Saturday, August 05, 2006

Floyd's "B" Sample Is Back

As expected, the "B" sample confirms the 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone found in the "A" test (see here for UCI's official statement). I assume the B test also is positive for signs of exogenous testosterone, which is based on evaluation of the amount of Carbon-12 and Carbon-13 isotopes in the sample. In nature, C-13 prevails over C-12 by about 100:1. As near as I can tell, though, life has long selected for C-12, which has beneficial effects in chemical reactions. Thus, the ratio of C-12 to C-13 in carbon-based molecules produced by living systems is higher than that which would otherwise be expected. Apparently Landis's sample shows a carbon isotope ratio that is somewhat skewed from what one might normally expect (see here for an explanation that, although bordering on the inscrutible, forms the basis of my understanding).

Consistent with its unambiguous obligations under the UCI ProTour Code of Ethics, Phonak today sacked Floyd, terminating his contract a few months prior to its natural expiry. This is an incredibly sad day. Even so, Floyd for now remains the 2006 Tour de France champion. As per UCI regulations, Floyd's case will now be transferred to the USA Cycling Federation for disciplinary procedures. As part of that process, Floyd will finally be permitted to offer a formal defense. Thus, just as it was on the morning of Stage 17, it is time for Floyd to go to war. But how?

Well, here's my take: the findings and the testing methodology from which they are derived are subject to substantial challenge. For example, Floyd's reported 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone could just as easily be the result of epitestosterone depletion as testosterone elevation. After all, what doper would be dumb enough to load up on testosterone without loading up on epitestosterone at the same time to keep the ratio in line.

It seems to me that the isotopic ratio is likewise subject to legitimate question as a basis for differentiating natural from exogenous testosterone. The test can only tell us what isotope ration it finds. It is only by inference that those findings support the existence of synthetic testosterone in the sample. All that to one side, though, what about the tests Landis took after Stages 16 and 18 as GC Leader? Hearing nothing to the contrary, we must assume Floyd's results were normal. As Bob Roll asks:
Can one sample be nearly three times different in 24 hours than a previous sample? Can the body absorb, metabolize and convert any substance into a controllable sample that has been recorded to be a ratio of 11 to 1 of testosterone vs. epitestosterone -- almost three times the allowable ratio in one single day?
Finally, both WADA (World Anti-Doping Authority) and this specific French laboratory need to be vigorously investigated and, if necessary, mercilessly attacked. Don't forget for a moment that WADA (by way of the oh-so-aptly named Dick Pound) and this very lab were responsible for last year's outrageous L'Equipe allegations concerning Lance Armstrong's 1999 urine samples. As I noted at the time, both organizations were unflinchingly crticized in the report prepared by an official UCI investigation.

As for my view on what happened, I remain agnostic. The evidence simply is not yet in. Even so, one of two things must be true: either Floyd doped or he did not. And, in the "did not dope" category, two particularly noxious possibilities linger: Floyd may have been unknowingly doped, i.e., drugged by a malefactor of unknown intent or the sample may have been intentionally compromised. As Bob Roll expresses it, Landis's, like Armstrong's, "most egregious [in]discretion [may simply be] being much better at racing a bicycle than their European contemporaries."

In my practice, I have repeatedly helped establish that, contrary to popular belief, scientific testing can -- and often does -- lie. If you did not dope, Floyd, take the battle to WADA and take no prisoners. On the other hand, if you did, please spare us the disappointment of false hope.