Operation Aderlass and the Bio Passport

The image of Austrian skier Max Hauke sitting with a blood bag connected to his arm during a police raid at the cross-country skiing world championships in Seefeld, Austria was bad enough for any trypanophobes out there. But behind the sordid image came the question: what about the bio passport, how come it took the police rather than testing? Now with the reported confessions of Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler it raises wider questions about the passport…

First a quick walkthrough of the bio-passport procedure that loyal readers might already know. It was a scheme launched in 2008 and monitors various values. In a handy explainer on the UCI website it cost CHF 6.6 million in 2013 (about €6 million in today’s money) to run.

A variety of measures are taken when an athlete is tested and these are all logged into a database and over time a “longitudinal profile” is established. Unlike the binary toxicology testing, where a lab looks for banned substances and it’s positive or negative, the passport looks at changes in levels. Software uses logic and probability algorithms to spot anomalies. Here’s a screenshot of the passport software – from a laboratory presentation that’s no longer online – showing haemoglobin, the off-score, the Abnormal Blood Profile Score and the reticulocyte ratio.

This process is run by the Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU), is a WADA-funded scheme based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The software alerts if an athlete’s numbers deviate from an established pattern. When this happens an expert reviews the data from the system and has four options:

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

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

The UCI contacts the rider to advise them that it is mulling an anti-doping case and includes the APMU dossier with the data, sample custody and more along with the request for the athlete to explain the data in the dossier and their response, or not, is noted.

  • The short version of all this is that there has to be unanimous agreement that this is highly likely a scenario of doping for the case to proceed, any doubt and it won’t.

Then comes the litigation risk, that opening a case against a rider could collapse and leave lawyers bills to be paid, the potential for damages, the difficulty of taking on a millionaire athlete, and in the event of failure for the loss to establish jurisprudence that chips away at the passport itself. There’s no point opening a borderline case for sake of academic exploration. Robin Parisotto, one of the founders of the UCI’s passport, touched on this in an interview last summer with cyclingtips.

That’s the procedural. Now to the practice and we know the passport can be gamed. Amid all the fallout from the Lance Armstrong’s USADA case was the little-publicised story of Leonardo Bertagnolli’s deposition. An Italian rider, he bounced around teams like Saeco, Androni, Cofidis, Liquigas and Androni and admitted to being a client of banned doping doctor Michele Ferrari. Here is an extract of his deposition to the police [my translation]:

I don’t remember where Ferrari was for the first time he explained how to do an autotransfusions but I remember how he explained the all the ways to do it, saying to get the blood bags from veterinary channels… …indicating to me that I should extract from 350-500cc depending on my recovery times and goals. He told me to make a knot in the bag and to weigh it on the scales in way to know the weight of the amount just taken out; before inserting the needle to make a knot on the tube then to start the transfusion.”

He said Ferrari advised him to buy a medical-grade refrigerator that would store the blood at a temperature lower than a domestic one but otherwise the lesson from Bertagnolli is that riders were doing blood transfusions in their kitchens and bathrooms: there’s no need for private jets or big medical crews, just a home transfusion kit…. although like any DIY project there’s a risk. Bertagnolli also said Ferrari advised him on the timing, to extract blood just before going to an altitude training camp and then to re-infuse on return, so swings in the values can be attributed to the the training camp rather than a blood bag. Asserting this alone won’t explain away everything but with if the changes in values are small because of so-called “microdosing” then it may not be the slam dunk case prosecutors feel comfortable opening.

None of this makes the passport redundant. The passport does work, only last month Jaime Rosón (pictured beating Nibali and CCC’s Hirt and Großschartner) got a four year ban so it can catch some, it’s bound to deter others and also it may contain some from super-sizing things, today the stories of blood doping and EPO use are about micro dosing and so the gains are more limited. But sport is a winner-takes-all domain where being 1% ahead of your rivals can make you 50% richer than them.

The athlete passport is a tool, a way to track blood values which might signal blood doping but it doesn’t deliver the easy positive or negative results that classic anti-doping tests offer. It’s very useful but no panacea. It takes a lot to trip the system and, going by Bertagnolli’s deposition, since its inception some have been gaming it, going up the edges of what they hope they can get away with. This doesn’t mean the passport is useless, if anything we need more passport: more tests to gather more data and crucially more investigation, an odd value may not be enough to open a prosecution but it should invite more regular testing to the point where the rider in question feels some heat, and it could – ideally – result in other investigative work. But this requires resources that sport doesn’t necessarily have so often it’s the police and judiciary that make the big catches.

With reports of 40 seized blood bags as part of Operation Aderlass (Aderlass is German for bloodletting) in Germany and Austria, and presumably the ability to search bank records, Georg Preidler didn’t wait around and confessed to the media over the weekend that he’d drained off blood. Several skiers have now been caught too and there’s surely more to come. If it’s not a national matter, with two Austrian cyclists implicated it does have a local feel for now and team managers with other Austrians on their roster must be busy seeking reassurance today.

106 thoughts on “Operation Aderlass and the Bio Passport”

  1. My two skeptical takes
    1. probably this is not limited to austria, but more athletes and more countries? Know-how is basic, equipment cheap, needs a supply chain?
    2. with biological doping effective and well researched, risk of mechanical doping many times greater compared to benefits?

    • Definitely not limited to Austria, since already two Estonian and I believe a Kazakh cross country skier have been busted along with the two Austrians. Only two Austrian cyclists have admitted doping in the aftermath.

      Good thing though is, Austrian police is involved. They have better laws and the corresponding jurisdiction and funds the sport federations lack to really intervene. Hopefully Austrian politicians don’t try to cover up like the Spanish ones in the Fuentes case.

      Additionally, I can easily see Germany as doping country no. 1 in Europe (I don’t mean the German athletes though probability suggests some of them dope as well). Good infrastructure, good health situation and supply, central positions within Europe(transitional hub), rich which means a lot of sporting events and pretty lax anti doping laws.

      • Yes, it’s international but seems to be via local contacts in Germany and Austria. If it spreads to German cyclists/teams then it could be “goodbye” to sponsors and more for a sport that’s just got back on its feet.

        • I wonder what has caused the hub of international doping to shift from Italy into Germany and Austria?

          I would think that Italy is still a perfect location for that with lots of dodgy backroad options to get stuff across borders, lax policing and a liberal sprinkling of systemic corruption.

          Maybe it’s that the German speaking nations are producing better scientists who justify the greater risk of getting caught?

          • I doubt it’s a hub for the rest of the world, just something local. Italy had a problem for years but it wasn’t unique to the country. There might be others doing the same in any country you think off which has a good number of skiers, cyclists, runners etc

          • Perhaps you’re left wondering because your assumptions look a bit like cheap commonplace fluff?
            Toughest laws appeared in Italy before than in some other countries and, even more important, there were public prosecutors, especially but not exclusively the sporting ones, who, at first, didn’t even wait for the laws, and later would use them in order to hunt down cyclists – well, often as a way to draw the limelight away from football (but there are notable exceptions with some famous prosecutors looking into huge names in football, and beyond).
            The quantity of police operations concerning doping in Italy is unparalleled in most if not all other countries. And police operations (alas!) are more or less the only serious way doping has ever been tackled, at least in cycling.
            I hardly can see any Italian cycling team receiving the soft and long-delayed approach which Team Sky’s been benefitting from in the UK, had it been facing the same amount of controversy. In fact, much less was enough to shut down big teams like Mapei and Fassa Bortolo.

            PS My personal experience, although in a very specific sector, didn’t show up much difference in systemic corruption through, let’s see, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Germany, France.

            PS 2 The guy which has just been caught has been around for a couple of decades and wasn’t ever a first choice. In Germany things were flowing greatly when universities were involved, just like it had happened in Italy (and, more recently, in the UK – ketones anyone?).

          • Gabriele what is your reference to ketones about?
            Sky are a U.K. registered team. But they largely train and race on the continent. It’s probably as much about this dual jurisdiction issues that help cover stuff up.

      • I would suggest a lot depends on the laws of the country. In France sports doping is illegal, in Spain not so.
        Austria’s lack of dominance in sports in general (winter sports are where they do well) may well be down to their laws on doping.
        I agree that Germany may be a convenient place for Austrians and other neighbouring countries (including France) to take advantage of a lack of legislation.
        The failures of the biological passport are clearly evident in the way that it rarely seems to catch anyone. In some ways it encourages persistent doping because once you’ve established certain levels you will need to try to maintain them.
        From what I remember of Denifl’s win in the Vuelta is that it seemed improbable at the time. One of those breakaway wins, but surprising none the less. Still if he doped I’m sure he wasn’t the only one that day.
        I just hope this makes the relevant institutions sit up and re-examine testing.

        • Do you actually know the anti Doping laws of Germany? Is anything of this imaginative account of Germany as the Doping Hotspot of the world founded in reality or real knowledge? Since 2015 you can go to prison for 3 years for Doping in Germany(I think 2 years for helping someone to dope). I think Doping is happening everywhere and we only see it, when someone gets busted. These naive prejudices and this imagined knowledge just helps the ones doing the Doping.This kind oft gossiping is like my grandma watching smthg about a crime on TV and then leaning over the gardenfence, talking with her neighbour, that one can’t leave the house after dark any longer. Really, that is of the same quality.

          • Yes, I do. They are written down here: https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/antidopg/BJNR221010015.html

            Now, if you read carefully, you will see producing, selling or prescribing doping it is up to three years sentence or a fine. And using it is only accountable if you are a professional athlete and is up to two years or a fine. Also, if you do the Basso or the Preidler and “did not use it” there will be no punishment.

            In Austria on the other hand, there seems to be no distinction between supplier and doper and an offense is at least one year of sentence and up to ten years. Just for comparison.

            Next thing, I did not say Germany is, but I can see its attraction. Besides the already mentioned points, like in many Western European countries the spreading neoliberalism has lead to a “lean” state with less state servants ergo less police, I don’t know how high fraud in sports is/will be on the agenda of the German police. Another attraction point for (potential) dopers.
            An if you look carefully where doping has happened (only Europe) with the exception of Russia’s state funded doping program, most of the caught doping athletes went to people in Western Europe, e.g. England, Spain, Italy, Germany..regardless of their own nationality. The questions is why? And I believe that are quite basic things like sanitary, availability, quality and logistics. And Germany with its living and health standards and its favourable geographical position can be really attractive for dopers. And you can find crooks anywhere.

          • I agree. But some countries do have ‘favourable’ conditions which penalise individuals less.
            I don’t know about the laws of Germany, but in Spain they don’t criminalise doping and so athletes have migrated there.
            I think you are sort of agreeing my point too. Germany only becomes a doping hub if it allows athletes from surrounding countries to obtain the means to dope and does not penalise/criminalise individuals in the process. It certainly seems convenient for Austrians who are criminalised if caught. The original poster said he thought Germany was country no.1 for doping – I was merely suggesting that this is dependent on the ease with which sportsmen might dope in their own country. I don’t know if Germany prosecutes doping – it certainly doesn’t have an unblemished record when it comes to doping.
            Writing hastily at lunch I was certainly clumsy in the way I made my point.

      • I read over and over that spanish legal system covered up Operation Puerto. They actually didn’t.

        Cover up implyes no rule of law, law defenately ruled in OP.

        • They didn’t cover up, but because their legal statute doesn’t put Sports doping as criminal act the police and legal system couldn’t prosecute or investigate based on the evidence, hence junking blood bags which would have exposed cheats.

        • There was definitely some cover up/protection in the Puerto case. Probably not in the legal systems but on an level above.

          Fuentes himself said, that he not only assisted cyclists, but only cyclists were named and procecuted in the end. https://elpais.com/diario/2006/07/05/deportes/1152050423_850215.html
          Also he acknowledged assisting top football clubs but wouldn’t name them because of death threads in an interview with Le Monde: https://www.cycling4fans.de/index.php?id=4995
          And Manzano, too, supports him in his claims:
          Despite maybe some sloppy police work or good precautions by the dopers, it seems strange that despite helping athletes in a variety of sport to dope, only dopers from one sport have been found out. Statistically really improbable.

          Furthermore the whole saga around Valverde, where the Spanish cycling association and the Spanish Government both backed him and only the stubbornness of the Italian anti-doping organisation lead to the proof that his blood infused with EPO was found at Fuentes’ place. And then he first was only sanctioned in Italy, over which the Spanish cycling association made a huge fuss, that Valverde was their jurisdiction and tried to overturn that ruling instead of accepting/asking for their help.

      • “Good thing though is, Austrian police is involved. ”

        You are aware of the fine irony in this sentence, cause the guy caught with a needle in his arm, Max Hauke, is an Austrian police man, as is Dominik Baldauf, another arrest? Many German and Austrian athletes are officially employed by police or army.

  2. Sure, the bio-passport works just great at catching some cheats despite being seriously loaded against even a hint of a false positive, though the cheats would have us think otherwise.
    The problem is when it comes time to sanction: Famous cheats with expensive lawyers (like Kreuziger and Froome) bury the proceedings in legal challenges and BS at the CAS and get a pass while the unknown and poor little players get the bans. Meanwhile the UCI sings “Nothing to see here folks, justice has been served with the cheats caught and punished. Move along please.”
    Same s–t, different day.

      • Indeed, both have been cleared as they and their lawyers would surely insist upon.

        If the comments turn into a mess to moderate I’ll turn them off for the sake of an easier life, sorry. I’d rather explore how the passport works which is what this piece is about.

        • Thanks to you both for proving my point. So unless you’re both caught AND sanctioned (which just by accident I guess happens mostly to the poor cheaters without expensive lawyers?) you’re not a cheater, no matter how much of substance X or evidence of doing Y was found in your samples or other data? And people wonder why this sport has little in the way of credibility with the general public?
          And these days it seems even some of the poor cheats can beat the rap at CAS https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/doping-ban-spanish-pro-continental-rider-overturned-court-407831

          • Salas had his ban overturned by the Administrative Court of Sport (proper name Tribunal Administrativo del Deporte – TAD), the domestic sport appeals body in Spain, and not TAS/CAS. This was an option for him because he was sanctioned by AEPSAD (Spanish anti-doping agency) rather than the UCI.

            The Salas one could have major ramifications for the future of the UCI’s team suspension policy, as Burgos-BH is now in the situation where they have served a compulsory team suspension which was not warranted. The suspension cannot be undone, so if a civil lawsuit comes up over it the UCI would be well advised to pay whatever is needed to settle the matter.

            I think an appeal of the TAD decision to TAS/CAS is an option open in the Salas case – we’ll know in two weeks time when the appeal window closes. I’d bet that the UCI will choose to accept the decision though, as the risk of a embarrassing precedent would clearly outweigh the potential benefit of chasing such a little fish as Salas.

            Kreuziger’s case, on the other hand, never reached CAS because the UCI decided not to pursue its appeal on the original judgement which cleared him. We can only speculate as to why – it could be that they were trying to bluff Kreuziger into a settlement, it could be that they were concerned that a dangerous precedent would be established in the event they lost.

            I think we are no more than one or two more failed cases away from officially declaring the bio passport dead in the water as a method of sanctioning athletes, leaving its only purpose as being a method of intelligence which can inform decisions for targeted testing and surveillance.

          • I can’t speak for Mr Ring, but my point was that the only opinions that matter on whether someone is a ‘cheater’ or not are those of the relevant authorities. By that standard Froome and Kreuziger are not cheaters. Otherwise we are in the sad world of Cycling News comments where anyone who has a good race is immediately labelled a doper.

            Oddly enough, I make this point precisely to avoid the risk that the Inrng blog descends to that level. I come here – as I suspect many do – to avoid the childish and pathetic name-calling that it’s very easy to see elsewhere. In contrast, Mr Ring provides mature, considered analysis of issues – including, in this case, doping. Most of those commenting do likewise. Let’s keep it like that.

          • If the only opinion that mattered was that of the ruling authority then there would be no such thing as democracy.
            Of course it matters what people think. Froome would love for there to not be a whiff of suspicion but there’s a huge reek emanating from all Sports. Sometimes you just smell more than others.

          • Passport, post race test, out-of-competition test…why does it matter? OK, I know the subject here is the passport but my point is the “catching” isn’t as much a problem as what happens next. Too many wiggle out of sanctions on the kind of technicalities like yours. Despite the passport software flagging the issue and three experts agreeing something is not right, the cheat gets off, most often it seems because of high-priced lawyers. Sadly, too often the same results come from post race and out-of-competition tests as well. The general public reads “Rider X tests positive” and then thinks “WTF?” when he shows up at the next race like nothing ever happened.
            I (can you believe it?) agree with DaveRides on this one – the passport is on its way to being obsolete in the fight against cheating. I wonder how long the other testing protocols will be able to stand the constant attacks from high-priced legal wizards who obscure the truth and get their highly paid clients off the hook? When justice is not served you risk the fans either ignoring the sport or showing up at the events to voice (or worse) their displeasure at the level of chicanery the UCI seems to be helpless (or unwilling?) to stop.

    • In Kreuziger’s case, it was also expensive doctors. Specifically Mayo Clinic, which confirmed that he has hypothyroidism condition (as well as his sister). This basically means that the bio passport statistical model cannot be used to make any conclusions about him. (Probably, because the model methodology is AFAIK secret.)
      Generally, I would say, statistical models could be tricky to create and use properly, especially if the training sample is small or biased. Small mistakes can make the results scientifically unsound.

  3. So basically its pretty easy to disguise doping by spending time at altitude and then using this as an alibi for your improved blood levels.

    On an entirely unrelated note the first photo on my instagram feed is by a former 3 time World Champion entitled ‘Training Hard in Sierra Nevada, Spain’. Must be there for the tapas.

    • Altitude does work well for some riders, as well as the effect of hypoxia they’re away from other distractions from food to family (more than an altitude tent at home). So clean athletes can go and get a natural stimulus, a strict diet, lots of rest. The flipside is dirty ones can go for all of this plus get a sort of alibi for their passport and possibly fewer out of competition tests in some places too. In the meantime the suspicion gnaws away as people raise eyebrows and point fingers.

    • The upside is that there now is quite a set of riders who have been known to use blood doping. If there are records from when they did blood transfusions, maybe these data can be plugged into the blood passport software AI to train it to learn to differentiate between natural growth of red blood cells and increases because of blood transfusion?

      I also believe that the stored blood should undergo at least some degradation that can be picked up by a biochemical assay. Since blood doping is very old and there still is no assay, this is probably very hard, but in the end it should be possible. An online search does give some results like this one: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/dta.2323

  4. The passport requires that certain values are within defined limits and also that the pattern of variation could be – with all the caveats of certainty – normal. For the system to provide its limited value obviously requires a sample population sufficient to monitor variation in absolute values and trend. This, for a rider appearing rarely on the podium, despite being of great use to his team this seems unlikely to be the case. What is the sampling frequency for a medium grade WT rider, and of those samples how many are just the more limited urine analysis? The UCI, teams and riders might like to present the system as effective while the more knowing observer – supported by evidence – will doubt that.

  5. 2 cyclists have been found out due to police action and likely tip off about the Dr in question. Combining this type of action with the bio passport and cheats are found out. Neither action in isolation will catch all cheats, but a combined approach will and does do a lot better.

    Invest more money in both approaches and results will be even better. The dual approach to catch cheats is sound, the investment given to the relevant authorities undermines the system.

  6. Just to make it clear: Since its inception in different sports, almost 200 (two hundred) athletes have been sanctioned based on the biological passport. These sanctions lead, for example, to the Russian doping scandal through the whistleblowers Stepanova and Shobukova who were both caught on the Biopassport and only then became whistleblowers..
    Similar for Duerr, the XC skier who triggered the current scandal by the way. Was caught positive for EPO in a conventional test and then became whistleblower, So its not all whistleblowers and Policework as some might want us to believe…

    • Of course, the biopassport is a great tool – in sport politics.
      Among other things.
      Just to make it clear: what about if you also remember us what’s the historical record of biopassport *in cycling*?
      Have a look at the dates when those investigation were started, by the way. One might notice – maliciously, indeed – that politics look related.
      Other sports happen to be raising the biopassport stats… precisely when they’ve been facing the same sort of internal struggles which lead, through different means, to the big doping shocks in cycling at the end of the 90s and, later, once Lance retired (both times).

      For clarity’s sake, let me also state that I’m absolutely favourable to the biopassport existence and its use (pehaps a good deal of added transparency would benefit everybody). On the other hand, I’m not as convinced by the police approach, at least as long as the athletes are criminalised or pushed around through intimidation or humiliation. If anything, the latter should be a means towards an end (at most): of course, police investigations are welcome when they’re aimed at the dismantling of a doping structure, where the main and more serious criminal offence belongs to those who lead and organise.
      That said, as a matter of fact the main blows to *existing* doping structures were brought by police action. The sport too often shows no interest in going much further than the individual athlete – when the opposite is true, it’s mainly due to political interests (once again).

      However, the Cookson experiment with the University of Lausanne wasn’t a bad idea, as an alternative way to tackle the problem. Alas, it doesn’t look it worked very much. But, on paper, that made a lot of sense.

  7. Did we ever get to the bottom of Sergio Henao’s passport abnormalities?

    I know Sky paid a UK university to conduct an “independent” study but I don’t remember seeing any substantive follow-up or conclusions. I presume the independent study satisfied the UCI or APMU as there was no sanction.

  8. and the austrian guys that were caught will probably now face a trial on sporting fraud (3 years max. in prison). doping is qualified acording to austrian law as severe fraud (schwerer betrug).

  9. Have to assume that the usual police commander won’t want to spend much time/effort/budget cracking down on a few featherweight cyclists, nor will the typical policeman be all that gung ho to wander into athletes’ bathrooms bellowing a hearty “What’s all this then?” Seems a less-than-important task for most (not all) law enforcement types (having been one, and mingled with others, and observed their culture)…

  10. If one decides not to believe in Preidler’s comforting version – frankly, as improbable as Basso’s before – I wonder what we might be left thinking about his long-time team and its strong, cohesive structure, sometimes bordering an oppressive control-freak-like style (“I sometimes find it oppressive that everything is decided for you and you cannot think of anything yourself”, van Dijk reportedly said. “As in any organisation, the fit between the people and the philosophy is very important”, a team spokesman told CW. Read more at https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/racing/sunweb-way-highway-whats-happening-team-sunweb-398378).
    Curious that the same predicament was relevant precisely in Basso’s case: the main figures, Basso and Riis, had been explaining live on TV how sure it was no doping could happen within the team because Riis was a controlling kind of guy, who would nearly “follow his athletes into the shower, if needed”.

    What would his former team (Giant-Shimano-Sunweb) say, now? I suppose something along the lines of what Ochowicz said about Denifl: “no red flags to be seen” (Jim’s got a long story of *not seeing* giant blood-red flags flapping all around him, fond memories of him working as a paid advisor for Phonak, let alone all the USA Cycling, Verbrugge, Wiesel story).

    I also note that the media put some pressure on Madiot, if anything, but none on the structure where Preidler had been spending essentially *all* his pro career, once he wasn’t an U23 anymore and jumped directly to WT.

    By the way, I guess that each and every clean cycling advocate who complained about, say, Nibali winning the Tour with the *unvaluable* help of doper Maxim Iglinsky, hence asking to purge team results, also, when the latter was caught, will now stand up again to question Preidler’s role – a key one, indeed, in his case – supporting his team leaders. Not that I believe such a stance makes sense, I’m just curious to see if reactions are going to be someway consistent – or not.

    • Very interesting points! First thing I thought of when reading the Preidler story was the “Birillo” case as well. Do they think anyone believes this BS? Happy to see you back BTW.

      • Thanks. Briefly back thanks to Carnival holidays, which are exceptionally long around here. More often than not, my little precious spare time is now devoted to riding 😉

        • As it should be!!! Wish I could say the same for myself but riding any sort of bike here in the center of Napoli (where the wife is a Fulbright Scholar) is as much (perhaps more?) of a challenge as Rome was a few years ago. But we’re done here mid-May…and I’ll never be able to look at a pizza in the same way again! 🙂

  11. Celebrate opening weekend if you want, dismiss the races that have taken place in Australia and the Middle East if you must, but how can fans of the sport, and indeed the sport itself, keep taking these hits from doping scandals? Is this a fringe sport in terminal decline?

    • Hopefully here’s some perspective. Choosing UKAD as a sample, there’s currently 72 athletes serving bans ranging from 18 months through to lifetime. Only 6 are cyclists and 4 of these were amateurs who weren’t registered with BC. The other two I doubt you’ve heard of. Here in Australia it’s 52 currently serving band of which 5 are cyclists and again, the majority are amateurs. Based on the facts provided by WADA, cycling testing per competitor is at the top of the pile. In 2017, world wide WADA approved blood and urine testing, showed that cycling carried out 23,575 tests. Athletics was 31,483, Football 37,118, Basketball 5,687, Tennis 5,959 and Golf a whopping 389. Forget American Football and Baseball, they keep that nice and quiet.

      • Perspective indeed.
        I’ve instantly sourced a press article from 2015 that reported that 81% of banned athletes on the UKAD list were from rugby (union and league).
        Of the current 72 listed UKAD banned athletes, I counted 38 from both rugby codes. By far the dirtiest sports.

        • Ecky I’d second that. I lived in Melrose (home of Rugby 7’s & hotbed of Rugby Union) for many years and know at least 3 teenagers, aspiring to get onto a development contract or from a devo to a pro contract who were banned for steroid abuse during that time.

          • The NFL doesn’t even work with WADA. I enjoy watching it and some of its athletes performances are, well, astonishing.

            One of the sport’s star players Julian Edelman received a four game ban last year for a PED violation. No further detail was released. In 2019 he was Most Valuable Player and won the Superbowl.

      • Thanks, Larrick, I always appreciate your matter-of-fact contributions to these types of discussions.

        After reading the article, I guess my thoughts are these. How much confidence can anyone have that the passport system is accurate – that people are not being penalised for natural variation? I also struggle to see the role for law enforcement in anti-doping. I’d rather see scarce police resources devoted to protecting the public, not being used to determine who won a prize fairly.

        • I’m not sure that in this particular case, police resources are being wasted. The information so far points to a whistleblower who gave details once they’d been busted by anti doping authorities. From that it would seem that the police have had a relatively straightforward run at it. They haven’t had to spend many man hours gathering intelligence. They’ve just been given a name and an address and raided it collecting evidence for the prosecution service.

          As for the bio passport, as Inrng states, they err on the side of caution to the extent that if one of the three experts has doubts, the most that would happen to the athlete is that they’d be targeted for more testing. It’s not a perfect system but you would hope it’s better than nothing.

      • Quite so. I’d love it if the Spanish football league actually did proper doping tests. Then maybe some of their players would stop falling dead on the pitch. Not that Spainish football is the only place where it goes on, but they do seem to have a problem with keeping otherwise fit players alive (Fuentes remarks notwithstanding of course – that’s a nod to George, above, who thinks we need to wait for an authority to pass judgement).

        • I guess you mean me. Doping – the human body and its reaction to what is put inside it – is not a straightforward black and white matter. So, yes, I would rather base my opinions on due process and the judgement of authority than the musings of anonymous keyboard warriors who may have a particular animus against certain riders and teams.

          • Of course, authorities never gave a free pass to certain riders and teams.

            And the fans or other sport related figures who, more or less anonymously, had been spelling out loud several facts which were well known to everybody within and around or cycling were only moved by a particular animus against, dunno, WASPs, proud members of (any) empire, white males, cancer survivors (or any other illness you might want to insert here), self-made men, winners, rich people – or whatever.

            By the way, if with “due process” you mean, for example, the TUEs whose abuse – also, and perhaps more notably, outside cycling – was disclosed a couple of years ago, or the way WADA managed antidoping in Rio (last year’s emails…), well, I guess that as a non-native I entirely fail to understand how the dictionary is listing “fitting”, “proper” and “adequate” as meanings of the adjective “due”.

          • In answer to gabriele, of course I don’t think the authorities are perfect – I never said as much. So let’s make them better by all means. Much more constructive than, in this case, calling Froome and Kreuziger cheats because, er, well, I don’t really understand what adverse analytical finding means but it sure as hell sounds like doping which is good enough for me.

          • @George Vest
            A bit of a straw man argument, huh?

            I think that several people here (and elsewhere) have presented a more than decent quantity of well founded arguments, supported by quality readings, to defend their *opinions* on this or that cyclist. Probably better founded, in some cases, than the well funded arguments which saved the day for some lucky athlete.

            You wrote: “The only opinions that matter on whether someone is a ‘cheater’ or not are those of the relevant authorities”.
            Not at all, luckily enough. At least, as long as you speak of opinions.

            Besides, from my very personal POV, opinions on authorities may even be way more relevant – in order to focus the problem, which is the only way to be able to *constructively* tackle it – than opinions on single cyclists, although sometimes the latter end up depending on the former.

          • George: seems to me you want it both ways for your argument.

            I think what you really mean is that we save our condemnation for when the relevant authority passes judgement, and to some extent I agree. But that doesn’t stop me having an opinion or wanting justice.

            Effectively you want us to be in the room with MJ, or on the bus with Lance Armstrong, unless some court or governing body has decided to take action. I always suspected that MJ molested children, and LA’s doping was no surprise (he even failed a dope test for corticosteroids back in 1999 which the UCI covered). So no, I don’t need the ‘relevant authority’ to pass judgement before I’ve come to a correct conclusion. What we know is that justice has its price, and if campaigners and victims don’t continue to tirelessly pursue justice it doesn’t happen.
            This is why opinions matter. Due process matters, but we should not blind ourselves to the facts.

    • Unless the authorities can find some way to clean things up “terminal decline” seems pretty likely. “Whataboutism” won’t help as I doubt you can quote anyone saying “I follow pro cycling because it’s far less rotten than (insert other sport here)”

      • It’s not about ‘whataboutism’ Larry. It’s more about being realistic in regards to how much of a problem it is. I think we can all accept that there’ll always be cheats. Minimising that is the aim. I’m struggling to think of any walk of life where there isn’t issues in some way. A country might, for example, spend time and money on educating people not to drive under the influence. No one expects that it will result in 100% of drivers doing the right thing. There’s also no one calling for cars to be banned because of it though that might have saved some juniors from some bruises on Sunday at KBK. There’s obviously a tipping point with a sport though and it’s not always about facts but perception too. Cycling suffers from poor perception. Saying two guys being busted out of a 1000+ WT, Pro Conti and Conti riders is signaling a return to the bad old days is not helpful in changing that perception.

        • Fair enough, but where did I write “…signaling a return to the bad old days is not helpful in changing that perception.”? When were “the bad old days”? The BigTex era? Before? After? My agreement with “terminal decline” is simply because at best it seems the sport can only manage one step forward for two steps backward. I don’t blame this entirely in the UCI or CAS because the cheats themselves are the one creating the mess. They cheat and (sometimes) get caught but then their high-priced PR firms, hired-gun “scientists” and big-money lawyers go to work attacking the sanctions regime, too often getting their millionaire client off without penalty and back on the start line, leaving the general sports public asking “WTF?”

  12. @RQS
    I could be wrong as I’m going by memory, but ketones (short for the compounds which allow a metabolic shift enhancing endurance performance, usually taken as drinks) were the result of a study in Oxford (or Cambridge?), with a notable funding of some 8M$ by DARPA (US Army). Military grade products were tested with unspecified British athletes – note that tests were cycling – before some offshoots were made available to the general public years later (2016 or so) by a spin-off company of that same university.
    Admittedly, it’s got a huge potential in changing the way human metabolism works, which makes it doping for me, but one of the first things they took care of before starting human trials was making sure that WADA wouldn’t include it among banned substances.
    It’s got all sorts of effects on respiration, energy production, hunger hormons, avoiding glycogen loss during long efforts, and the UK product is radically different from other similar ketones which were already used. It’s patented and anyway not that easy to produce, they needed years to be able to create little batches, and then several years to scale up for the market.
    Human *real life* studies which reportedly delivered various records, personal bests and so started in… 2011.
    It’s a well-known secret. Well, it isn’t a secret at all. It’s public, when I first wrote about the subject on inrng I had found it all on regular academic press I’m usually checking out for professional reasons! Then you can read the scientific articles they later published and everything they disclose on the company’s webpage.
    For me, that’s an exemplary failure on the regulatory bodies’ side.

    • Ketone bodies are what your liver produce when you are fasting for a long time (usually after 24 hours), or, if you have been on the bike for many hours without refuelling. They are meant to avoid excessive muscle catabolism. Coconut oil taken with other fats (e.g. olive oil, nuts or dark chocolate) will increase your blood ketone levels. And ketone esters or exogenous ketones are those drinks that you are talking about. In my opinion, they are no more different from gels made with different sugars, which also have performance-enhancing effects and have to be made in the lab because they are not found naturally in foods.

      • Yes, it was Oxford (@motormouth). What Orbifold wrote prompted me to trace back some of the information.

        And, no, I wouldn’t say they’re more or less like the various sorts of -destrines, nor would the specialists:

        “Conclusion – We have demonstrated the metabolic effects of elevated circulating ketone bodies as a fuel and biological signal to create a unique physiological condition. Ketosis may alter substrate competition for respiration, while improving oxidative energy transduction under certain conditions, such as endurance exercise. Consequently, nutritional ketosis may help to unlock greater human metabolic potential”.

        The stress is on “metabolic effects”, “biological signal”, “create a unique physiological condition”, “alter substrate competition for respiration”, “improving energy transduction”, “unlock greater human metabolic potential”… well, more or less everything.
        Taking sugars won’t fit with most of the above as an appropriate description, just part of that at the very most.

        The idea you get from the above is that:
        – you change the process, not just the input;
        – the exact final result can’t be achieved anyway else (all the conditions you achieve with “artificial” ketosis can’t be there at the same time with “natural” ketosis, which implies lack of some nutrients);
        – it’s important that ketones also work as a “signal”, because they don’t just provide a source of energy (to which the body responds proportionally, as in sugars case, even lab ones), they “hack” metabolism;
        – they affect other physiological system which aren’t immediately related to “feeding”.

        To *me*, that’s handbook for doping, especially in the case of a synthetic substance.
        As I wrote above, I was referring to “ketones” in short, but it’s a specific sort of, which is both unique, patented and proprietary, and whose metabolic effects are unparalleled when compared to other ketonic salts, not to speak of the natural presence of them as a metabolic product within the body under peculiar conditions (which wouldn’t be compatible as such with, say, the last 30 minutes of an uphill finish).

        Reading what their creators write down, I wonder how could they ever get from WADA the guarantee it wasn’t going to enter the list. I also wonder how could WADA ever grant such an assurance if the substance was little known, the only experts were the ones creating it, and there were no dosage/damage studies older than *two years*, at the time. I guess I could dig out more info if I started googling around again, but I’d prefer not to – it feels like eternal recurrence now.

        • Orbifold, I think it’s important to remember exogenous ketones supplimentation, and diets substituting dietary fat for them in a psuedo-ketogenic diet are not treated the same as endogenous ketones in the body. The research is clear that exogenous ketone diets produce substantially different metabolic and performance benefits compared to how a ketogenic diet activates ketone pathways. Side note: something I never considered, is eliminating the side effect of (generally accepted as negative) lipid profile changes by using exogenous ketones instead of fasting/hflc.

          you can be ketogenic naturally through fasting states and dietary changes (which I couldn’t imagine calling doping), but the couple research papers I read on it draw a conclusion that external/synthetic ketone suppliments of some formulation provide a performance benefit beyond natural ketosis states (I can’t say that commercially available ketone suppliments are the same chemistry as the specific performance-enhancing ones — there are different options).

        • It is aerobic energy that allows you to ride up to 75% of VO2max without acid production and that sensation of burning in your legs. But you still need to increase mitochondrial density for more efficient fat burning, because ketones are oxidized in the mitochondria. And for this you need more slow-twitch fibers. You gain endurance, you lose strength. In the (N=10) study, they picked triathletes which probably have the same muscle-fiber distribution. So the performance enhancing effects are expected to be the same for all of the riders. It is not trivial to say that in road cycling all riders will benefit in the same way. I believe ketones would benefit riders like Bardet or Froome (which are probably fat adapted) more than “pasta eaters” like Valverde. Also ketones are good for riding below 75% of VO2max, not so much for higher power outputs. Unfortunately they only tested this at 75% of VO2max. In real race situations things may be different.
          “the exact final result can’t be achieved anyway else” This is not entirely correct. You can still carb load during a ketogenic diet for one specific event. I think they call it “Targeted Ketogenic Det” or TKD. Think of Froome during the past Giro d’Italia at the stages of Monte Zoncolan and Colle delle Finestre. Froome might be riding with a ketogenic diet all the time and just carb load for those two specific stages. I don’t know, maybe you are right and it is plain doping. But how will you test for ketones? Drinking an extra gel or drinking a coke will probably reduce ketone levels immediately without traces.

          • The need to train on specific skills or the presence of other bottlenecks is common to many doping substances, say EPO. Which also benefitted in different ways different athletes, by the way. I just quoted the Conclusions which are short and in plainer language, but if you read all the article you might see what they mean with “unique physiological condition” and “unlock”: and this is a scientific paper, not a marketing leaflet, albeit the effect on sportsmen might be similar.
            Back then, I think that I also read within the company’s materials that they had tested their product against existing ketone salts and the difference is notable, not to speak of diet only.
            Note that what we’re speaking of isn’t just military funded: it’s also being tested in military use. That’s what people mean with “military-grade ketons”.
            I consider as absolutely not relevant any difficulty in testing: EPO was forbidden before you had any reliable test, and GH is too, although you can seldom catch it (anyway, you could also charge possession, albeit that ain’t easy, either).
            Finally, the fact that the product is now commercially available doesn’t make it a levelled playing field. Some athletes have been using this stuff with exclusive rights for 5-6 years and with full support of the scientific team which developed it. Not only have they taken advantage of this little extra, they’re also enjoying an impressive technological headstart. You need to practice to know how to better perform using it. And the rest of the world is at least five years behind.
            IMHO, it’s a shame (along with the Tramadol garbage and much more). Just compare it with mild meldonium and how hard they went after that :-O
            WADA has been losing loads of credibility well before the Froome love letter hammered in the last nail on the coffin (“unpublished scientific papers” being the comical climax).

            PS With the, until now, main and only and striking exception of Finestre, Froome never looked like a fondo athlete. Low pace and final 15′ burst being the Sky scheme in uncountable occasions. OTOH, Bardet is indeed a good example of the contrary, especially in some occasions which didn’t receive as much limelight because he wasn’t winning (I recall an impressive Vuelta as breakaway man, for instance). Valverde’s got a final burst thanks to his fast-twitch fibre percentage, but it’s quite an endurance man. You normally can tell easily looking at performance in Monuments (or other hard one-day races) because there the pace is way higher for longer than in most (modern) GT stages, often requiring multiple acceleration far from the finish line.

          • @UHJ
            I think they had got the license for the USA for the Oxford product. By the way, Bussi’s got a PhD in Maths in Oxford ^__^
            And, looking at her previous results as a 32 years old athlete (although with a strong dedication to something different from cycling), I’d say that ketones might have helped, indeed. Just check her palmarés against previous record holder Stevens.

        • Interesting. Don’t know if you have read ‘run, jump, swim, cheat’. Interesting book about doping. It talks about the various factors that lead to chemicals winding up on the list of banned substances. Typically they have to have some sort of PE effect, or be capable of masking the effect of other drugs. But there is always a political dimension too. The amphetamine which has the biggest PE effect is not on the banned list, but others which have no PE effect, but scramble your brain are. What is this drug? Caffeine. There may also be issues with testing for substances which are endogenous to the human body. I’m just saying that the basis for putting them on the banned list are not always straight forward.

          • Of course caffeine isn’t an amphetamine – I assume you meant “CNS stimulant.” I think it’s no longer banned because it was found that the modest benefit it gives comes with virtually no side effects or safety considerations. Taking large doses of caffeine is counterproductive, and brings on a host of side effects. Given that the the majority of the civilized world drinks coffee and/or tea and/or other caffeine-containing drinks, it seems rather silly to ban it.

          • “There may also be issues with testing for substances which are endogenous to the human body”.

            As I already explained, this isn’t a relevant issue. Several forbidden substances couldn’t be even tested for when they made the list, and that’s still mostly true for some which are included nevertheless. Anyway, EPO, GH, DHEA, corticosteroids, testosterone… are all endogenous to the human body. So what?

      • “Some athletes have been using this stuff with exclusive rights for 5-6 years and with full support of the scientific team which developed it. ” Do we know who these athletes might be?

        • @gabriele Sorry, I completely overlooked “Study 3” in the paper, which can be summarized as follows (taken from another article):
          “Ingesting exogenous ketones supplements while on a high-carb diet or alongside sugary sport gels creates an evolutionarily novel metabolic state. As researcher Brianna Stubbs explains, “replete glucose reserves, an intact insulin axis, and elevated ketone bodies would never usually coexist”. Just because the state doesn’t exist in nature doesn’t mean it’s automatically harmful, but it should be approached with caution.”
          Now we are clearly talking about something different.

          • @Larry T & Orbifold
            What’s stunning is that I and others were commenting on this blog about the subject, quite much in detail and exactly enough, more than three years ago (personally, I must add that knowledge had been available even well before). I was suggesting that it was an advantage they could take “before the substance was forbidden”. How naïf of me.
            I wrote above what I currently think of WADA. And I suspect that asking which team was involved is superfluous. The official material never names names, I believe, but back then the alias velovibes had some suggestions for inrng’s readers.

        • “Typically, a substance or method will be considered for the WADA Prohibited List if the substance or method meets any two of the following three criteria: It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance. It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete. It violates the spirit of sport.”
          A super-expensive substance with the described effects that was available only to certain individuals for 5-6 years seems like it should be banned, no?

        • Gabriele – somehow I missed this as the stuff was news to me. Certainly makes one wonder about something that seems to have come round about the time a certain team started dominating LeTour, but I’ll not get a tinfoil hat out and start making wild conspiracy claims. Now that the stuff is commercially available (though at insane prices) I guess everyone can use it so any performance gain (beyond what might have been gained by the longer experience) is no longer exclusive? Makes me wonder if WADA has decided it a) doesn’t work b) has no health risk since it’s not banned?

          • I’m not sure that the fact that something is more or less widely available makes null the performance gain argument. The performance gain, as for its antidoping meaning, isn’t relative to the rest of competitors, it’s against not using the substance. Otherwise, they should have made EPO legit in the 90s! 😉
            I’d be surprised that WADA had defended that the product didn’t work or had taken for granted no health risk was possible, since the scientific articles on the subject say precisely the opposite.
            The company confirmed with WADA that the product wasn’t on the list when they were still getting it patented and when less than 2 years had passed from the very first “intitial safety studies on humans”. It makes no scientific sense.
            It should have been banned to start with as an unknown, synthetic, recently created substance, even without being specifically named by the list (that’s how it usually works! The list isn’t thought to be exclusive, because they assume that several doping substances may just be unknown by WADA, but they want to be able to DSQ you all the same). Then, for precautionary reasons, it should have remained on the list for a reasonably long time.
            That would have been “due process”, but that’s not at all how WADA works these days. It’s more about doing the dirty jobs for those who’re signing the paychecks (as I showed here some time ago, it’s not at all an international, comprehensive institution and it doesn’t work on representative basis, even).

          • Ketone esters aren’t banned by WADA because they are food. All the arguments you have made for their performance enhancing benefits could be made against glucose gels. Ketones don’t change your body or blood composition like EPO, aren’t a stimulant like amphetamines, and don’t affect muscle or skeleton growth like steroids, testosterone and HGH, they are just fuel. When you eat more than enough food, your body stores some of this excess energy as fat, then when you don’t eat enough, your body metabolises this fat into ketones for you to burn as fuel. Eating the ketones simply supplies this fuel directly, in the same way as eating glucose gels instead of bread and pasta saves your body having to process the starchy carbohydrates into glucose before burning them. The possible performance enhancement comes from the fact that (in high intensity exercise at least) your body will normally only use one of these fuel sources at a time – sugars if it has them and ketones if it doesn’t. Eating the ketones supposedly allows it to activate both energy pathways simultaneously.

          • @Benoit
            What sense does it exactly make to repeat Orbifold’s argument as if it hadn’t been already replied with scientific material provided by the primary source of the product, and as if Orbifold himself or herself hadn’t already provided useful information taken from that source, acknowledging that *these* ketones are a whole different matter?

            Are you perhaps planning to spend a grand a year on them to beat the s**t out of your Sunday rivals, while at the same time convincing yourself that you’re clean because WADA says so? 😛

          • @gabriele
            I don’t think I did simply repeat Orbifold’s argument, nor do I think you fully rebutted it. He did not make the point that for a substance to be classified as a drug, rather than food, it generally has to have some effect on the body other than providing fuel, and he didn’t really explain that the key similarity with glucose is that it provides the body directly with a fuel that the body will itself produce in a more roundabout way by processing other foods.
            Also, that Orbifold acknowledges that *these* ketones are a whole different matter does not make it an objective fact. I’m not aware of any evidence (other than HVMN’s marketing) that these are anything but a more concentrated, more directly utilised distillation of what your body naturally produces. The researcher’s comments regarding the “evolutionarily novel metabolic state” that seem to have got you both concerned effectively amounts to “the body has two fuel sources that it would normally only have one or the other of, at any given time”. Not enough to suggest it’s acts a drug.
            Finally, no, I’m not intending to spend any money on this stuff. I volunteered to be part of one of the Oxford trials, and it made me feel very nauseous and produced no measurable performance improvement. Competing with my Sunday rivals is generally painful enough without having to do it while feeling sick.

          • @Benoit
            Glucose gels don’t generate a unique metabolic situation which isn’t existing at all in nature. They don’t change the process. Ketones are a physiological by-product which have chain effects on other systems different from feeding.
            But you can give a read to the above, which isn’t marketing and isn’t from HVMN.
            By the way, you might help us all remembering what was the name of the European spin-off company, if you were in touch with Oxford.
            I feel that the word “food” can hardly be applied properly to such a substance, especially its synthetic variant, but I guess that’s what they sold you to make you drink it.
            DHEA is considered a *dietary supplement* and your body produces it from cholesterol, it’s biology is greatly depending on calory intake, but it is forbidden by the WADA all the same.
            I guess I’ll leave it here, whoever is really interested can click on the link and scroll through the studies by himself or herself.

          • @gabriele
            The Oxford University spin out that developed the drink is TDeltaS. You can see their website, with a good description of what it is and why it’s considered safe here:
            They also put up the papers looking into the performance benefit in the “research” section.

  13. Johannes Dürr has just now apparently been arrested as well, likely as someone who made contact between the doctor and the arrested/came “clean” athletes.

    The german doctor has been said to fully cooperate with the authorities, likely to try to avoid his maximum sentence in Austria, which I understand to be 10 years imprisonment, not 3 or 2 as other posters above writes?

    The bio-passport is a good tool, not good enough as we can see, but like Rng says it can likely be a deterrent if nothing else. Lack of money should never be an excuse in my mind, and the notion of a prison sentence should be present in all countries that are involved in pro (or amateur for that sake, but there is when the money starts flying big time, and as other posters write over, these f*ckers largely get caught anyway).

    And athletes will likely always cheat anyways, someway or another, but to get the behind persons like doctors and administrators will kill off a lot of it, but big problem is the legal-ese of doctor/”patient” privelige that are basically sacred. But a pro-sport person should be made to make a release clause of his/her medical records if suspected. It may not be needed that any specific medical info be made public, but surely it must be made towards the governing body, that should be separate from the specific sports body. It is done in a lot of other professional work, f.instance urine/blood samples for specific crafts like offshore oil, any aircraft personnel etc., however in those instances it is done by the specific body(company) because they have a vested incentive that their personnel don’t endanger their own materials, or their company, or their production, which may be something to use in sports as well.

    I’m not sure, but the travesty that people like Ferrari has not been put in jail for a lot of years does much more for blatant doping to continue that any passport or the like.

    • doctor is arrested in munich, germany. its 10 years max according to german law since he was at the center of an illegal organization. the austrian athletes may face 3 years max.

      • Ok, thx for clearing that up. For what it’s worth, I hope he gets the max as this obviously is not the first time he and his family is in the mix.

  14. I think the Bio Passport as a tool still works to prevent riders from going crazy with PEDs and PEMs. They have found ways to dope (a little) but still not get caught neither by the Bio Passport nor by the more normal doping tests looking for substances. But the possible gains are much smaller now than they were before the Passport was introduced.
    If we’re honest to ourselves sport without cheating is unrealistic. Some sort of rule-bending will always happen or at least athletes will try that. It’s human nature. Humans lie and they cheat. It happens on any amateur level in sports. Even in competitions without any prize money or medals to earn. To anyone raging about “all those cheats” ruining the sport: I’m sorry, but you’re postulating things which only work in your dreams.
    So any anti-doping measures can at best create a playing field which comes closer to being level than it would be without. And that’s what the Bio Passport helps with.
    My conclusion from the Froome case last year – which technically wasn’t a doping case I know – was that there’s probably not much corruption going on nowadays in cycling when it comes to attempts to cover up doping cases.
    But as Larry correctly concludes it has become harder with all the money involved to actually bring those cases to a successful end.
    And I’d also claim without knowing what the real consequences or legal prerequisites are that the UCI should try more often and more quickly what it did with Tramadol now for 2019. Even when WADA doesn’t want to react the UCI should try to prevent riders from cutting corners whenever a new shortcut is supposedly used.
    They already do it in races where they threaten to disqualify riders who cut corners by riding on the sidewalk 😉 .
    And let’s never forget: As much as we as fans of that sport discipline get emotionally engaged, it’s just sports. And professional sports is just entertainment.
    That’s why I’m still not sure that prison sentences are rectified. But that’s just my personal opinion.

    • rectified=justified?

      It is economic fraud as Rng mentions, but maybe worse it takes away the feeling of presumably clean athletes winning on the day of the event, which I think may be worse, at least if you are already making a living being a pro athlete.
      But who am I to say, a fat middle aged guy who was at best top 10 in juniors in some endurance sport. Cheating was so far from anything for me I couldn’t even think of it, but then again I never had any ambition to be a pro. Luckily music and so a welcome to good drugs(weed) got to me before the ambition of being an athlete.

      To not ban Tramadol before though is completely off the rocker, I had to take it prescribed once and the last thing I would do is going out for a ride, it would be a Kristoff on the Hatta Dam in that case, with a bike working just fine.

      • Arrgh, sure, yes justified. Thanks.
        “but maybe worse it takes away the feeling of presumably clean athletes winning on the day of the event”. That’s exactly what I mean. That assumption is so … well I understand, the people providing that sort of entertainment have understood that most of the spectators naive as they are, at least in that respect, want to believe in the winner being the best. In a clean way.

    • “And professional sports is just entertainment.” Wrong. That would suggest WWE and LeTour are the same thing. Sport can certainly be entertaining but to claim that’s all that it is would be rather insulting to a lot of athletes IMHO.

      • I agree Larry but I think the point is to the follower it’s entertainment whereas to the athlete it can be everything. At the very least it’s pride, a career, something they’ve worked extremely hard for. So I’m perfectly fine to hear or read another rider talk about their anger when someone gets popped like Pinot did about Preidler but I’m not sure fans have the same ‘rights’ to do so.

        I’m also just replying to our quick chat yesterday. I wasn’t inferring you had said, or even thought, that you were “…signaling a return to the bad old days is not helpful in changing that perception.”. I was just taking in general. As for when that was? Well I guess that depends on when an individual started to realise what was going on. The general consensus seems to be that during the ‘Lance years’, nearly everyone was doing something. I was making the point that it’s not like that now (as far as we know…) and assuming it is, isn’t going to do anything but create that negativity when it might be better to be realistic that some will cheat and catching some of them is a positive.

        • Fair enough, but (there’s always one, right?) your “..create that negativity when it might be better to be realistic that some will cheat and catching some of them is a positive.” to me smacks of what ol’ Heinie and Co. used to say around the time he was declaring that BigTex had never, never, ever cheated.
          When only the little guys seem to be the ones penalized/sanctioned it makes it easy for the UCI and sport to claim they’re doing something, when some might think they could be doing a lot more, especially when the “Famous Rider Tests Positive” headlines are everywhere, but Famous Rider shows up at the next race like nothing ever happened.

  15. First of all it is good to read such a balanced discussion thread. So often the below the article comments are just an ill informed echo chamber that it is refreshing to see an actual discussion.

    Anyway I have a bit of a longer view on the whole topic of the passport that stems from a long involvement sport and my profession in environmental data gathering, processing and archiving.

    Any data that you gather on a natural, particularly biological, systems will be flawed and have errors. The parameters that you choose are often analogues that have been shown to have a link with the parameter, or issue, that you are interested in studying, controlling, or, in this case, policing. The passport has been around for a while and therefore is more understood and can be manipulated, should you wish to do so, as has already been stated. However if we no longer think that the system is fit for purpose then what is going to replace it? I am not sure that ignoring all of the data already collected is a good idea. If we know how the gamers tactics work, or can put in tactics that may work, then this can be used to spot more anomalies. As humans are creatures of habit, that the patterns in the data can be used to show the routine variance in data rather than natural, more random variance.

    Froome’s case is often sited as one that if you have the money then you can get off. It is not directly linked to the passport, but it does illustrate the problems with letting adverse findings out before the data has been analysed and studied before making a decision. The leaked finding meant that the studies and investigations took place in the full glare of the publicity, where the story is king and scientific uncertainty spoils the narrative. This polarised view that exists in the media is very different from a scientific view where the errors in any measurement are appraised and understood. For my own field of expertise the maximum accuracy that we can get for a measurement in laboratory conditions for one parameter is +/- 10%. That starts to fall rapidly when you take readings in the real world, not because of the failure of the method of collecting, or analysing the data, but because outside, unmeasured, factors influence your readings. In spite of all that that data can still be used in a court of law and used to prosecute people, and companies, for a failure to comply with the law. What I am required to do is show all of the background work, calibrations, record keeping and data security, to show that the measurements, in my expert opinion, reflect a breach of the law. The key to that understanding is the background data that is collected, not necessarily from that one point, but from all similar sites (a population sample) that show that the measurement was not due to a natural variation.

    In conclusion, perhaps we should be looking at the passport as good thing and the longer we collect the data the easier it becomes to spot the anomalies and have robust ways of catching the cheats. Equally it provides a robust way to protect the natural outliers and spikes that do happen even when people are not cheating. Unfortunately you have to have experts in the fields with enough experience to be able filter and understand the data, as well as the time and funding to do so. As we all live in the real world we know that just does not happen and we end up relying on the very human resource of intelligence to catch some of the cheats. Alas there will always be people more intelligent and determined to get an edge that understand all of this that get away with cheating. In what world did we think that any sport would be different to the rest of the world?

  16. “In what world did we think that any sport would be different to the rest of the world?”
    I think in THIS world. That’s why there aren’t many TV shows featuring hedge-fund managers at work vs soccer matches, bike races, etc. Life and business might reward the best liars, criminals and con-men, but SPORT should reward the competitors virtues rather than reward those who can break the rules without suffering any penalty. Doping is cheating. Cheating means breaking the rules. If you don’t enforce the rules, you don’t have a sport. Using a motorcycle in LeTour is against the rules, same as the use of banned substances. “Winning” LeTour using either means you cheated – you broke the rules that everyone else is assumed to be playing by when they show up at the start line. Sport IS the rules, if they don’t exist (or are not enforced fairly) it’s merely entertainment.

  17. To be effective the passport requires a substantial number of data points. Does anyone know, for a medium grade WT rider not under particular surveillance, how many blood samples are typically analysed in a year?

  18. Is anyone else wondering whether Max Hauke realises you have to have the blood bag ABOVE your heart level to infuse it? Or perhaps he was trying to take it out again?

    • There have been interviews where they were taking it back out post race so as to return to normal levels. I wonder about this, it’s not so simple as blood comes out rather than just red blood cells that presumably they infused hours before, but am no haematologist.

      • Whole blood is taken out, blood gets centrifuged, red blood cells (and assorted items) are separated, blood + saline solution is returned.
        Or more simply: whole blood is taken out and saline solution (=normal drip you get as per normal and legal procedure if and when you are seriously dehydrated) is returned.
        Or if you have access: blood minus red blood cells + human albumin + saline solution is returned.

        Back in the day (synthetic) plasma expanders were used, but a valid test was interoduced in 2001 (when half the Finnish cross-country skiing team infamously tested positive for Hemohes at their own home world championships).

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