bad weather, the crash risks and more make pro cycling less glamorous than it often looks. But ask a rider what’s the worst part of the job and the Whereabouts system is up there. The continual responsibility is a big burden with daily demands and it assumes a total lack of privacy. But hopefully all agree it’s a price to be paid in order to help out of competion anti-doping controls.

29 thoughts on “Where Are You?”

  1. great article thanks. clarifies a bunch of things i’ve heard and puts it all together nicely.
    you would think the teams should provide a lot more assistance with this – they should manage the whereabouts for all training camps and races. its difficult though as the buck has to stop with the rider eg in the Cavendish case mentioned, although the assistant lost his job it would be Cav who faced a ban if it was his 3rd strike.

    that’s 1 point not quite clear – the consequences of inaccurate whereabouts. in understand the norm is sanction after 3 missed whereabouts (in 2 years?) but is that hard and fast? and is that only if testers come and don’t find you – eg the offredo case it was only that testers tried to visit him as registered, otherwise he would have been ok despite the whole cycling world knowing he was elsewhere? combining that with “only a portion of the peloton cannot remember their last out-of-comp test and for others the last one was a long time ago” suggests that actually you have to be very unlucky to get sanctioned for whereabouts violation.

    would be interesting to see how it would be treated if a rider was in hospital following a crash so not where they said they would be.

    • I think it is not that hard to do their whereabouts. It probably less than 15 minutes per day. The training duration are about 5-6 hours per day max and that is a lot of time compared to a normal person that work 8+ hours/day.

      If you are on the anti-doping side, you have limited staff and budget for testing. If they decide to test one particular rider on a specific day, they need to collect the sample from the riders or it is a waste of resource and time. So, I think they should have a consequence for the riders that have poor organization skills or used the system to hide their doping.

      • Really? Ask a pro about that. I’ve chatted with a few guys on U.S. Continental Pro Teams who note the process can take much more than 15 minutes a day depending upon circumstances. Given the range of chaos racing in Europe (for example) with challenges in telecoms (especially for US-based pros that race over the pond infrequently) or obtaining WiFi access at a hotel (this can be an adventure)… there is a great deal of “overhead” effort involved to update ADAMS on a daily basis. Some guys wing it and just post the 3 month advance block and hope they don’t get shafted by not updating with real location based on last minute changes in race entries, training mini camps and the like. I love how people make gross assumptions based on intuition without validating by personal experience or by asking someone who actually is involved.

    • Yes, it’s only a “no show” for a doping control, otherwise there’s no way of policing. In reality many will forget to update things but they’re not tested every day so there’s no “no show” but once it’s happened once or twice the threat of a ban is enough to ensure updates.

      The ban can reflect circumstances but great leniency is rare because if one is let off it sets a precedent for others to try.

  2. Certainly onerous, but it’s the price to be paid for the decades the riders fought against dope testing of any kind and then did pretty much anything to beat the controls conducted at the events themselves once testing was put in place. If they all played fairly by the rules none of this would be needed, but even today there are those who think the rules apply only to others.
    While the hotels, weather and crash risks haven’t much changed for the pros, the rest of the luxuries they enjoy (someone to wash their clothes, rub their legs, a fancy bus to relax in, etc.) would make riders of the past drool with envy.

  3. I have to tell my boss where I am every day too.

    I can see logging on to update all of this for each and every day and any changes must be the last thing anyone wants to do

  4. If it’s “just” a one hour slot, wouldn’it be way to easy to get *reasonably clean* on time?
    I guess this means, anyway, limiting the doping programs, but I really don’t expect many positive tests coming out from it (nor too much limitation…).
    Besides, there are lot of training sites where, given a proper “hour slot”, access of passers-by as well as other *special visitors* can be monitored quite easily to grant the proper time-window, so that you don’t even have to… clean yourself up every day.
    Nevertheless, I imagine these tests are more useful in a BP perspective, but with just a few data collected (as we could saw in Horner’s case), it’s hard that they can make sense; not in any unambiguous way, at least. A totally different matter, as inrng said, but it makes you wonder how much credibility is won back this way.
    I’d like to stress that I’m not indirectly suggesting to extend the registered hours nor, on the contrary, to discard the whole system as ineffective: I’m just asking if anyone is seeing a clearer picture than I am, I feel like I’m missing something.

    • The hour slot-per-24-hours is a definite time when the athlete will be in X place for the testers to find them for an OOC test.

      However, the testers can turn up at any time – they dont have to stick to that hour, nor do they. Its just if for example they turn up at 10pm at the place the athlete gave for, say, the location for an hour slot at another time that day – or the next – or the athlete’s main place of residence, there’s a chance it will have been a wasted trip for the testers as there’s no guarantee that the athlete will be there.

      I have several friends and acquaintances who have to do ADAMS, and I’ve learned from their experiences that you really do have to be prepared for the testers to knock on your door at any time – not just that 1 hour slot you entered in ADAMS.

      INRNG, btw although many NADOs use ADAMS, some do use their own variation of it.

      • Thanks!
        I guess they’re trying to save some money with a kind of compromise between fixed-time OOC and total surprise tests (which, as you say, may suppose waste of trips). Or maybe this way they’ve got a “guideline” to know more or less where the athlete is without hiring several PIs: thus, they can try their luck with some surprise visit, but they’re not going for a totally blind shot.

  5. It’s a big ask to schedule your life three months in advance. You couldn’t pick up (or get picked up by) someone to shag for a night. Or visit a sick relative for a night. The constant stress of sticking to your scheduled destination every day seems unreasonably cruel and intrusive given the severe consequences of losing your job and getting vilified in Cyclingnews. Why can’t thw whereabouts be imposed only during the off-season? After all, during the race season, a rider is on stand-by, therefore, the team should be able to tell the testers the location of its riders. Unless of course the team can’t be trusted to keep the secret that an inspection is coming and warns the rider. Is cycling the only pro sport requiring such intense scrutiny?

    • Many other sports agree to this, in general most of the Olympic events. It’s run by WADA for all sports and not the UCI, who only help select the names that go on the list.

      As for the season, many teams don’t know where there riders are. It depends on the squad but many still have an attitude that, in reductive terms, is “show up here for a race and what you do in between is up to you”.

      The use of OOC tests has reduced the practice of riders skipping races to charge up on doping knowing they won’t be tested. In the 1990s for example the ONCE team would miss races to let riders train at home with race-like training scenarios only without the post competition urine controls meaning they were free to abuse hormones without fear of being caught. Today’s system doesn’t prevent this but it part-closes the window and substantially increases the chance of detection.

  6. My impression was that the rider has to enter his planned whereabouts for the coming three months, but he can change the information as his plans change. Remember Chris Horner’s missed test after last year’s Vuelta. He changed hotels at the end of the race, submitted the new location, the testers went to the original hotel, it wasn’t considered a “missed test”.

    • That’s right, it’s a whole quarter of data but then the schedule is updated when plans change, often daily. Typically you enter 3 months of “at home, 6.00am” and then make changes for racing and training and other engagements.

      I don’t know what happens with Horner but it’s possible he sent an SMS while the testers had looked up the ADAMS data and didn’t check for the SMS note sent late.

      • It seems to me that the 3 month window is the problem. Reducing this to a shorter period could mean less adjustments, easing the overall impact on the athlete.

        Not all of the athletes in the system are professionals. One of my U23 club team riders was subject to this, and it was quite onerous. He was honored to be deemed significant enough to be included, but the reality was it was a real hassle. Cycling wasn’t even his job…

  7. But how long is that window of opportunity to change your pre-registered location. Days or hours? Merely saying “as soon as you become aware of it” seems too vague and ambiguous, which can lead to imprecise and subjective application of the rule.

  8. I seem to remember Cav saying he had to rush off from Eisel’s wedding reception (where there was no mobile signal) to nearer the local town in order he could update his whereabouts.

  9. The whole system is onerous, intrusive, and in violation of an athletes privacy. Seriously folks, would you want a bunch of bureaucratic, pencil pushing snoops, running around with their noses up ur arse ?

    This is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. For years the teams have quietly forced riders to dope for their survival. The UCI and ASO quietly looked the other way as they want aggressive and exciting racing for the fans.

    Yet, the onus of honesty is laid at the riders doorstep. Really ?

    • “However, in the first instance, it should be noted that, to our knowledge, the only other members of society subject to similar location surveillance and reporting appear to us to be persons serving jail sentences, such as home detention and convicted but released paedophiles. One participant commented on the situation as follows:

      Q: Do you think other people in society should be subjected to surveillance like athletes are?
      A: No.
      Q: No? So nobody should be subjected to that sort of surveillance?
      A: No. But I think we are, though.
      Q: We don’t have to report. You know we might be with cameras and all that, but I don’t need to report in. I don’t even have to tell my boss where I am any more. But who are the other people who are subject to such a reporting scheme?
      A: Criminals.
      Q: Not even criminals. Just paedophiles who have been released.
      A: Probationary people.
      Q: Yeah. They’ve obviously got this one going.
      A: It’s like saying everyone’s guilty before they’ve even done the thing.

      Another participant commented:

      Q: Who else in society do you think is subject to such a …?
      A: No one.
      Q: Paedophiles?
      A: Yeah, exactly, that’s probably it, sex offenders … but I don’t think theirs is as strictly watched as ours.
      Q: No. It says something about your role in society, I think, yeah?
      A: I guess so.”

    • Where else can you really put it? The riders are responsible for what they put into their bodies.

      It IS onerous and tedious (a training partner of mine was on 2 missed tests in 18 months purely due to travel problems in London), but if an individual athlete believes in a clean sport, it’s the least bad solution.

  10. Seems like a modified form of slavery. What next, gps chips in an athletes arm ?

    It is 1984 and Big Brother is watching. Even our most private and intimate moments.

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