Catherine Walberg’s cover shot below. Guess there is a photo of me in the article too somewhere. But, it’s always fun getting the cover.
The New York Times had an article today about EPO drug testing. It sounds like a joke. I have avoided addressing drug usage on my website, but this is crazy. So, all these guys that are caught using EPO have an out. Of course, that is if they haven’t already confessed. I figure you can drug test just about any of these guys and tell them that they are positive for EPO. Most of them probably wouldn’t even appeal because, of course, they take it. I do think that the mentality of drug usage/non usage has improved dramatically the last couple years. But, just watch the races and the speeds. Nothing has changed that much yet. But, hopefully we’re on a better track. Story below.
Study Shows Problems With Olympic-Style Tests
Athletes who want to cheat by injecting themselves with a performance-enhancing drug that boosts their blood cell count can do so with little risk of getting caught, a new study indicates, possibly exposing another flaw in what is regarded as the world’s toughest anti-doping program.
A urine test that is supposed to detect the drug, and that will be used in the Tour de France next month and in the Olympics in August, is likely to miss it, the study says. The substance, recombinant human erythropoietin, known as EPO, stimulates bone marrow to speed up production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. And with more blood cells, endurance athletes like cyclists and distance runners can perform better.
EPO is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, an international group that promotes and coordinates efforts to stop doping in sports and whose program is followed by the International Olympic Committee. The agency defends its EPO test and questioned the latest study.
Although athletes have said EPO is in widespread use, few have tested positive. Most of the athletes who have been linked to doping in recent years have been caught not through drug testing, but rather through criminal investigations. In the August 2006 issue of the journal Blood, the American lab accredited to conduct EPO testing reported only 9 positive tests out of 2,600 urine samples.
The new study may help explain why: the test simply failed.
The study, to be published Thursday in the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, was conducted last summer and fall by a renowned lab in Denmark, the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. The investigators gave eight young men EPO and collected urine samples on multiple occasions before, during and after the men were doping. The men’s urine samples were then sent to two labs accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and EPO tests were requested.
The first lab found some samples positive and a few others suspicious. (A suspicious result does not bring sanctions for doping.) The lab also declared a sample positive, although the man had stopped taking the drug and it should have been gone from his urine. His previous urine sample, obtained when he was taking EPO, was negative in this lab’s test.
The second lab did not deem any urine sample positive for EPO and found only a few to be suspicious. The two labs did not agree on which samples were suspicious.
The anti-doping agency’s rules say that if an athlete’s urine shows traces of EPO, it must be tested again by a different accredited lab. The athlete is declared guilty of doping only if the second lab also detects EPO. By that rule, none of the subjects would have been charged with using EPO, even though their red blood cell counts rose and their performances on an endurance test improved.
“The paper certainly is an eye-opener,” said Don Catlin, the chief executive of Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit group in Los Angeles. “It’s quite remarkable.”
But Olivier Rabin, scientific director of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said his group had tested its labs, sending samples of urine from people who were taking EPO and from people who were not. In general, he said, the labs agreed. But Dr. Rabin added that when the agency sends samples to its labs, they are not sent anonymously — the lab knows the samples are from WADA.
The agency does not share data from the tests on its labs, so it was not possible to determine how the organization’s research compared with the latest study.
“I have never seen such a drastic situation as the one reported in this article,” said Dr. Rabin, who questioned whether it reflected the true state of EPO testing.
The findings in the latest study should be no surprise, said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Pennsylvania State University. For decades, he said, anti-doping authorities have claimed they have tests that work and for decades athletes have been taking drugs without getting caught.
The anti-doping authorities, he said, “remind me of little boys whistling in the graveyard.”
Still, the study’s lead author, Carsten Lundby, a physiologist at the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center, said he had mixed feelings about publishing the paper. His concern was that if he laid out the test’s weakness, he was telling athletes that they can probably take EPO without getting caught.
“It’s a nasty problem,” said Dr. Joris Delanghe, a professor of clinical chemistry at the University of Ghent in Belgium. He and Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic wrote an editorial accompanying the paper.
The finding is especially provocative, Dr. Joyner noted, because only last month, another study, by researchers in Sweden, called into question another urine test for a performance-enhancing substance, testosterone. The investigators showed that a substantial number of men and, in particular, Asian men, have a gene deletion that allows them to take testosterone and reap all the drug’s benefits but escape detection. The testosterone test, too, will be used at the Olympics and the Tour de France.
The EPO study involved eight young men, university students in Copenhagen, who agreed to be injected with EPO over a four-week period and have their blood cell counts and athletic performance monitored before, during and after they took the drug. The EPO regimen was similar to regimens used by athletes who were trying to cheat. The men had EPO injections every other day for two weeks to get the process going and then had one injection per week to maintain their increased blood cell production.
The researchers were primarily interested in learning whether the young men’s athletic performance improved — it did, and markedly so. At maximum effort, the men’s performances improved by 9 to 16 percent. But at a slightly lower level of exertion, performance improved by 50 percent, Dr. Lundby said. Athletes taking EPO can go 50 percent longer at that somewhat lower level of effort, which can make a major difference in an endurance event like the Tour de France or a marathon, Dr. Lundby said.
The investigators asked whether the sole reason for the improvement was increased numbers of red blood cells, and it was. But they also realized they had an opportunity to investigate the validity of the EPO test. So, without telling the anti-doping labs what they were doing, the investigators sent the men’s urine samples for EPO testing.
One of the two labs, which the researchers refer to as Lab B in their paper, never declared a sample positive, even when the men were taking high doses of EPO every other day. Lab A was inconsistent. It found EPO during the high dose phase. But in the maintenance phase, it found EPO in only 6 of the 16 samples.
It is not terribly surprising that the labs disagreed, researchers said. The EPO test, like urine tests for other hormones, including growth hormone, is extremely difficult. The lab must look for tiny chemical differences between the EPO a person makes naturally and EPO that is injected as a drug.
“It’s super-difficult,” Dr. Lundby said. “The difference between the EPO you have in your body and the recombinant EPO is not very great.”
The drug, which is used to treat patients with kidney disease, cancer and other illnesses, is made by animal cells, typically Chinese hamster ovary cells. Researchers said there were new forms of EPO and new ways of getting its effects without injecting recombinant EPO, making it even harder to detect doping.
“The list of these substances is growing,” Dr. Lundby said. “From a patient’s point of view, it’s great, but from an anti-doping view, it’s bad. The list of substances you must test for will grow and grow.”
And the possibility of a 50 percent improvement in performance has to be tempting, Dr. Lundby said. “So what do you do? You take it.”
“It doesn’t sound good for anyone who wants a drug-free sport,” he added.
Drove up a little north of Milwaukee for a twilight criteriium in Grafton. It was a great course. About a mile in the downtown area with a slight uphill on the backstretch and slightly downhill on the finish stretch. 6 corners with a tight last corner to a long 500 meter wide open sprint.
The race was pretty active right from the start. Lots of small groups forming and getting reabsorbed. The last corner was so tight that it made the drag to the finish line a nightmare if you were more than 20 guys back. My max speed was 39 mph, which surprised me. It was barely downhill. I guess there was a lot of attrition. Over 100 riders started and I heard the group was pretty small at the end.
Garrett Peltonen, from Bissell, was the strongest of the day by miles. He never missed a move and could bridge to anything that looked dangerous. Grand Performance put their million guys at the front with 5 laps to go. They weren’t going anywhere nearly fast enough to keep it stung out. Garrett took off with 3 laps to go and got an immediate 15 second gap. It was a super move and should of worked. Not quite. He made it to maybe 50 meters from the line before being passed.
I got into pretty good position going into the last corner. Adam Bergman was leading it out with Chad Hartley behind him. I was right on Josh Carter, who I thought was the fastest. But, plans were spoiled. Eric Marcotte came into the corner super hot on my inside and strafed me off Josh’s wheel. He was at the wrong angle going the wrong speed. We ended up all the way across the road up against the curb. Needless to say, a bunch of guys went by. I was still on Eric, but going nowhere. Then I figured out that I was in a 12, not an 11. I shifted and passed a few guys back. Barely cracked the top ten with a 9th place finish. I was correct in picking Josh Carter. He was the only guy to get past Garrett. With Chad Hartley finishing 3rd. I felt pretty mediocre, but had enough to at least stay on Josh’s wheel. Bad luck.
My dog got sick last nite and I had to take him to the emergency vet at 12. Didn’t get to sleep until 3. I’m thinking of just going for a long ride and skipping the Sheboygan Criterium tonight. It’s a long drive and I need to head back to Kansas.
Drove up to Cable Wisconsin to spend the week at Dennis Kruse’s compound. We buildt a garage/apartment up there a couple years ago and it is an awesome place to sleep. On Monday, it was only 54 degrees when we rode. Something close to 50 degrees cooler than the races a couple weeks ago in Oklahoma. I’m still riding like shit. But, that is all part of the territory I guess. It seems like this late spring, early summer slumps are becoming an annual thing. They seem to all start from difference causes, but the end result is the same. It is a course of mental tenacity. I might be flunking.
Sleeping at Dennis’s is awesome. The whole place is in tree cover. Plus, we put blankets over the windows. It is a den. Even my dog Bromont, an English Setter, can sleep until ten. He normally get up with the sun/birds. Pretty cool.
Bromont and I swam everyday in my favorite water place in the world. I can’t reveal where it is. Sorry. But, it is a wonderful spot. The water is so clear you can see your hand outstretched beneath you when you’re swimming. It’s kind of spooky. Plus, there are beavers, bald eagles, etc. making it their home. It’s as close to nature that I have ever came. The water is so refreshing. Right now, the top foot or so is kind of warmish. Then it gets colder in layers. When you’re treading water, your feet are pretty cold. My favorite thing is to swim down deep where it is super cold and dark, then float back to the top. When you get back up, the top layer feels like warm bath water, even though a few seconds earlier, it felt downright cold.
Riding up in Cable is great. There are no cars. Even compared to Kansas. We did a 2 hour ride on Tuesday and I swear we didn’t see one moving automobile. And we rode through town twice. Pretty unique.
Drove late yesterday down towards Milwaukee for a couple criteriums. One in Grafton, the other in Sheboygan Wisconsin. Night time with good prize lists. I have no idea of my form. Not an inkling. I hate that. Guess I’ll know in a few hours.
OK. I hate watching races I think/know I should be racing. I love watching racing in general, but when I’m supposed to be competing, something goes haywire in my brain and I mildly short circuit. That pretty much sums up the last two days up in Minneapolis. The two days are some of the best, hardest racing in the US. And both courses fit my talents pretty well. Steep hard climbs and then descend.
Healthnet won the race during the last two days. No one lost it. They were just too good. Rory Sutherland went up the hill in Mankato like a rocket. No one domestically could follow him at that speed. Then today,in Stillwater, they set a perfect tempo the whole day.
Kristin Armstrong was toying with the women’s field. She should of been riding in the men’s race to make it fair. Maybe that wouldn’t even be fair.
I’m still not sure I’ve learned much from being time cut. I just feel more foolish. But, I don’t regret not bringing a time trial bike to the race. For one, I don’t have a time trial bike. And two, I’m not completely convinced that time trial bikes should be allowed in these stupid short TT’s. In Tour of Georgia, the teams had to ride their road bikes. No TT bikes allowed. It was a cost consideration thing I think. Mainly applying to the foreign teams. And if that was the case, then it should be given serious consideration in certain domestic races. The cost to fly with two bikes is an extra couple hundred dollars. Instead of 4-5 riders in a minivan with their bikes, it is two cars. A few extra hundred dollars worth of gas. Just to ride in the aero position for 12 +++ minutes. It doesn’t seem cost effective to me.
This stage race is awesome. The promoters are super rider friendly. They go out of their way to put on a professional event. But, it has a few problems. This year, one such problem was the lack of ability to score the St. Paul Criterium, when it was wet. That race would of changed the overall complexion of the race. But it didn’t count. They need to get better officials or chip timing. Probably both. Easy fix.
But, the real problem, in my view, is the number of riders on each team. This is problem for all domestic stage races. The USAC has limited the teams to a maximum of 8 riders. There were 21 teams entered in the race. There are barely 21 teams in the country that can field an 8 rider PRO – 1 only team. So, 6-8 teams have full rosters, then a couple 7 and the rest 6 or less. And the best 8 teams entered have the most riders. With 8 riders, most of these stage races become complete tempo sessions. That was the case in Cannon Falls, Minneapolis Criterium and Stillwater. Mankato is hard enough at the end that even a team such as Healthnet can’t control it. So it turns into an actual bike race. I think that the USAC needs to limit the number of riders to 6. Just enough riders to use actually tactics, but when the smack comes down each day, the best riders have to race. This isn’t a three week stage race. It is a 5 day race with 2 easy criteriums, one hard criterium, plus two road races. The guy that wins should have to race (be in the wind) more than a 6 mile time trial and one 2 mile loop of the Mankato circuit, to win.
OK. Enough of that. I have a bad taste in my mouth. My own doing. But, now I get to go up to Northern Wisconsin and play with my dog in the woods for a while. So life isn’t so bad.
Below are the some of the highlights of the last two days. The Minneapolis Criterium viewpoint. Next, Hollywood and I on the hill in Stillwater. He sure has the pose down!!!!
OK. I did an hour long interview with a super nice girl from the Minneapolis paper this afternoon. She kind of keep getting to what keeps me involved/excited about this sport. Today is one of those things. But, not in the way I appreciate right now.
I missed the time cut in the time trial this morning. Pretty big surprise to me. I thought I had ridden hard enough to have at least a 30 second cushion, but it was not to be. I had underestimated how fast these guys could go. Last year here, I changed my bars to aero and rode as hard as I could and ended up in the 50’s or somewhere around there. So, I blew off the aero equipment and rode just hard enough. Guess not. My cell phone was ringing off the hook about how I was going to get back into the race. Other riders wanting to get back in. The promoters, etc. I didn’t try. I missed it by 3 seconds. I’m a numbers guy and a 20% time limit seems pretty fair. Maybe not in such a short TT. But, that was the rule before the race. There weren’t any extenuating circumstances. So that’s the way it should be.
I’ve never missed a time cut in my life in any race, bar none. Never in a road race. Never in a time trial. Now I feel a little stupid not riding harder, but there aren’t do overs here. I wasn’t very motivated since the beginning, but that is not a excuse. I entered the race to race the race through Sunday. Now I’m in a weird place mentally. Something I haven’t experienced ever before.
It was pretty weird watching the criterium that I’d won a couple years ago. I was sitting in an outdoor bar patio drinking beer. It was virtually the same old boring stage race criterium racing. 8 Bissell riders lead for the first 3/4 of the race, then 8 Healthnet ridrs set tempo the last 7 laps. Kirk Obee won again.
OK. Not sure what I do the rest of the weekend. I hate watching races that I think I should be racing. Hopefully I will learn something here. I haven’t yet.
Can’t really write much about the time trial. It was 6 miles, finishing up a gradual 1 km climb. Pretty windy. 25+ mph. I was just riding my road bike with no aero stuff. I thought more guys might be doing the same, but I’d guess 98% of the field was riding a TT bike. I rode moderately hard the whole way. Just enough to make the time cut hopefully. I was a little over 15 minutes. I heard the Rory Sutherland or Ben Jaques-Maynes rode under 13 minutes. Hopefully not 12:36 or below or I’m out. Seems wrong for a 20% time cut in a short TT like that. I didn’t sand bag the thing. There have to be a few guys that aren’t going to make it. The bike would make up at least a minute in 15 minutes. Maybe more. The rest is the complete lack of power that I’m experiencing.
The criterium tonight should be interesting with the swirling wind.