≡ Menu

Old News: Bio Passport isn’t Watertight

thumb

News that the athlete bio-passport isn’t foolproof has been doing the rounds after France Télévision’s Stade 2 show took some athletes, “microdosed” them with EPO and their values didn’t ring alarm bells on the AMPU bio passport system.

News? Actually no it’s been set out in academia since 2011 and in the same year Italian pro Leonardo Bertagnolli was telling the police just the same. Still since the report has got some traction so here’s a quick look at the issues.

You can see the report in French on youtube where they take eight athletes and under medical supervision and with WADA approval they dose them with a range of banned substances from EPO to blood infusions and growth hormones. As a result performance gains are noted and the changes appear within the safe parameters of the bio passport.

As a reminder 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 showing the athlete values fluctuating in blue between the red lines:

As an explainer “microdosing” means taking small doses of EPO, often intravenously. Intravenous use means it is hard to catch a rider positive, they have to be rumbled right away as it reduces “glowtime” or the period which the molecule can be detected in a test compared to the normal subcutaneous route (it’s depressing how you learn these things) and this is one reason why the CIRC report raised the idea of night time testing, to track the most suspicious riders and maybe catch them before they stop glowing. Microdoses mean small doses and the idea isn’t to take small amounts so as not to test positive but instead to achieve gradual changes in blood values rather than big swings which will trip the passport.

Menchov: one down, more to go

Short term vs long term
One big problem with a 29 day evaluation on TV is that ignores the way the passport uses Bayesian statistics. A TV guinea pig could record values within the pre-set range but over time it’s possible they set a pattern which later makes their earlier numbers look odd. It’s this kind of long-term testing which means a rider might not trip the alarm today but they could be caught at a later date and this reasoning is partially why the UCI took years to open a case against the likes of Dennis Menchov and Roman Kreuziger. It wasn’t that alarm bells rang immediately, it was because some old numbers stood out. This is crucial aspect of the passport but probably too complicated a lesson for a 15 minute TV report. An athlete who passed the test on TV could be busted with time although this is not certain. Again a degree of nuance that a TV report doesn’t have time to communicate. Indeed while saying the data don’t set off the passport look at the screengrab below to see just how close to the red line the athlete gets:

Stade 2

Sailing close to the wind?

Performance enhancers can enhance performance
Another thing with the France Télévisions report was the way participants recorded performance gains. Now talk of performance-enhancing substances enhancing performances isn’t surprising. But this was only a sample of eight people and we don’t whether any of the participants were boosted by the placebo effect of thinking they were faster and stronger and therefore fulfilling this and there’s no baseline training to compare. A more serious study would have random double-blind controls.

Nice idea in theory…
France Télévisions also interviewed Oxford philosophy professor Julian Savulescu who repeated his claim that EPO and other products should be made legal in order to end the dangerous second order effects of prohibition, namely athletes turning to quack doctors and getting poor and possibly harmful advice. The idea is noble in theory but ignores everything we know about the practice of doping in sports: allow some to “dope safely” and someone will dope to dangerous levels. Allow EPO to be injected in approved doses by certified doctors and if some athletes agree, others will “go large” with the dosage only this time they cannot be caught because the substance isn’t banned any more. They’d have to be caught red-handed injecting an unapproved dose. This isn’t conceptual as we saw this with the UCI’s 50% haematocrit limit which theoretically allowed riders to dope up to the 50% limit but in practice some were going to 60% and beyond and then gaming their levels back down for the test. Prohibition might have its problems but the alternatives don’t seem much better.

Summary
The bio passport isn’t watertight. A report on French television with this claim has caused a buzz that’s even stirred some pro cyclists to tweet outrage. But it’s old news. Whether in medical journals or the peloton, the ski pistes and athletics tracks, all of this has been known for many years. Still seeing this reported out loud on a mainstream channel means a bigger audience rather than specialist academics and sports science nerds. In some ways it’s a useful reminder but in others it feels like the report is trying to claim something novel.

The performance gains measured by the TV report might be recorded in a lab but the small sample size and lack of controls were skipped over by the TV report: the improvements are obvious but the scale isn’t so certain. Similarly microdosing could fool the passport once but with more time the passport gets more data and someone could trip up.

Bad science? Yes but Stade 2 is a sports television show rather than a science seminar. It’s a useful reminder that the bio passport isn’t foolproof. The UCI might have won every case it’s opened so far but probably because it’s only gone after the most obvious cases and left some others on the table. We’ll see what time brings. More testing, more intelligence and more money is needed.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joel Monday, 4 May 2015, 7:29 pm

    What you are missing from the review above INRNG is the Ferraris of this world who are better placed than anyone to ensure that it isn’t flagged up later on. A reason to stay with the doctor and pay his astronomical fees perhaps.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:12 pm

      It seems several Ferrari clients have been caught and done for their passports.

      • Joel Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:21 pm

        But it would appear that several haven’t.

  • John Liu Monday, 4 May 2015, 7:58 pm

    Perhaps
    – Riders should be denied access to their recent biological passport data, e.g. for the past 2 years, unless and until the rider is charged.
    – Selected riders, whose passport data raises suspicions, should be targeted for nighttime testing.

    • AK Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:35 pm

      I don’t think it would matter much. It woudl probably be hard to keep fooling the bio-passport for 2 years without doing your own tests of your blood values.

      • The Inner Ring Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:37 pm

        Yes, riders and their “doctors” could do a private test every day. But the night time testing for select riders who score high for suspicion is worth exploring.

        • djconnel Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:44 pm

          Rider need to wear automated garments, 24/7 (except, perhaps, during sanctioned races), which at random times inserts needle and extracts blood, immediately transmitting coordinates to roving UCI representatives who quickly arrives to collect it. Sure, it could create some socially awkward situations, but it’s all for the good of sport.

          • Chris Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 11:24 pm

            This is where it steps over the line , would you be expected to have to wear this in order to do your job ? Riders are people and I think we should keep this in mind when we look at certain controls.

        • Joel Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:46 pm

          Agree. It’s the only way currently.

          • Joel Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:47 pm

            I was agreeing to INRNG rather than dj on that one

    • ave Monday, 4 May 2015, 10:29 pm

      What stops them having their take their own tests? (A “private” passport, with pretty similar values to the official one)

      • channel_zero Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 8:33 pm

        Nothing stops them. A lower-budget squad like JV’s needs to do blood testing anyway as that is the preferred way to judge the physiological condition of an athlete.

        Actually, the sports federations accept “research” as a valid excuse for irregular parameters. I don’t know how an athlete applies for the excuse, but, it shows up in WADA’s reported statistics.

        Henao got a timeout with irregular parameters, not a positive, in 2014. They claimed during the timeout that Henao would be a research subject.

    • Vedrafjord Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 3:13 pm

      Quite simply the ADAs have to work to increase the fear of getting caught because it’s obvious that right now that fear isn’t there. How about:

      – Get serious about retroactive testing – the only way to stop riders using undetectable substances. The retesting of the 2008 Tour samples for Mircera caught stage winner Piepoli, double stage winner Schumacher, and king of the mountains/3rd overall Kohl. That was the AFLD of course, who actually want to catch dopers. Extend the statute of limitations as far as necessary.

      – Disclose the results of drugs tests – I believe the benefits of openness and transparency far outweigh concerns about confidentiality. Firstly, let the public know when tests occur and what is tested for – hopefully this will shame ADAs into ending the days of one passport test a year. Secondly, disclose the scores – let us see if someone’s T:E ratio is magically pegged near 4:1 or if they return borderline suspicious scores near big races.

      – This isn’t directly relevant, but it’s interesting that the ‘renegade’ 2008 Tour, with no UCI involvement, was the one where the testers actually did their jobs, and also Astana never made it to the start line. Maybe race organisers should be given more latitude to exclude teams for example – it wouldn’t matter if a team get their license (a process which has shown to be toothless) if they’re excluded from the big races.

    • channel_zero Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 8:57 pm

      Just the opposite. Release all test data with no personal information.

      The IOC sports have compounding credibility problems. Keep the federations honest and release all the data without names.

      We know from the CIRC report and the IAAF’s Russian scandal that every positive test does not become a sanction.

  • Jamie Monday, 4 May 2015, 8:35 pm

    It reminds us that the passport has to be one of a variety of methods for countering doping in cycling. I’d like to believe in Zakarin as a new exciting talent after his victory in Romandie but his track record makes it difficult. He unfortunately for me becomes one of the riders that an evolving passport and other detection methods must help to exonerate or catch out

    • Joel Monday, 4 May 2015, 9:06 pm

      If I was the UCI then I would warn Zakarin that he will be subject to nighttime testing as soon as possible. Then see how he performs.

      • Bert Monday, 4 May 2015, 9:36 pm

        The idea is not to warn riders, but to catch them.If he “pulls a Cobo” with one big victory and fading afterwards, the preventive effect on others will be much lower.

  • Larry T. Monday, 4 May 2015, 9:47 pm

    While the biopassport might be better than described by the TV program, the problem remains that guys like Menchov can cheat, “win” races and otherwise affect the results and usually keep the prize money even if they’re later found to have cheated. Roman K’s case is particularly annoying. Why should he be allowed to possibly help his team leader win the Giro or Tour, then be found to have cheated, but no action is taken against the team that benefited from the rules violation if it’s eventually held up at CAS? If pro cycling is ever to regain credibility it’s increasingly looking like it needs to be blown up and rebuilt with new, clear-cut (though likely draconian) rules and enforcement. Otherwise, it’s getting ever closer to WWE, entertainment posing as sport.

    • Vanilla_Thrilla Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 4:36 am

      In athletics, if one member of a relay team is caught doping, the other members are stripped of the result. Note these members are not banned, because there’s no evidence they doped. But they don’t get to keep their result.

      I fail to see why the same shouldn’t apply in cycling, which is also a team sport. Arguably a team’s results should be voided in a road race if one member is caught doping, because the doper gave the team an illegal advantage.

      • Larry T. Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 7:45 am

        I agree, but you’d get the old “innocent victim” argument if winners had their victories yanked once a member of the team was later found to be cheating, despite the winner him/herself being “squeaky clean”. It would put some real teeth in the anti-doping bite if for example, The Shark of the Strait had his TdF win negated once Iglinsky was found with EPO. When an entire team is put at risk by what is always described as “a lone individual’s bad choice” the pressure to play by the rules would likely be much, much greater.

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 11:02 am

      Found to have cheated? Really? Kreuziger’s case is not that simple. As mendip5000 writes below. It’s not even the “obvious case”, and expert opinions differ.

  • Bqrry Monday, 4 May 2015, 9:59 pm

    As far as I can see the bio passport or what ever the ruling body goes to next to keep doping down to a minimum is never going to be full proof. Because as long as there are advantages to be gained by foul means then there will be a whole organisation of people willing to exploit it. So there has to be a real philosophy change and soon before things get even worse for a sport that should be a spectacle of fitness and endurance and not a tainted form of its old self

    Barry

  • mendip5000 Monday, 4 May 2015, 10:03 pm

    (sound of old axe grinding)

    When you say “The UCI might have won every case it’s opened so far but probably because it’s only gone after the most obvious cases …”, I can’t help but wonder if the reverse of the issue demonstrated by Stade 2 is also true. Could the Bayesian parameters cause a review trigger for an earlier set of test values if a rider effects a longer term change in their actual fitness (up or down) as a result of training/long term illness?

    It’s important to remember that even the “obvious cases” are judged by “expert” opinion and not a yes/no test.

    (sound of old axe being placed back in shed)

  • John Monday, 4 May 2015, 11:04 pm

    While it does appear that none of the values exceeded the limits, and athletes received a benefit from the treatment, I think you hit the nail on the head – it’s not clear to me that this wouldn’t be flagged regardless as the results begin to fluctuate towards the margins. Perhaps this would take time, and a longer history than this month-long experiment. Those gently rising values could be interpreted as suspicious, particularly if they were recorded in the course of a three-week stage race, where stress and repeated exertion would be expected to diminishthem.

    Other than that, I think there’s not a lot new here. If one can stomach reading Tyler Hamilton’s book, it’s clear that a great number of things can be taken by an athlete and – with skill and a bit of luck – never detected.

    Since Rebellin is in the news, and mentioning stupidity, when riders were suddenly busted for CERA ~2008, it was due to the different form of the EPO they were injecting. CERA was EPO which was pegylated – chemical additions to the molecule which greatly prolong serum half-life. Good news if you are a cancer patient, really bad news if you are a doper hoping to have that stuff clear from your system before the early-morning drug check. I think so many got busted on CERA because they had a very poor idea of pharmacologically how different the stuff was. Again, it’s (unfortunately) true that one can still probably tinker with your blood values with only slight chances of detection. Still, in contrast to the days before the passport and extensive drug testing, I think the gains from this type of program are much more limited in scope. However, since wins are often by seconds – even over three weeks – perhaps even this amount of advantage could be utilized for gain.

    • gabriele Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 11:20 am

      They were using CERA because the top guys had been using it for at least 3-4 years and it had proved itself undetectable in the meantime. Or, maybe, it was technically detectable, who knows?, however history says we hadn’t been seeing any positive test, so didn’t the athletes who eventually recurred to it in 2008. Those busted were low-profile dopers, without significant scientific support, who were getting access – quite late – to a technology which had been used before and subsequently abandoned with perfect timing by other pro athletes.

      • Vedrafjord Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:01 pm

        There’s no evidence that CERA was in use before 2007-2008. It was only approved in mid-2007 and widely available in 2008. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just unlikely.

        The difference between Mircera and regular EPO is that the manufacturers (Roche) worked with WADA to make sure a test was available more or less as soon as the drug was released.

        Due to the drug’s long elimination time and similarity to existing EPO it’s likely that many less reckless riders avoided it and stuck to transfusions.

        • PT Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:25 pm

          My understanding is similar to yours but I must add that Roche also make non-pegylated EPO (ie regular EPO) and that some of the other manufacturers also worked to improve testing and detection. Difficult as I’m sure you know, EPO being a natural substance.

        • gabriele Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:33 pm

          If I remember well, it had been used before 2005 in *tests* also with “professional endurance athletes” (don’t ask me why they did something like that).
          I’ve personal knowledge of professional cyclists in top-tier teams naming it in 2004 exactly as “CERA”, a word I hadn’t heard before as related to doping, hence the occasion and circumstances (as well as the jokes about “cera” meaning “wax” in Italian) sticked into my mind.
          Which doesn’t mean they were using it, but someway they must have known it existed… and I don’t think it was through evening reading of Pharmacology Journals (indeed, no cyclist of that team ever tested positive for CERA).

          Actually, some substances – not forbidden, in this case – which resulted from academic research and are starting to be distributed on the market right now (by an university spin-off company), have been tested with competing pro cyclists during the last two or three years.

        • gabriele Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 2:04 pm

          I gave a look on the web and I found an article on a daily newspaper in June 2004:
          http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2004/06/23/allarme-doping-ecco-la-super-epo.html
          Phone-tapped riders go happily on tape (not knowing they’re being listened 😉 ) about CERA: a “new product is around” which “comes from the USA”, says one of them.

          Roche “provided the molecule” to WADA, but didn’t do much else for testing. It’s something, it’s important, indeed, but it’s also significant to point out that it wasn’t anything more than that because voices went around about the possibility of easily tracking it thanks to a “tracing molecule” inserted ad hoc. Roche rapidly denied… guess they were afraid of losing some clients? 🙂
          http://www.roche.com/media/store/releases/med-cor-2008-07-24.htm

          Apparently, despite it being pegylated, it wasn’t so easy to develop a test: it looks like that WADA-Roche cooperation started back in 2004. Maybe they thought it wasn’t so urgent, at the beginning.
          Anyway, a doctor quoted in the above article names a technical problem of “concentration”, and I think he was right, since I believe I remember that even in that 2008 Tour it was necessary some peculiar procedure with different samples to be really sure that the substance was there. And in most samples, even if the athlete had doped, the substance simply didn’t show up.

          PS The commercialisation was delayed by patent wars with AMGEN, but the product was more than ready well before 2007.

      • AK Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:25 pm

        I think I remember reading a paragraph in the usada document on one of the riders conversations with Armstrong about Cera, with LA saying he wouldn’t go near it because it is so easily distinguished from the natural EPO and therefore too easy to get busted on one a test is developed.

  • OJT Monday, 4 May 2015, 11:36 pm

    Excellent post. Stade 2’s piece erodes the stature of pro road racing in the eyes of ‘the casual punter’. It’s old news to me but to general sports fans it reinforces the idea that cycling isn’t really a credible sport. And in the short term that’s bad press for sponsors. It’s important that pieces like this are made – the glare of public opinion is needed to clean up the sport in the long term. We need documentaries exposing the murky side; sad but true

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:24 am

      The report did keep referencing cycling, whether Puerto or Ricco. Rightly so perhaps but almost no mention of other sports.

  • Alan Cote Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 12:09 am

    On a tangential note, I’m tired of philosophers (like professor Julian Savulescu mentioned), economists, & other Professional Thinkers continuing to chime-in with the half-baked suggestion of legalizing at least some form of doping. They obviously haven’t thought this through, as is described above. In addition, even if doping were legalized “just for pros”, this effectively would force espoirs and juniors to juice to reach the pro ranks. Yet the Professional Thinkers continue to propose this, as if they have some unique understanding and perspective of human nature that hasn’t been considered by others. They don’t understand the problem sufficiently to realize that their argument is simply untenable.

    • crimson_planet Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 5:45 am

      This. Exactly. Imagine a world where kids are doping at age 14 while they are still developing.

      • crimson_planet Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 5:46 am

        Hit reply too soon. Legal or no, doping is always a race to the bottom.

    • Larry T. Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 7:52 am

      Alan, those “Professional Thinkers” are in the minority according to a reliable source – a past president of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:25 am

      I don’t mind the suggestions, they make us think. I just wish they’d think harder rather than come up with arguments than can be unpicked in 20 seconds.

    • dsd7 Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 5:29 pm

      By “professional thinkers”, you are politely referring to “intellectual masturbators” I presume? 😐
      I agree with your comment though, too many below the pros ranks will start believing that’s it’s needed and ok to do (I’m sure this problem already exists in more “mainstream” North American sports, yet conveniently glossed over while cycling gets most of the bad press on doping).

  • Sidamo Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 12:16 am

    A more serious study would gather say a year’s worth of biopassport data from the test subjects, THEN start the microdosing and see if they set off any red flags, and if so how long it was before they did. It would also be worth continuing the testing after the microdosing protocol stops and see if that makes ay difference to the likelihood of being caught.

    • Keith_in_Chapel_Hill Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 2:48 am

      And don’t forget a control group that gets a placebo during that same period. Inring points out the obvious potential for a placebo effect when all the subjects know they are being juiced. In fact, it does not even require a placebo effect to explain these results — how about just improvement with time?

      To have even a little credibility, they need two parallel groups run longitudinally, as you suggest. One group gets juiced, and the other gets a placebo. All subjects (regardless of experimental group assignment) are blind to their treatment, and analysts are also blind (i.e., a double blind study, as Inring calls for).

      The claims made by these journalists require strong evidence, which requires scientific rigor. Unfortunately, such rigor seems to be totally lacking in this study.

  • Othersteve Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 12:44 am

    Again, excellent post.
    Again as stated by Inrng, not really news!

    Cycling will as most pro endurance sports be plagued with a large budget PED’s arm race for the foreseeable future.
    Testers vs. Cheaters, top athletes/teams make big money based on those minimal gains.
    We may not like it, but we are adults and the concept is reasonable. risk/reward

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 3:45 am

    it is interesting about Kreuziger’s case timing

  • David Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 5:28 am

    Why not control the power used vs. the engine? Allow the rider to have a “budget” of power to use during a race/stage. I think LeMond has proposed something along these lines.

    • John Liu Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 7:02 am

      Then we’d be doping power meters.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:27 am

      The UCI is looking at power profiling. It’s hard to secure a conviction on this but a sudden shift in the power curve could be interesting viewing alongside other passport stats. Of course if someone is manipulating their blood values, they can just as easily mess with their zero offset, calibration etc.

  • crj Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 7:19 am

    Does the testing protocol allow for testing after a rider retires, similar to the rider having to be in the system for a period of time before competition?

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:27 am

      Yes, riders who retire remain in the testing pool for a period.

  • Pierre-Jean Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:33 am

    One thing that strikes me, once we enter a grey zone when antidoping violations are not black and white, and require approximative evaluation, is the possibility for riders to contest sanctions and decisions. In football, it is accepted that a referee can make a mistake when calling a penalty, but that’s that. He can be sometimes wrong, but it’s expeditious, and seriously deters the kind of violation it penalizes. It works. Can’t we figure something similar out for bio-passport violations?

  • TP Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 9:59 am

    WADA denies that the EPO injecting was done with their approval. They do admit that they did give Stade 2 the software, though.

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/05/news/wada-criticizes-french-tv-doping-report_368963

    “We would like to clarify that while we did make the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) software available, we certainly did not ‘bless’ or endorse the study, as has been suggested.”

  • Sam2 Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 11:34 am

    (calling myself Sam2 now as there’s another poster called Sam)

    INRNG, thank you for writing this. Its a shame that the cycling media default to the laziest route when ‘reporting’ the program, and add nothing in the way of analysis (qualitative or otherwise). I’m thankful that ‘we’ have somewhere to turn to like this for rather more than the sensationalist headlines.

    • AK Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:30 pm

      All media do that, it’s not exclusive to cycling.

      • Sam2 Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 6:28 pm

        But for the purpose of this blog – a cycling blog – I’m only interested in what the main cycling news platforms are doing, or rather not doing.

  • gabriele Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 12:35 pm

    Truth is that some Professional Thinkers who do know little about cycling (and maybe sport) indeed jump up with absurd suggestions. I couldn’t be more contrary to doping legalisation.
    However, there’s a certain degree of danger in Amateur Thinkers, too, who *maybe* know one thing or two about cycling but perhaps not so much about the control of deviance, laws, rules, punishment and so on.

    For example (just to pick one), concepts like “you need to catch them, not to warn them” are quite naïf. Without recurring to Bantham and his Panopticon, the speed limit example which has been cited about this same subject proves quite the contrary of what was intended by the poster who named it: most police forces *do* inform about the presence of speed radars; when it doesn’t happen, it’s usually because a “revenue collecting” interest prevails over road safety. In terms of speed – and mortality – reduction, the most effective system presently working is the “tutor” system based on “section control” which doesn’t catch whoever occasionally exceeds the speed limit, but strikes harder on big infractions (when the average speed on the whole section is over the limit). Besides, note that general crime management isn’t carried on along the lines of “let’s catch ’em all one by one”.

    Not to speak of the general plaudit towards crazier and crazier sanctions or controls. Full control is simply not sustainable. In economic terms, it has a terrible cost-effectivemess incremental ratio. And it has terrible *costs* in a more general sense, too (I thought that a couple of terms with Bush had taught the world a thing or two! 😛 Just joking, this would be a case of Godwin’s law, indeed).
    I find night testing especially unpleasant and dangerous, fostering a culture of “whatever it works” that ultimately is also the basis… of doping. The only thing that will change something is a cultural shift, whereas if the shift is towards humiliation and self-beating we’ll only achieve more distortion. “Be careful when you fight monsters”.

    Moreover, we shouldn’t forget about twisted situation like (an example among an infinity of others) athletes drugged on purpose by rival teams / organisations to have them out of a competition. Sport has registered some proven cases, and cycling itself has got a couple of situations which probably belong to the category; generally speaking, I recall a couple of them just in the last 10-15 years. Bizarre exceptions? Yes, but it tends to happen, and I just can’t find it fair to ruin without reasonable motive some people’s lifes only because “you’ll scare the others”.
    People have been sent to jail because they were involved in doping, people risked to die because they doped, people *died* because of doping and, well, the others just don’t look so scared.

    Then, there’s the problem of power distribution in a complex system. Unbalancing more an already very unbalanced system is not a good idea.
    Both “guarantism” as a political theory and “garantismo” as a judicial approach didn’t rise because Constitutions were written by golden hearts.
    As if we didn’t know how antidoping has been used in cycling during the last 25 years, at least!

    I could go on a *great* deal on the subject, suppose you imagine that ;-), but it’s not as if I want to debate it all. I’m just totally amazed by the simplistic views who endlessly circulate on a subject with such a long story both outside and inside cycling. No easy solution, I’m sorry, but at least let’s try to understand that better minds than ours have spent a lot of time on it, and their conclusions are quite different from “let’s hang them high”. Maybe you’ll trust ISSUL, since they apparently chastised Astana… Well, their position on the whole subject is quite interesting and inrng posted a link some time ago. And it’s not Big-Brother-like – as is much of what I’m reading.

    • Vedrafjord Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 3:27 pm

      I don’t see what’s objectionable about night time testing, if it’s targeted based on suspicious profiles or previous borderline tests. Based on what we know about the prevalence of doping and the difficulty of catching people who are microdosing, it’s virtually guaranteed that someone targeted in this way is already cheating.

      Also, re: catch/warn, the speeding is a poor example as it’s not a serious crime by itself. By warning people who had suspicious tests (as Hamilton described in his book), you’re not saying ‘don’t dope’, you’re saying ‘we know you’re doping but we aren’t going to do anything – don’t dope too much’. Equally, warning people that a test for a previously undetectable substance is coming in is saying ‘we don’t care that you did x this year, just don’t do x next year’. When there’s a new test it should be retroactively used on as many samples from monuments/TdF podiums etc as possible.

      • gabriele Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 3:53 pm

        Doping yourself as a rider should be way less of a crime than speeding, in every possible sense. Obviously enough, I’d say (social extent of the phenomenon, collective cost, impact on others: both have some but that of speeding is way greater; and it’s rather worrying that people label that as “not a serious crime”. Guess you’re thinking to the gray zones, low exceeding, “wrong” limits and so on… just what many dopers do).
        Whereas, doping a rider is obviously more serious than speeding. And it’s interesting that most commentators don’t even differentiate between both.
        I feel there’s so much more to say about your comment, but I’ll stop here – for now 😉

        • Vedrafjord Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 2:04 pm

          Sorry, I take back the part about speeding not being a serious crime, that wasn’t well-worded by me at all. What I mean though is when you say something like

          “which doesn’t catch whoever occasionally exceeds the speed limit, but strikes harder on big infractions (when the average speed on the whole section is over the limit)”

          doping is very different in that someone can put their foot down slightly too much and go over the limit for a second and not have any consequences in terms of accidents etc, but once someone takes the decision to dope and dopes even once, they are stealing results from clean riders and should be taken out of the sport if possible.

          In case you think I’m being too strict, I think there should be a different penalty for ‘high octane’ EPO/transfusions/AICAR/etc which is stuff that completely ruined the sport, vs marginal rubbish like painkillers/clen/sudafed, so I wouldn’t describe my views as ‘zero tolerance’. So Contador’s case was a ‘jailing Al Capone for tax evasion’ situation – I think 2 years for clenbuterol is way too much, but equally the evidence is there that during that Tour he transfused packed RBCs and plasma, and for that 2 years isn’t nearly enough.

          I guess what frustrates me is that you come across as very knowledgeable, and yet your constantly giving riders the benefit of the doubt is also very naive. Your views would make sense if the tests already caught the majority of dopers, but we know from the riders themselves that this is not the case. Instead we have a situation where
          – basically every big race from the early 90’s onwards has a question mark beside it, which certainly isn’t fair on clean riders
          – EPO and transfusions distorted the playing field so massively that we don’t have a clue who should have won those races (hint: not Riis)
          – you can microdose and not have it show up on the passport, and anyway, when there are fishy values (such as Armstrong 2009 TdF, Basso 2009 Vuelta, Horner 2014 Vuelta), they don’t seem to be followed up, so right now the passport is a waste of money
          – even when someone is flagged e.g. Kreutziger they’re able to drag it out and keep racing
          – dopers are serving bans and coming back as strong as ever
          – after slowing down in 2010/2011, climbing speeds have risen in 2012, 2013, 2014 so now the TdF podium is climbing fast enough to have podiumed in most of the Armstrong years
          The credibility of the sport is in tatters and the time for a light touch is long gone.

          • gabriele Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 2:36 pm

            Your information about Contador is at least as biased as that about CERA. The plasticizers thing was as credible as the steak. Note that I’m not saying he didn’t transfuse, I’m saying we don’t have more hints about him than about any other rider.
            Painkillers? Opiates too? And some of them are nearly legal… And what about corticoids?
            Better not to follow up on that.

            I’m not giving the riders any specific benefit of the doubt.
            I just think we should always have priorities, and “punishing cheats” isn’t the first of the list, if anything it’s “stop/reduce doping” and “protect riders’ health”. “Punishing cheats” is just functional to the other two. That, in ethical terms and in a perfect world. And, even in this imperfect and unethical world, better not to forget that, among our priorities, there are *rules*, *respect* and *rigour*, to be used in antidoping fights as everywhere else: why the hell would we need to fight “cheaters” if those things didn’t matter?

            Generally speaking, I suspect I’m a long way less naïf than you… but it’s not a race 😉
            However, my belief is that what happened in the last decades wasn’t ultimately caused by “the riders”.
            The riders are the part less interested in widespread, endemic doping. Only a reduced minority of them is really benefitting from the situation and, no, it isn’t “all those who were doping”. Contador – but you should take it on my word, no way to prove it – would only race better in a no-doping world. Same for most gregarios who don’t win anything anyway but have to waste their health to earn a living – and most of them would be there, helping their captains, also in a no-doping world.
            Doping, on the contrary, is *very* good for organisers, sponsors, States and teams.

            You can beat the riders as hard as you please, the power balance is such that even if they wanted with all their heart to change the system, they simply wouldn’t be able.

            Reflect on something: how many of the riders who denounced structural doping, naming doctors and DSs (things later proved, usually by criminal justice) went on racing? Jaksche? Köhl? Manzano? Well, Simeoni tried. Whereas the big repented angels were always doing everything by themselves. Millar, Basso, Hesjedal… There are vey few exceptions. Most of them are about riders who’ve become TMs or DSs, yet.
            It’s not about the riders.

            Riders are always the same, from Coppi on. The surrounding *conditions* may change… Imagine you disqualified with life bans the *proven* dopers during the Armstrong era, would it have been better? Cleaner? Or the power mechanism which acted from bank accounts to the last needle and blood bag would have been even more menacing? Simeoni, for one, would have had even less reason to talk 😉

          • Tovarishch Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 7:46 pm

            Gabriele (sorry about the iPad capitalization). I think you are saying the same as Benezech regarding health. As a rugby fan, I hope we will see his book in English.

            http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/other-rugby/benezech-rugby-players-health-is-my-only-concern-30834016.html

          • gabriele Sunday, 10 May 2015, 11:47 pm

            @Tovarishch
            Thanks for the link, interesting both in terms of general propositions and specific facts. I’d agree, as you say. Didn’t have time to read till now 😉

        • Larry T. Sunday, 10 May 2015, 6:39 pm

          “Doping yourself as a rider should be way less of a crime than speeding, in every possible sense. ” Really? Driving on the highway is not supposed to be competitive and as far as I know no prizes are awarded to the guy who gets home from work first. If he drives 140 kph while I do 120 kph, how am I harmed? A bike racer who dopes and attains a placing higher than those not doping could manage affects the entire results of the contest and removes one of the essential elements of sport – the answer to the question of who is the best rider competing under the rules they all agreed upon before the contest took place. Last time I checked it was not about finding out who the best doper or cheater might be, though guys like BigTex seemed to act like that was the goal.

          • gabriele Sunday, 10 May 2015, 11:41 pm

            Speeding kills a lot, Larry. Life is not just about sport – nor is sport (with that I mean sport is not only about finding who the best rider is). Lots of factors. In speeding, too, but… see my answer to Vedrafjord above. I won’t insist, anyway, sadly I don’t have much time for hanging around here these days 😉

      • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 4:08 pm

        It might be needed but night time testing has its problems. Imagine a race where a team is staying in a hotel with some journalists or fans. The journalist / fan gets woken up at 2am by the night test in the room next door and then reports/tweets “X had a 2am anti-doping control”, it would mean the rider’s name risks a smearing.

        • Chris Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 11:33 pm

          It’s not just that Inrng , the riders are tired , I know how feel after a 100k Sunday ride if I was woken up at 2:00 in the morning , I’m not sure it’s fair to wake up the Tour leader? I’m definitely not saying protect the cheats , I think the most successful anti-doping action of recent years was to bring it into the realm of criminal activity as this allows police to actually exercise their powers and not only catch riders but the support network behind it.

  • AK Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 1:37 pm

    Just wondering, are the bio passports data also used to do heuristics. In case there is a new drug that affects the values in a way that currently does not trigger alerts?

  • Nicolay Tuesday, 5 May 2015, 8:00 pm

    Why don´t they just freeze the blood and retest it every second year?

    It is certainly a question of cost, but it will make anti doping very effective.

    The inspectors will always be behind, but after a few years they will have new methods.

    It is less tempting to dope if you know you will be revealed in a few years.