Monday, July 30, 2007
The Tour de France and the human body
After three weeks, 2,206 miles and boundless doping controversies, the 2007 Tour de France ended yesterday. More than 140 men raced to the finish line, as 24-year-old Spaniard Alberto Contador won cycling's biggest event.

I wonder if it was bittersweet for him and for everyone else who finished in Paris? This year's Tour was mired in controversy with teams and top riders dropping out and plagued by positive drug tests and swirling controversy about missing pre-race testing. Even last year's winner, American Floyd Landis, is in racing limbo because he tested positive on his way to the 2006 title.
You can't mention the Tour de France without a nod to seven-time winner Lance Armstrong. He, too, was plagued by doping allegations and rumor, but never tested positive. How did Lance not only battle cancer but also win what is arguably the toughest sporting event of all time?

"In the untrained state he would be about as fit as an average person that trained as hard as he could ever in his lifetime," says Dr. Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas Austin. Coyle measured and studied Armstrong's physiology for more than seven years -- before and after his famous bout with cancer.

Armstrong's heart can pump nine gallons of blood per minute working at its hardest compared with only five gallons per minute for the average person. The champion's lungs can get almost double the amount of oxygen out of every breath that a healthy 20-year-old would. This cyclist has more red blood cells to deliver oxygen to his body, which is key, when racing through the high altitudes of the Pyrenees Mountains. Finally, Armstrong's body can recover at an incredible pace. "An average person when going to exhaustion would have to stay stopped or wouldn't be able to move for 10-15 minutes and Armstrong is able to go right back to maximum in 1 to 2 minutes," says Coyle. All of this begs the question - is Lance superhuman? Obviously not, but the way his body works is extraordinary.

To be sure, the Tour de France is an amazing athletic feat even for Armstrong. "Each day, they put out more energy than it takes to run a marathon. So the 20-stage tour is like 20 marathons in a row," says Dr. Conrad Earnest of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Do you follow the Tour de France? Why do you think cycling is so marred by doping - truth or rumor?
I dont believe that cycling has more athletes "doping" or using performance enhancing drugs then any other sport. They have just taken a harder stance on their athletes by making testing almost a daily routine. Im sure if the NFL or MLB take the same stance as Cycling, you would have the same percentage of Athletes, if not more, test positive.
Substance enhanced performance or not,just staying in the Tour de France to completion is an amazing thing. I see cyclists as as one of the highest forms of athelete. I am American born, but no one in football, baseball, or basketball will ever get more respect from me than I have for the very last cyclist in the peloton riding down the Champs Elysee on the final stage of the Tour. Eviva ciclismo!
Public information does not allow one to conclude that either Landis or Vinokourov doped.

In the case of Landis I have never seen any discussion of how the normal range is established for the ratio which is at issue. In particular--given that he is a world class athlete, physiologically extremely unusual in many respects--what population is used to establish a normal range? Is that control population relevant to a test performed on Landis? Given that ratios are often much more variable than direct measurements, is it well established how often a control without doping will be tested outside the "normal range"?

With regard to Vinokourov, the published information that the B sample is "non-negative" is a very strange statement. Testing for homologous red blood cells results in a positive or a negative. A "non-negative" sounds like a weasel word indicating that something unusual was found but not a direct demonstration of homologous blood.

It seems to me that the rights of these athletes require that the test used to convict be a clear and direct demonstration of wrong-doing. So far, that is not the case.
Cycling has given a wink to it's little secret for decades. But the general public, that has no interest in bicycle racing, is so aware of doping in sports like cycling and track & field. That awareness comes from both of those sports agressive positions in rooting out illegal substance abuses.
I agree with the previous comment that the NFL and MLB would have as high a percentage of dopers as cycling if those sports were as agressive with testing.
But as long as American sports writers have cycling they are able to wag their fingers in disgust while ignoring the elephant in the room that is MLB. Writers, such as Vesey of NYT, get on their soap boxes regarding cycling; even when they do comment on MLB the argument is ultimately turned back to cycling, a sport Vesey has mocked as late as last year's tour. If you aren't interested in the sport why write about it in the first place?
I love the sport of cycling and am proud of the movement to 'turn the lights on' regarding doping. Teams, competitors and the regulatory agencies will work together to bring excellence back to this beautiful sport. I think we are in for atleast one, if not two, more year[s] of a tainted season but have high hopes for 2009.
I have been reading the book from Lance to Landis by David Walsh. There the author refernced an article by L'equipe in france back in 2004 where the results of saved urine from the 1999 tour belonging to Lance armstrong tested positive fro r-EPO. A claim that he never acknowledge or denied. He in fact never persued litigation towards the newspaper or any of the antidoping bodies.

With r-EPO you can increase your delivery of axigen by increasing the number of RBC. In addition to this almost every case persued by Armstrong has been settled out of court!? In my Opinion the question is outthere. Remember the 1999 tour was the fastest tour ever. HARD TO BELIEVE WITHOUT ENHANCING DRUGS!!!
Training alone doesent improve your oxygen delivering capacity from the low 80's tje 90's.

May be what is neede tougher journalists asking tougher questions!!!
Unfortunately, the current system works under a guilty until proven innocent ideal. I would bet most average viewers assume that being accused of a positive test for performance enhancing drugs would still give rights similar to a trial in the U.S. It would surprise most to learn that evidence can be withheld, a lawyer is NOT provided for free (a big reason most just take the punishment and don't fight it), there are limits as to who can testify as expert witnesses, and the proceedings tend to go by fairly fast.

For cycling, they have the ability to bust down your door at any time and ask you to pee in a cup (a little too Orwellian if you ask me). The media also has a huge role in this process in that the moment someone is accused OR just under suspicion of doping it's all over the papers despite the fact the only evidence they have been given is some federal agencies' word. Doesn't anyone else see anything wrong here?

I would say if a sport decides to let an agency that gets some federal funding do their drug testing and prosecution, that it would be held to the same standard as our federal courts. At this point it only seems to help strengthen the idea that everyone is doping and we need more money to find them all, rather than prove if someone is doping.
Cycling is a beautiful sport. I am an avid cycling fan as well as a cyclist myself. The three grand tours, Italy, France and Spain, are by far the most grueling events in all of sports. 3 weeks of cycling over 100 miles per day over flat and mountain stages. Over 2000 miles total. The reason why these guys can sustain this level of fitness comes down to training. They spend up to 6+ hours a day training. So although your comparison to Lance is shocking it is not unreasonable to expect given his level of training. On the other hand, does doping exist? Yes. More than other sports? Yes. But like one blogger says, the UCI is taking this very seriously and is not afraid to go after the big named cheats like Landis, vinokurov, and Mayo. Can cycling survive? Absolutely. The tour is approaching 100 years of age. Europe is crazy about cycling. We saw that by the hundreds of thousands of people that lined the streets to watch and cheer on the riders.
Anonymous, the UCI launched an investigation into the incident you're referencing. Lance Armstrong very publicly denied that he used EPO in the 1999 Tour, and the UCI cleared him.
The report issued after the investigation was finished stated: the UCI "exonerates Lance Armstrong completely with respect to alleged use of doping in the 1999 Tour de France."

The report said WADA and the LNDD may have "behaved in ways that are completely inconsistent with the rules and regulations of international anti-doping control testing," and may also have been against the law.

I believe Dick Pound, the head of WADA, was censured by the IOC.

If David Walsh gave the impression that Armstrong never acknowledged the stories (they actually came out in August, 2005, but were about tests conducted in late 2004) then Walsh is deliberately misleading his readers.
I have been an athelete all my life and have never put a foreign performance enhancing substance in my body. I deplore doping and agree with the tough stance that has been taken and should be taken across all sports.

Having said that, I will watch the Tour next year, and the year after that. Why - it is the single most amazing sports spectacle (perhaps rivaled by the Olympics). I am not quite sure why the media has jumped on the doping band wagon in such a hurry. I think it is a great thing that it is being addressed. But do you think you would have seen more people lining the streets if they had not covered it and blow it out of proportion. I would say probably not. I challenge anyone to find me another person that would look at what these athletes do for 20 days and say that it is trivial. I think people have a great deal of respect for the athletes, the Tour and its history.

I will be there next year in person to support it!!
After being a cyclist for over ten years and placing in several national championships. You can tell if someone is going to be great or not. Lance Armstrong was never a big contender of the Tour. I have ridden many tours (not the Tour De France)in america and europe. I have never taken any drug to help me ride better. I didn't even drink coffee. I don't care what anyone says about heart and lungs and all that jazz. If he was placing in like the top 10 or even 15 in the tour before he was diagonsed with cancer then I would believe him. However to be a person placing in the mid 30's then get cancer then to go on to win the Tour De France the hardest race in the world is a impossible. I don't care if he has super lungs. To make it worse Lance had a whole team supporting him when he was placing in the 30's. A lot of people making these arguments have never ridden a bike in a race before so they don't know how truly hard the hardest sport in the world is. What Dr. Gupta and other doctors fail to realize is that since racing is such an aerobic sport and the type of training that you do to get to the tour level makes your body process oxygen better and make your lungs and heart stronger.
Training alone doesn't improve your oxygen delivering capacity from the low 80's the 90's."

There are more variables to avg speed over the Tour then just performance enhancing drugs.

For one, the level of professionalism in regards to year-round training and nutrition are a different level than they were before. For another, I think that technology in bike manufacturing (carbon fiber, aerosuits, etc) has advanced heavily since then, and would account for a significant part of the differences.

Routes differ every year for the Tour, so of course some years are going to be faster than others.

I don't think drugs are the reason.
Interesting article BUT it has one obvious flaw: How do the doctors at the “Human Performance Laboratory” know that Lance wasn’t on performance enhancing drugs during the testing?
I'm a big Tour de France fan and I love watching it every year. I'm glad they are catching the cheaters and unfortunately the world hears about it and point their fingers. There are equal numbers if not even more in the basketball, football, and baseball world who use drugs. You'll just never hear about it because they all have players unions behind them and the cyclists don't. Also, wherever there is heavy betting on the sport you'll find major coverups of drug usage. But I guarantee you that if other sports were required to be tested prior to their season, during training, before, during and after a game then we'd see a huge mess in those sports. All I can say is that the Tour is weeding out the dopers and it will all make the news until the sport is clean. And that is NOT happening with any other sport because they don't want it known.

As for Lance Armstrong, read any medical write ups and you'll soon learn that his body works much differently and more efficiently that 99 percent of the average population. Specifically his heart and lungs. So he can do things others only dream of doing. He'd go broke legally responding to every stupid allegation. Suffice to say he has been one of the most tested cyclists in the world, even continuing after he retired and he has never tested positive.

Vive Le Tour and the clean cyclists who ride in it!
Interesting article BUT it has one obvious flaw: How do the doctors at the “Human Performance Laboratory” know that Lance wasn’t on performance enhancing drugs during the testing?
I'm not saying Lance did it, or didn't do it. But how do explain how badly he beat up on Jan Ullrich (who himself was racing dirty) without being dirty himself? It just seems so impossible to me. As a bike racer and Lance fan, I don't want to believe it. I think he was just lucky and pulled out at the right time.
I thought that when "he" did the NY Marathon, he looked exausted...I know he was really pushing for the sub 3 hr, but, if each day in France was like a marathon, I tought he would fair a bit better. In fact I think I remember him saying "I don't know how they (marathon runners) do it". Must be the pounding on the pavement compared to the bike...
Armstrong is basically a human Phar Lap. After seeing the film and the comment made by one of the actors delare Phar Lap was a freak. Not in the bad sense but Lance has the combined physiology and determination that creates real and natural Champions. Combine that with the superior coaching, modern technology and lack thereof with the competition, well you just have a winner. I have watched the tour for twenty years and Lance added something that was personally great for him but sadly bad for the elite media, confidence and conceit in himself as a true winner, and to hell with what you think. Watching last years event I turned to a buddy and just plain said; This guy doped (Landis). The sport is cleaning itself up and the top men need to know that the times of being ahead of the labs is over. They are just too well equiped and determined to weed out the bad it just won't work anymore. Lance gave me 7 great tours and I am waiting for the next generation and the next Phar Lap
I am a huge cycling fan and have been glued to Versus throughout the Tour. I think the reason that they are catching so many dopers in cycling is because they are looking so hard for them. Most other sports do not have the constant out of competition testing that is routine in cycling. Most pro athletes wouldn't put up with it, and they make a whole lot more money for a whole lot less work and physical sacrifice than cyclists do. I would like to see Barry Bonds submit a schedule of where he will be 24/7, even in the off-season, so that the doping control agencies can go wherever he is and watch him pee in a cup and take his blood.

Cycling relies on a combination of strength and endurance that is unmatched by most other sports, and the competition to excel is intense. I don't know if that makes cycling more prone to doping than other sports, but it is fair to say that it has, until recently, been commonplace. The culture has shifted, and most of the cyclists themselves are against doping and are willing to put up with the doping controls to ensure a clean sport.

I have to say, I was not that disappointed when Michael Rasmussen was fired by Rabobank in the middle of the tour. Though he was not caught doping, he clearly behaved in an evasive and dishonest manner, and after last year, I was not looking forward to a second year with a Tour winner shrouded in question marks.

I am sure the speculation about who has doped and not gotten caught will never end. There are those who will never believe that Lance Armstrong didn't dope. I don't believe he did, but we will never know for sure. It's time to give it a rest, both for him and for anyone else who is no longer competing.

As to the comment about the "non-negative" test; this is the official terminology of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It does not imply in any way that the test wasn't necessarily positive. In plain English, it means the same thing as a "positive" test.

Athletes of all kinds have been cheating for years to gain an advantage, doping or otherwise. Brett Hull just admitted he played for years with an illegal stick. It probably won't keep him out of the Hall of Fame. At some point, you have to let the records stand where they are and move on.
I would agree with the earlier comment that there is insufficient information as to how the "normal" range was established, especially for the testing that implicated Landis. A quick search of PubMed/National Library of Medicine would confirm that.

In terms of how Lance could be so dominant in a sport with admitted dopers, one can explain his success without resorting to suggestions of cheating. The USPS/Discovery teams that won the Tour rode a different race- they rode as a team. There was a stability from year to year in its membership, and an acceptance of individual roles within that team. The result was that Lance, an incredible piece of physiology in his own right, was also part of a well-oiled machine (important when it can save you 30% or more of your workload). That had not been seen before or since.
If your salary and endorsements depended on you physical performance, wouldn't you think about taking a magic pill? Unfortunately a lot of professional athletes are not resisting the urge... How many cyclists have been caught in the last few years? Interestingly enough, most of them were leaders of their teams... Coincidence? I think not. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg... And this one is not shrinking with global warming.
i have most respect for the last few to cross the finish line in the tour de france. they are the ones probably not doping. and for all those calling it a sport, understand that riding a bike is not a sport, more like a sporting event.
I think in all sports arenas, cycling, football, basketball, boxing, horse racing etc., the people who want to dope should be in a special class of their own. Let the honest athletes perform their sport, and let those that want to dope perform theirs. You will always find a rotten apple in the barrel eventually. Unfortunately over time it affects the others negatively. Sadly, it taints every sport ultimately. Secretariat was physiologically in a class by himself, just like Armstrong. You will find this phenomenon in every living species somewhere - sometime. Don't forget - the "story" means $$$$ for somebody too, whether or not it is true.
It's naive to assume that Lance has some sort of super human body that allows him to out perform everyone without performance enhancing drugs.

A cyclist doesn't simply inject some drugs without telling anyone - in fact there are many people who have first hand knowledge that people are cheating the system - from the laboratory staff who synthesize the chemicals, to the doctor who administers it, to the team manager who pays for it. Once those individuals are offered immunity from prosecution it's likely further evidence will emerge about the true nature of Lance's victory.
I am a big fan of cycling and the Tour de France. I think the things that happened in the Tour this year are an indication that cycling is moving in the right direction to clean up the sport. The three men that stood on the podium in Paris are all considered clean riders and were the deserved winners.

I also want to echo the previous comments about Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Team. Armstrong is an amazing physical machine. Coupled with the amazing teamwork of the Postal/Discovery teams he was unstoppable for seven years. The Discovery Team proved what a great team they are again this year by putting two team members on the podium in Paris and winning the team competition.
Is Armstrong's physical condition the result of years of training. Is his condition any different from the other riders in the tour?
Lance Armstrong is one of the luckiest athletes of all time. He got in and out of the sport with nothing more than "rumors" Yet it is almost impossible for his achievments to have been legit - we will never know the truth. The sport has been ruined and it will be a long time before it recovers.
Tough but that is what money does.
I think cycling is so marred by doping because, uniquely among sports, the racer's body is the actual "engine" of the bicycle. Therefore, the fueling of this engine becomes the crucial element in race performance.

Because of medicine's constant search to find better drugs to fight disease, substances like EPO, and of course techniques like blood doping and transfusion, are very tempting.
Despite all the doping allegations, I think Lance Armstrong's anatomy is still a thing to be marveled. From what I understand about steroids, nothing he could have done artificially would be able to produce the same results that his body seemingly produces naturally. If anything, it would be my suspicion that years of doping would have been very detrimental to such vital organs as the lungs and the heart.
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