July 27, 2006

Floyd Landis Story Incomplete

By now most sports fans will have heard the news that Floyd Landis tested positive for testosterone after Stage 17 of the Tour de France.

I have a tendency to be long-winded, and I am going to be long-winded again on this subject. But there are two points that should be made up front here:

  • Landis has had a drug test with an abnormal T/E ratio. That is not the same thing as a doping sanction. Regardless of the outcome of the B sample test, Landis may not have violated anti-doping rules.
  • Landis apparently did not test positive with an elevated level of testosterone.

Now, if you want to read some real journalism on this story, skip ESPN and try the Boulder Report

This is not proof of exogenous testosterone

Testosterone is classified as an Endogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroid (AAS). "Endogenous" substances are those produced naturally in the body. Using exogenous — that is, from outside one's own body — sources is against the rules. Here's the relevant section of the WADA Prohibited List:

Where an [AAS] is capable of being produced endogenously, a Sample will be deemed to contain such a Prohibited Substance where the concentration of such Prohibited Substance or its metabolites or markers and/or any other relevant ratio(s) in the Athlete's Sample so deviates from the range of values normally found in humans that it is unlikely to be consistent with normal endogenous production. A Sample shall not be deemed to contain a Prohibited Substance in any such case where the Athlete proves that the concentration of the Prohibited Substance … is attributable to a physiological or pathological condition.

… When a laboratory has reported a T/E [Testosterone to Epitestosterone] ratio greater than four (4) to one (1) and any reliable analytical method (e.g. IRMS [Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer]) applied has not determined the exogenous origin of the substance, further investigation may be conducted by a review of previous tests or by conducting subsequent test(s), in order to determine whether the result is due to a physiological or pathological condition, or has occurred as a consequence of the exogenous origin of a Prohibited Substance. … When an additional reliable analytical method (e.g. IRMS) has not been applied and a minimum of three previous test results are not available, the relevant Anti-Doping Organization shall test the Athlete with no advance notice at least three times within a three-month period. …

Landis' team, sponsored by Phonak, has issued a statement that it received notice Wednesday from the UCI that Landis "showed a disproportionately high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone." Some sources are reporting the result as a T/E ratio of 11/1. So as noted above, that's step one in the process. Landis will now have his B sample tested. That's quite likely to show exactly the same problem as the A sample. But that is not the end of the story for Landis — it's only step one. The mere presence of an elevated T/E ratio is not enough to confirm a doping offense.

Was Landis' testosterone actually elevated?

It's being widely (although not loudly) reported, including at the Boulder Report article I cited above, that Landis' abnormally high T/E ratio was due to an extremely low level of epitestosterone (small E) and not a high level of testosterone (big T). That might seem like a subtlety, but it's an important fact if it's confirmed. If Landis had a lower-than-normal concentration of testosterone, then he clearly wasn't using that particular prohibited substance, was he? In fact it sounds like Landis has a good chance of proving that his elevated T/E ratio was endogenous in origin. In that case, he'll be exonerated. Of course, his moment of glory already lies in tatters. Which brings me to my third point …

And what happened to due process (again)?

Floyd Landis — and any athlete — deserves better than this. As I noted back here, in 2003 fewer than 15% of A Sample Adverse Analytical findings in cycling led to doping sanctions. We're actually a long way from a doping sanction against Floyd Landis in this case.

So why, given these facts, and the process outlined in WADA's own rules, did the UCI feel that it was a good idea to announce yesterday that an "unidentified rider" had "tested positive?" And why does Dick Pound again feel the need to open his mouth?

The guys who came second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth at last year's event have been busted in the [Spanish investigation], and now the winner of this year's event is busted in the race itself.

Right. Except that Floyd Landis has not yet been "busted" (and neither have the other five riders Pound mentions, but that's another story). It's one thing for the media to jump the gun on this story, and to miss the subtleties of the process still to come — they've got advertising to sell. But shouldn't Dick Pound, the head of the world's anti-doping law enforcement agency, have enough restraint to let due process run its course?

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