Saturday, July 10, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 7: Investigators Probe While Riders Climb

July 10, 2010 
The Tour de France entered the Jura Mountains today, starting what will be four consecutive days of very difficult climbing.

And while general classification stars will be looking to improve their advantage, investigators in the United States are broadening their probe of Floyd Landis' doping allegations.

Wall Street Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell have aimed straight at the Tour on day 8, this time with details about how the U.S. criminal investigation by the Food and Drug Administration is contacting other U.S. and international cyclists. Jeff Novitsky who is leading the probe for the FDA is also looking into whether the U.S. Postal Service Team misused federal funds, and whether teams defrauded sponsors by failing to race cleanly.

The investigation is also being joined by agencies from other countries, and Interpol, the international police organization is helping organize the outreach, said the article.

George Hincapie, who rode with the U.S. Postal Service Team is one of the former U.S. Postal Team riders who has already been contacted by federal officials. His lawyer, Zia F. Modabber has responded to the request but is not interrupting Hincapie's Tour at this time, waiting for him to finish before any action is taken.

American rider Tyler Hamilton who rode with the U.S. Postal team from 1995 to 2001 was also contacted but in a public statement said that he would cooperate once he has been subpoenaed. In 2004, Hamilton was accused of using someone else's blood in a transfusion, an allegation that he fought for 4 years.

Pic: (ASO) Armstrong in Stage 4 of 2010 TDF

A statement on his website shows that he felt that the testing and adjudication process was a "closed loop," and lacked the sufficient standards to be used for testing. "It would seem unlikely that any other entity would allow the same agency to fund research for a test, develop a test, approve a test, regulate the application of the test, apply the test and adjudicate the test’s results – without independent scrutiny or input," said the statement.

Other riders have stepped forward as well, with a interview by the Dow Jones Newswire in Vienna with former pro cyclist Bernhard Kohl who had a positive drug test in 2008. Kohl stated that Landis's descriptions of how they took blood transfusions in their team rooms, checked for cameras and microphones, and cut up the blood transfusion bags and disposed them in the toilet was "exactly the way I also did it."

When asked about Landis's allegations recently, Armstrong said the Wall St. Journal article (that came out on the second day of the Tour) was "full of false accusations and more of the same old news from Floyd Landis with zero credibility and an established pattern of recanting tomorrow what he says today."

It still remains to be seen whether anything can be accomplished through this FDA investigation, and indeed the investigation of the World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA): how will they prove that transfusions were taken if the plastic bags were flushed down the toilet? Further there has been little discussion about how such an investigation can obtain and use other forms of evidence, such as old drug tests: can they be obtained, are they still reliable, and what can they show?

These are the more important questions that the witch hunting media--not just the WSJ for that matter--has failed to answer. Perhaps because they are the more difficult facts to uncover. Still it remains to be seen if Floyd Landis, who appears to have a number of social integration problems--isn't just giving the FDA, WADA, and the world, a big runaround for nothing.

Remember, he told U.S. Postal he could perform, but instead he couldn't and was the only person caught doping in 2006 when he won the Tour de France for another team. While part of the U.S. Postal Team, he complained about the quality of his bike, which in all likelihood was a $10,000 bike --supplied in duplicate or triplicate. He also told Phonak he could perform and signed on to a $500K contract, but couldn't and started his own drug program, which he then allegedly convinced Phonak to pay for--all according to his own admission.

And from an even broader perspective, this brouhaha still begs the question: why is cycling the most tested sport in the world? Why don't we test baseball, football, and soccer players on every day that they compete? Those sports carry contracts well in excess of the cycling dollars, and they often have lifetimes that are longer. And more importantly still, why are the poor standards in dope testing in cycling --or even lack of standards--such as those alleged by Hamilton allowed to continue?

The federal and international dollars being spent to handle this investigation by the FDA would be better focused on those sports where testing is minimal, and there is a guaranteed positive outcome (i.e. greater likelihood of cheating because of less scrutiny.)

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