NEWS

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July 27, 2006

The Landis doping allegations: Why release the information before it's certain?

Is anyone else a little confused about why the doping allegations against Tour de France winner Floyd Landis went public before they were confirmed?First of all, Landis is now guaranteed to be guilty, regardless of what the B test says (there are two tests taken and the first one tested positive for doping, the second test will now be examined to ensure there was not just a false-positive or any other weird stuff at play with the A test). There is really no way for him to get rid of the mark that comes with having a positive test. It doesn't matter whether it was a false-positive or not. People are going to associate him with doping, not victory and that is a shame.Second of all, Landis’ use of testosterone makes no sense considering it was only for the final week of the tour:

It's certainly not one of the first-line drugs one thinks of for racing. Steroids can increase strength and improve recovery time and prevent the breakdown of muscle, maybe make him more assertive and aggressive. All of those could have some positive attribute. But most steroids are given in cycles [6-12 weeks] and in context of working out in a gym with weights. It makes no sense to me why an athlete would take testosterone the day of a race when it doesn't work that way. It doesn't make sense in terms of the pharmacology of the drug, and it really doesn't have the attributes that would be attractive to a cyclist -- particularly one running the risk of violating anti-doping regulations.
Why would this guy use something that would give him no advantage when he knew he’d be tested (all riders that have the yellow jersey are tested after every stage)?Third of all, testosterone testing is weird and no one seems clear on exactly what Landis’ test results are:
Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone, and there is no surefire way to detect it. Instead, anti-doping controls use a system called mass spectrometry. Testosterone and epitestosterone, another naturally occurring hormone, are usually within a constant balance of each other, called the T/E ratio.Most people have a ratio between 1-to-1 and 2-to-1, but cycling's governing body has set a threshold at 4-to-1 to allow for riders with naturally high testosterone levels. Major spikes in the testosterone levels in relation to the epitestosterone can suggest manipulation or doping, triggering a red flag for testers.Unscrupulous athletes have learned to inject epitestosterone into their systems to bring balance to the ratio and mask the use of testosterone. There was no information released about Landis' T/E ratio. To further complicate things, Landis also will undergo an endocrine test to determine his naturally occurring levels of testosterone.
Everyone is reporting that he tested positive for testosterone but what does that mean about his ratio? His numbers were abnormal for the final week of the tour, but that is really all that we know. In fact, just now, on ESPN, an analyst mentioned that Landis' results weren't above the threshold; they were abnormally low which makes things even more unclear.The sad thing about the premature release of this information is that all we've gotten is the headline: Tour winner tests positive. Had authorities sat on the information until it was certain, we could have all gotten a much more informative and authoritative set of supporting data and information to back up the headlines.But last, I don't mean to be a Landis apologist because responsibility here swings both ways. This information shouldn't have been released before it was certain, but also, if Landis did take performance enhancing drugs he should fess up now instead of denying it until he has been officially stripped of the victory.