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Biotech Science

Lance Armstrong and the Science of Drug Testing 482

Hugh Pickens writes "As the media reports that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong says he will no longer fight doping charges from the US Anti-Doping Agency, which will strip him of his titles and ban him from competitive cycling for life, Tracee Hamilton writes that the Lance Armstrong vs. USADA fight is a tough one in which to take a side, because to believe USADA means suspending belief in the science of drug testing. 'If you take personalities out of the equation, you're left with pee in a cup and blood in a syringe,' writes Hamilton. 'Armstrong never failed a drug test. He was tested in competition, out of competition. He was tested at the Olympics, at the Tour de France, at dozens if not hundreds of other events. And he never failed a test.' Instead Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the USADA, gathered a group of people who swear they saw Armstrong doping. 'If the results can be discarded in favor of testimony, then let's go right to the testimony phase and quit horsing around with blood and urine.' There has been no trial, no due process, but in the minds of many, that testimony outweighs the results of hundreds of drug tests. 'I don't know if Armstrong did the things he's accused of doing, and neither do you,' concludes Hamilton adding that it can't work both ways. 'Either a drug test is the standard, or it isn't.'"
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Lance Armstrong and the Science of Drug Testing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 24, 2012 @04:40PM (#41114533)

    Except for the alleged positives from 99 tour de france, 01 tour de suiss, and the BBC reporting that the USADA is claiming Lance's blood looked to have EPO/blood transfusions in 2009 & 2010?

  • by Godai ( 104143 ) * on Friday August 24, 2012 @04:55PM (#41114777)

    He never said "liars", you did. He's just saying that the article is mis-framing the problem. I don't know anybody personally who believes the drug tests for these sporting events can't be beaten. That's not the same thing as saying that "If enough people say something is true, it trumps science", its a recognition that there are other ways to come at a solution,and the fallibility of the science we have. If we had video of Armstrong shooting up some kind of drug, or some kind of personal statement to that effect on tape or on paper, I think we'd all agree that trumped the test, wouldn't we?

    In this, I don't know enough about the people who've testified. Maybe they're not trustworthy, in which case I'd probably agree with you on this one. But you're still completely misstating the OP's point.

  • by timothy ( 36799 ) Works for Slashdot on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:10PM (#41115069) Journal

    Says Wikipedia: USADA is "is taxpayer-funded non-profit organization."

    So, just like Congress spending time on baseball persecutions, this is tax money being spent on enforcing the rules in non-essential, voluntary, recreational activities -- even it's not an official government bureaucracy, funding means control, so this is essentially a gov't body.

    Personally, I have no problem with any given organization (for Scrabble, for competitive waiting [], for concrete canoes -- [], for particular religious beliefs [] ...) setting whatever rules they want, so long as the people involved choose to accept it, or choose to challenge it, etc, so long as there's no coercion. If you don't like the big chili competition in Terlingua (as some didn't), you can break off and start *another* big chili competition in Terlingua (and some people did:,_Texas []). If the govt's going to get involved, it should be a matter of public safety, preventing fraud, etc. .

    By contrast, I'm offended that so much as a single penny of taxpayer money went toward this.

  • Re:drugs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:14PM (#41115153)

    Believe whatever you want. Amphetamines are magic and I hope they don't work for you or anybody else I come in contact with. Believe for every brilliant person that is drug free, there's someone equally as brilliant that is hopped up on Adderal and he will stomp you in the ground intellectually. I didn't believe it either until I gave it a shot one day and suddenly figured out why some of the people around me seem to have the magical ability of putting their brains on overdrive auto-pilot from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they leave. Incidentally, those were also the people that had the best insights, the easiest time dealing with clients, and just plain did the best work. Now I'm one of those people and I like it.

  • by DutchUncle ( 826473 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:16PM (#41115173)
    Yes, he said liars, and I agree. Birthers wanted a long-form certificate, got one, and decided it must be fake. How many people must have colluded to cheat vs. how many people are claiming that they *think* something is wrong? Isaac Asimov has a character in "The Evitable Conflict" say, in response to accusations that a person is secretly a robot, "Instead of saying "I've never caught him eating or sleeping", you claim "He never eats! He never sleeps!"" (paraphrased).

    Personally I've always figured that something about going through chemotherapy had given Armstrong an advantage - mental certainly, in that anything he went through afterwards couldn't be worse, but physically as well in that he had been stripped down to skin and bone and built himself back up very deliberately. And maybe something about the allowable medical treatment that he continued to need that was supposedly calculated to be fair was miscalculated. I'm suggesting that maybe he was skating just right up to the margins of legality, without quite stepping over it.
  • USADA is a PITA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:17PM (#41115189)

    USADA is a pain in the ass! For the past 6 years I have been competing in sailing trying to qualify for the Paralympics. For the past 6 years, I had to tell USADA where I was going to be every day. They would randomly show up an any time of any day and if you were not where they could find you within an hour, you got a missed test. They won't try to locate you via phone. A couple missed tests equals a doping violation.

    When they show up, it doesn't what you are doing, you have to stop everything and they supervise you giving your urine sample into a pair of specially designed tamper proof and labeled jars. They have also started taking blood, but I have not had that experience yet.

    When an athlete you have to be paranoid about everything you eat. Many juices and energy drinks contain stimulants that are prohibited. That means no red bull, monster, some of the vitamin waters, some mixed juices, etc. If you have a cold you can't take pseudoephed. Vitamins and dietary supplements are extremely risky because something as trivial as vitamin c could be contaminated with a prohibited substance if it was made in the same factory.

    Anyone that has put up with USADA/WADA for years, not missed tests, and passed all tests is clean and that should be the final word. Fuck these witnesses, USADA, WADA, and leave the man alone.

  • by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:18PM (#41115207)

    So, for over a decade, the most tested athlete in the history of the world (at the very least, he's got to be in the top 10) in one of the dirtiest sports has managed to fool EVERYONE?

    Do you know how hard it would be to keep a conspiracy like that going? And for what purpose?
    Does Occam's Razor really mean nothing these days?

  • by guidryp ( 702488 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:32PM (#41115471)

    The Lance rats that we know of were all caught by failing drug tests.

    They then claimed they saw Lance cheat (which benefits them by selling their stories, getting lighter sentences) or even that he told them how to do it and encouraged them.

    Now the confusing part is if they were so intimate with details of Lances cheating, how come he was so much better at it, that despite being tested more than any of them, he was never caught by a drug test like they were.

    Either way this is sad story. Either Lance cheated, or a bunch of known cheaters were pulled together by a power tripping bureaucrat on a witch hunt.
    Sucks either way.

    What next, are they having a similar witch hunt for Indurain and his 5 wins. Similar allegations swirled around him.

  • Infinite Regress (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sixoseven ( 73926 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:38PM (#41115567) Homepage

    The statute of limitations on sport should be the season. If you cannot determine by the end of the season who is the legitimate champion of the season, then don't give an award. If you cannot determine, by the end of a game, if all the rules of the game were followed, then declare the competition null and void. You cannot have a referee that has infinite time to make a judgment, this is the very opposite of what qualifies a competent judge.

    I am convinced that Armstrong is being unfairly persecuted, and furthermore that every sport that has doping rules should ensure that they are immediately enforceable. If Armstrong or anyone else outsmarted the USADA, then too bad. My bias is that this agency is doing to its sport what boxing governing bodies did to theirs which is to draw into profound relief its inability to hold the respect and admiration of its chartered participants. Any certification that is not consistently and immediately verifiable loses its credibility.

    My guess is that there is some squirrelly language in the contract that allows what is essentially no statute of limitations on allegations and does other stuff that wouldn't stand in a court of law.

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:45PM (#41115671) Homepage
    Not quite. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) is standing behind USADA's decision, and they do have much more authority. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is one such body that will be influenced, and any body under the IOC will likely have to play along - and thus i believe the UCI (International Cycling Union).

    Also, USADA's case *is* being continued - next up is Lance's long-time team manager Johan Bruyneel, who will likely make a similar decision (although will be surprising to see him leave the cycling world.) Then, i believe the USADA will provide the IOC and UCI with their findings, and THEN we'll see Lance's titles stripped from him. Given that these bodies all have to play nice, i would be very surprised if the UCI challenged the findings. Yes, it will implicate themselves, but they're pretty much damned either way as i see it..if their real goal is to eliminate doping from cycling, then they'll have to shape up. I think the evidence is pretty strong that there has been corruption, and they won't be able to hide it much longer...

    That's my two cents. =)
  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @05:58PM (#41115869)

    There's no proof you were drinking a week ago, so you would not lose your license.

    That's the point he's trying to make. If there's no proof, you shouldn't be punished based solely on testimony that is contradicted by the evidence available, yet, in this case, someone is being punished based on testimony, despite the evidence currently indicating something contrary to that testimony.

  • by firewrought ( 36952 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @06:09PM (#41116027)

    Whether that shows that he's just weary of being persecuted or he realised he can't win, or whether it's a tacit admission of guilt, will probably be debated for years to come.

    Or maybe going what he went through to fight cancer has made him realize that life is too short to worry about the USADA's shit.

    Or maybe we should view Lance as an "heroic cheat" who overcame cancer, built his body/team into a better cheating machine than all the other cheaters in the Tour, beat them "fairly" in this larger pharma/athletics game, and donated tons of money and time to cancer research to benefit all humankind.

    Maybe USADA/WADA are an obsolete organization that--while started with noble intentions--are now just trying to whitewash a field that has moved onto a place that the world isn't quite ready to accept yet.

  • My thoughts on this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @06:20PM (#41116165) Homepage

    Some people claim that all the top cyclists were doping, and if Lance won the Tour de France at all, he must have been doping as well.

    That's possible, but if anyone could have won the tour without cheating, it was Lance Armstrong. He had all the legal advantages he could have: his team always had a bunch of the world's top cyclists, riding for him; his team always had enough money that they could just ride whatever training rides they thought would best help Lance win (many teams have to win races during the season to get the prize money; Lance's team had plenty of money and didn't need to do that). Manufacturers gave him their best new technology to use. Heck, he would go ride the toughest mountain climbs multiple times, trying different angles through the turns and seeing what numbers he got on his power meter. In short, he had every legal edge.

    On the other hand, the Tour de France is possibly the toughest athletic competition in the world, without hyperbole. How many competitions take 21 days to complete, with the athletes working hard for hours and only two rest days? And all that in the July heat in France? My bike mechanic says that he believes all the top riders are cheating, just because with that level of effort, the cheating would give an edge that non-cheaters couldn't touch.

    Also, I'm deeply suspicious of the anti-cheating lab work. When Floyd Landis was accused of doping with synthetic testosterone, all sorts of details came out: the lab knew which sample was his, the lab engaged in shoddy lab work [] and flawed chain-of-custody procedures [], and (worst of all, in my opinion) the same lab tested both the "A" and "B" samples. (Never mind whether a French lab is "out to get" an American athlete... it would be highly embarrassing if the "B" result was negative after all the hoopla over the "A" result. I would have much rather seen that B sample sent to a different lab in Switzerland or something.)

    I'm also troubled by the question of fairness. There is an old saying, "military justice bears the same relationship to justice that military music bears to music." The anti-doping system is stacked against the athlete; once an athlete is accused, bad things happen to the athlete, and there is no hope. Even in the case of Floyd Landis, where a bunch of people worked to help him and submitted all sorts of testimony that (IMHO) invalidated all the evidence against him, he was still found guilty and stripped of his Tour win. (Later he confessed, so maybe he was guilty after all... but I still am not convinced that the evidence used against him should have been used.)

    The USADA proceedings are not legal proceedings in a courtroom environment, and the protections that the accused receive in a courtroom are not there. The head of USADA gets to act as prosecutor, judge, and gets to hand-pick the jury: []

    Now for one moment assume that Lance Armstrong is completely innocent. What possible recourse does he have within the USADA system? How can you prove a negative? He was the most-tested man in all of sports and he never failed a test... USADA doesn't care. The witnesses against him have something to gain from denouncing him... USADA doesn't care. How can he prove that he wasn't doping 17 years ago? He doesn't have a witness who was with him 24/7 and can say he never doped. He doesn't have lab results of his own, and if he did he wouldn't be allowed to present them. So if he participates, all he can do is stand there and say "it's not true".

    Some people think that Lance Armstrong is implicitly admitting guilt by not contesting this ruling. But his public statement explicitly says he n

  • by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @07:04PM (#41116683)

    I hope Gregg Lamond does the right thing and turns his in too in support, same with Mercx and Indurain.

    Cycling has never been lower since Tom Simpson died on the side of the road from an overdose.

    The evidence consists of not one hard fact or test.

    This whole thing goes back to a kerfuffle of three International sports groups and a urine test for EPO in 1999 that came positive, then could not be duplicated in later tests.

    The 1999 test was thrown out at the time because of an independent panel set up by the UCI (Cycling Federation) at the demands of the WADA (World Anti-Doping) and the IOC (Olympics) finding a lack of scientific rigor on the part of the French Lab.

    The WADA, the International parent of the US-ADA, threw that panels findings out because it did not like the results.

    The IOC censured the WADA, and WADA is still butt-hurt. They could not touch him, so they sent the USADA after him.

    It is all eye witnesses. Eye witnesses that are getting a break on their own charges, or people who wrote books and made money on the deal.

    He was tested randomly year round. He was tested after every stage win, or top 10 placement. He was tested every day he wore the Yellow in the TDF. He wears freaking makeup on his arms to cover the tracks he has from being stuck so many times.

    Not one positive.

    Not one.

    Armstrong’s secret is that he trained harder and more effectively than anyone else. He and his trainer Chris Carmichael re-wrote the book on training and nutrition.
    This in a time that his primary rival, Jan Ulrich still drank heavy cream to put on fat in the off season and then trained to get rid of it, thinking it turned into muscle!

    They refined the “dancing on the pedals” style of 6 time champion Indurian and perfected it, allowing him to beat the more powerful Ulirch and the superlight weight Marco Pantini in the hills.

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @07:54PM (#41117389)

    In competition riders could be pulled for testing before or after a stage. Pretty hard to give yourself EPO while riding and all the cameras on you, it has to be injected, not taken as food, drink or from a patch. If tested before a stage a tested rider cannot return to his hotel or disappear into a team bus, but must go to the starting area. Out in the open it's pretty darn har to hide needles, bags of transfusion blood, etc.

    It's a pretty weak whack the USADA is taking at Armstrong and I'm quite surprised he's not going into their den and ripping up the accusations in the faces of his accusers. But USADA having his wins, income, medal, etc, all yanked for all competitions from 1998 on based upon the word of people, but no hard evidence is something I expected Lance could have overturned in court ... probably in a couple more years. Which makes much of this "tired of fighting, not going to fight anymore" understandable.

    As pointed out in various sources, every time he gets one accuser discredited another one pops up in a never ending game of whack-a-mole. He's chosing to ignore USADA, which is probably the only defence he saw at some point. His attorneys served a letter to USADA stating he doesn't accept their findings. Wait to see what the UCI has to say.

    I'm not sure what you're talking about. EPO isn't some temporary stimulant, it's a drug that increases the production of red blood cells, he could take it weeks, or even months before the competition and still get the benefit, I don't think you intended for him to have a personal cameraman 24/7.

    As for no hard evidence, drug tests are only one piece of evidence, and it's well known that they can be fooled. Fortunately the USADA has a ton of circumstantial evidence including a lot of eye witnesses who were associated with Armstrong's team, I think it would be an easy case to make in criminal court.

    As for stripping all of Armstrong's results. Do you know the name of the guys who would have won those tours if Armstrong and those other guys didn't cheat? The guys who were incredibly talented and hard working, but were too ethical to cheat? No? Well neither do I. We'll probably never know who those guys were and even with this action by the USADA Armstrong will still be rich and famous, while these other guys who probably deserved it more, will remain unknown, probably not even knowing that they should have been the real winner.

  • by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Friday August 24, 2012 @07:55PM (#41117403)

    The problem, as I understand it, is that the witnesses had compelling reasons to make their testimonies whether they were true or not. They themselves had been caught through the drug tests and were offered leniency for testifying against Armstrong.

    Faced with threats of perjury, former teammates caved. Tyler Hamilton (who had passed many doping tests before failing one at the end of his career), Floyd Landis and others reportedly testified. They admitted they’d been doping all along. The U.S. attorney ultimately declined to press charges, but USADA took the evidence and issued its own charges. Because the standard in these cases is merely “comfortable satisfaction,” not “beyond reasonable doubt,” there was no reasonable doubt that Armstrong was doomed. []

    To me, it doesn't matter if they're telling the truth or not. The fact that the investigative process can compel them to lie makes their testimony worthless. A human witness is hardly a reliable thing. Neither are drug tests, but at least they're objective (whether there's a false positive/negative or not). The method of this investigation is all too similar to McCarthy's witch hunt. I'm not saying Armstrong is innocent, but I think he's owed the assumption until there's concrete evidence. I wouldn't call his accusers liars, but I do recognize their obvious conflict of interests.

    As a sports fan, it saddens me to say this, but advancements in medical science may ruin sports. It's getting harder and harder to figure out where to draw the line between what type of physical enhancements are legitimate and which one's aren't. Which ones should be and shouldn't be. This is probably why I like collegiate sports so much better than professional ones. With college teams, one gets the sense that they're watching actual people.

  • by Sean Hederman ( 870482 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:59AM (#41119967) Homepage
    Wow. Did you read the same article I did? It was a devastating destruction of the mythologies built up around Armstrong to explain his performance, coupled with details of the scientific evidence showing how later tests found EPO in Armstrongs B samples. Didn't see any hand waving, unless you're misinterpreting his explanation of how the blood tests work.
  • by qeveren ( 318805 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @02:59AM (#41120435)

    Honestly, I've always wanted to see someone start up an alternative Anything-Goes Olympics to draw those in mainstream sports who like augmenting themselves so into a venue where that would be accepted, even encouraged. The Baseline League can then go about finding the limits of pure human performance, and the Advanced League spurs immediate massive gains in the science of human augmentation. It's win-win!

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!