Floyd Landis

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    WADA, the UCI and the Chвtenay-Malabry lab
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The Floyd Landis doping scandal is a mess, and a stain on cycling. But what if it's a scandal not caused by Landis? What if Landis is telling the truth? What if Landis has been set-up? Clutching at straws? Maybe. But this situation is not as cut and dried as the mass media likes to portray it.

Floyd Landis may or may not be guilty of administering testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France. But until he's been allowed to present his defence to sanctioning authorities there's still plenty of room for doubt. For a start, his A and B samples did not contain excessive amounts of testosterone. His testosterone levels were 'normal', it's his epitestosterone levels that were skewed.(1)

Innocent until proven guilty. Any lawyer would state that, yes? Not this one: Dick Pound. Pound is the head of the World Anti-doping Authority. Like the mass media, Pound is quick on the attack. In a column in the Ottawa Citizen (2), Pound sarcastically wondered whether Landis had been "ambushed by a roving squad of Nazi frogmen" and injected against his will.

This seems fanciful and Pound gives it a jokey treatment. But is it so fanciful? Could there be a problem with the single lab that did both the A and B tests of Landis' urine? The French lab at the centre of this doping scandal is the same lab that leaked Lance Armstrong's test results to the media last year. As cycling commentator Phil Liggett says in a fascinating and eye-opening audio interview on YouTube, Chвtenay-Malabry is NOT a "scrupulous lab." (3)

This is not mud-slinging. In September last year, Denis Oswald, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), and Sergei Bubka, the IOC's athlete's commission chief, wrote to the World Anti Doping Authority asking for an investigation into the handling of aged urine samples by the Chвtenay-Malabry lab. (4)

Oswald and Bubka's joint letter accused the lab of violating "confidentiality regulations". As a WADA-accredited lab why hasn't it been sanctioned for the media leaks? If the individual, or individuals, guilty of the leaking still work at the lab what does this say about the lab's scientific credibility? How can athletes have faith in a system where their test results could be handled by a lab that will leak the results to the media?

The president of the UCI is no fan of Landis or Pound but he doesn't have much faith in the lab. Of the Landis leak, Pat McQuaid said: "...we know that the French laboratory...has a close connection with [French sports daily] L'Йquipe, and we did not want this news to come through the press, because we are sure they would have leaked it."

A breach of information security ought to be jumped upon by the accreditation authority. Landis' lawyers will surely point out that if one protocol is broken, the integrity of others is open to question.

Before Floyd Landis continues to be condemned for an offence he may not have committed, we the undersigned believe there needs to be:

(a) Transparent and independent scrutiny of the staff and working practices at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory.
Could it be the Landis scandal isn't about a rogue rider but a rogue lab technician? No need for a "roving squad of Nazi frogmen", one disaffected lab technician can cause untold damage.

(b) A switch from Chвtenay-Malabry.
Any further testing of samples in this case should be handed to a lab outside of France and double-blind testing protocols need to be seen enforced. This second lab must be able to reproduce the results of the Chвtenay-Malabry lab. Come to that, ALL drug tests ought to be carried out by two labs or, at the very least, the B samples should be tested by a different lab. This is good science and plain common sense.

(c) An internal WADA inquiry into the conduct of Richard W Pound.
The organisation's president may have the best of intentions but his attacks on athletes, before due process has been carried out, often fall far short of the standards you would expect of the head of a body aiming to eradicate drugs in sport. Pound has form: Danish Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen - vice president of WADA - has criticised Pound in the past. Last year Mikkelsen said the L'Equipe story about Lance Armstrong's aged urine tests lacked hard evidence and as such should have been handled with caution. "Such a statement should only be made if there is a legal basis for it. That's why I think Dick Pound's statement was unwise." (5)

The world of competitive cycling - and sport in general - needs to be free of performance-enhancing drugs but if the three issues above are not fully explored, and the results put into the public domain, question marks will remain over the credibility of WADA and the Chвtenay-Malabry lab.

(1) Floyd Landis: "It is widely known that the test in question, given as a urine sample after my victorious ride on stage 17 of the Tour de France, returned an abnormal T/E ratio from the A sample. I want to be entirely clear about one point of the test that has not been fairly reported in the press or expressed in any statements made by international or national governing bodies; the T value returned has been determined to be in the normal range. The E value returned was LOW, thus causing the skewed ratio. This evidence supports my assertion that I did not use testosterone to improve my performance. I emphatically deny any claims that I used testosterone to improve my performance."

(2) http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/opinion/story.html?id=c6740180-1345-4c77-8f32-1a2e3aa117ea

(3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfu7P_gLTFI
[Co-incidentally, 'malabry' is derived from a phrase meaning 'spoiled ground.']

(4) http://www.bikebiz.co.uk/newsitem.php?id=21687

(5) http://www.bikebiz.co.uk/newsitem.php?id=22483 Sept 2005