And in other news, the sun rose in the east this morning and Jessica Alba is still hot. French tabloid L'Equipe, which is owned by the Amaury Group -- the same company that owns the TdF -- claims to have conclusive evidence that Lance Armstrong used EPO during the Tour in 1999. Why it's trotting out these results now, I don't know; to coin a phrase, I question the timing. Regardless, I call bullshit on the whole thing. Let's look at that "conclusive evidence":
The paper's investigation was based solely on B samples -- the second of two samples used in doping tests. The A samples were used up in 1999 for analysis at the time.
The governing body of world cycling did not begin using a urine test for EPO until 2001. For years, it had been impossible to detect the drug, called erythropoietin, which builds endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.
EPO tests on the 1999 B urine samples were not carried out until last year, when scientists performed research on them to fine-tune EPO testing methods, the paper said.
So, the newspaper had a lab test five year-old piss for EPO. And the test is fundamentally flawed in its methodology. Where is the control group? All six samples tested positive for EPO, which should have set off big loud bells and lights signalling a problem. With no control group, we don't know that all urine wouldn't test positive if frozen under the same conditions. When was it frozen? At what temperature? Where was it kept? Who had access? All good questions, none of which are answered. Also note that the test cannot be replicated, since all the piss has been used up. How convenient.
Actually, don't take my word for it, since I'm not a doctor. Let's see what Dr. Christiane Ayotte, director of the Doping Control Laboratory at Montreal's Institut National de la Recherché Scientifique, thinks about this:
"We are extremely surprised that urine samples could have been tested in 2004 and have revealed the presence of EPO," Ayotte said in an interview with VeloNews on Tuesday. "EPO - in its natural state or the synthesized version - is not stable in urine, even if stored at minus 20 degrees."
"EPO is a protein hormone and it is not stable in urine, even when kept frozen," she said. "This has long had implications for any plan we've had to keep samples and specimens for long periods of time with the hope that we might, some day, retest those samples for a new substance."
"The lab in Paris, which originally developed the test, would have - should have - retested these samples in 2000 or 2001, in order to develop and validate their methods at the time," she said. "My interpretation is that retesting itself must have been conducted in 2000 or in 2001, but the results were reviewed using the new mathematical model that is now being developed in Paris."
"That has to be the only explanation, because otherwise, I've been a liar all these years," Ayotte said. "I have been instructing everyone at all of the organizations not to expect to reproduce an EPO adverse finding if more that two or three months has elapsed since the sample was originally taken."
Seems to me that Dr. Ayotte is calling bullshit, too, though in a more diplomatic fashion.
There are at least two other flaws in L'Equipe's purported "proof" that Lance is dirty. First, EPO by itself does not have any performance enhancing effect. EPO stimulates the body to increase red blood cell production. It's works like old-school blood packing. Yet, every time Lance was tested for elevated hematocrit levels (i.e., too many red blood cells to have occurred naturally) -- and he's been tested more often than any athlete alive -- he came up clean.
Second, and the biggest problem of all in my opinion, is this: even if Lance used EPO in 1999 -- and there is still no good reason to suspect he did -- how did he win in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 when every test he took was clean, including tests for EPO?
Moreover, L'Equipe has a serious credibility problem. No less an authority than Miguel Indurain, who, having won the TdF five times, knows a thing or two about the French press, acknowledged that L'Equipe has been out to get Lance for years. But this really blew my mind:
The national anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry, which developed the EPO test and analyzed the urine samples in question, said it could not confirm that the positive EPO results were Armstrong's.
It noted that the samples were anonymous, bearing only a a six-digit number to identify the rider, and could not be matched with the name of any one cyclist.
However, L'Equipe said it was able to make the match. It printed photos of what it said were official doping documents. On one side of the page, it showed what it said were the results of EPO tests from anonymous riders used for lab research. On the other, it showed Armstrong's medical certificates, signed by doctors and riders after doping tests -- and bearing the same identifying number printed on the results.
Emphasis mine. The lab couldn't make the match because, for privacy reasons, the lab never knows whose urnin it's testing. Yet, L'Equipe was able to -- using documents the originals of which cannot be produced (Dan Rather, call your office!). Where did L'Equipe get the purported documents? I'm thinking they had to come from someone in the Amaury Group. If the documents are real, and if they did come from Amaury, Amaury broke about a dozen privacy laws. How does "Lance Armstrong -- Owner and CEO of the Amaury Group" sound?
For Lance's part, he posted the following statement on his website:
"Yet again, a European newspaper has reported that I have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Tomorrow's L'Equipe, a French sports daily, is reporting that my 1999 samples were positive. Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and tomorrow's article is nothing short of tabloid journalism.
"The paper even admits in its own article that the science in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend myself. They state: "There will therefore be no counter-exam nor regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since defendant's rights cannot be respected."
"I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance enhancing drugs."
Seems a little wordy to me. I would have gone with something along the lines of, "Suck my dick."