Quotes on Cyclingnews

April 5, 2012

Some of you may have seen some quotes from me on cyclingnews. While Daniel Benson is a fine gentleman and the words are accurate, I think nonetheless that a bit of my intended nuance was missing. So a few points:

It looks a bit like I stepped on a soap box to make a declaration. In reality, I was at the start of the Scheldeprijs, ran into Daniel whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, he asked me “What do you think of Ashenden leaving” and I gave him my thoughts. I wasn’t “lamenting” too much, it was pretty low key.

I’m fine with a setting like that, but one disadvantage is that you’re not forumulating carefully, and I often find that my mind makes two steps while I only say one, and thus these things can look a bit incoherent. This works both ways, as Daniel also thinks faster than he talks. So now in the article it seems as if I bring up the 2 years without biological passport cases, but that was really his argument. I think it’s an accurate statement (although I haven’t counted exactly), but it wasn’t something I had in my mind at that time.

  1. So my basic premise was this: When you start a huge project like the biological passport, it is impossible to get it completely perfect at once. This is nothing special about the biological passport, this goes for any project with slightly more complexity than tying shoelaces.
  2. So you need to improve it over time. From my own experience, you learn more from people who criticize you than those who praise you, so it’s best to take criticism as feedback than to get defensive. At the same time, I also understand that if you’re inside a project, people running the project would appreciate if you give your criticism but do it internally, not in the media. So there is a balance to strike there between venting your criticism to improve the project and giving a realistic view to the outside world.
  3. As a result, when the most vocal critic leaves a project, that is not good news.
  4. I don’t think we need to dwell on the gaps in testing too much. They’re not as big as some of us thought, bigger than others care to admit. They are certainly way ahead of others sport with maybe one or two exceptions.

My final point in the interview is probably the most important one; this is not about the UCI. When you think about cleaning up the sport, you would hope that federations, races and teams are all on the same side. Maybe they disagree on how to exactly do it, but you would hope they would all agree with the principle, right? So if everybody agrees with the principle of cleaning up the sport, but don’t agree on how to do it exactly, what would you get? Discussion.

And instead we have a deafening silence. Why aren’t teams speaking up about what they want in the anti-doping fight? They pay the most for the biological passport, and the program doesn’t seem to catch too many people anymore. So I would expect teams to say one of two things. Either they say “we’ve done it, we’ve solved the problem, we spent a ton of money on it and we’re proud of the result” or they say “hang on, we’re paying all this money but not catching the cheats”. Instead they say nothing, giving the impression they don’t have a vested interest in the success of the program. Or that they define success differently.

4 Responses to “Quotes on Cyclingnews”

  1. Flammecast Says:

    What other sports would you think are the exceptions ?

  2. Klaas Faber Says:

    …when the most vocal critic leaves a project…

    Ashenden is most certainly not the most vocal critic. A short introduction on the biological passport may help to clarify.

    The passport ‘works’ in two stages:
    1) a statistical evaluation to sift through a data base, and
    2) an expert evaluation if stage 1) leads to a suspicion.

    Two asides:
    1) Such a two-stage evaluation is an invitation for confirmation bias aka tunnel vision. Claudia Pechstein is currently the best example of how things can go wrong. Strong parallels with two famous criminal cases, namely Sally Clark (UK) and Lucia de Berk (NL).
    2) Pellizotti had a strong case, but he was convicted nevertheless because the CAS ‘believes’ in the superior expertise of the prosecution.

    As far as I can see, Giuseppe Banfi is the most vocal critic of stage 2. He was for example on Pellizotti’s expert team.

    Undersigned was the first world-wide to publish about the basic flaws underlying stage 1.

    First, the method does not meet generally accepted forensic standards:

    K. Faber and M. Sjerps
    Anti-doping researchers should conform to certain statistical standards from forensic science
    Science and Justice, 49 (2009) 214-215

    Second, the method violates principles one might learn in courses on basic statistics:

    N.M. Faber and B.G.M. Vandeginste
    Flawed science ‘legalized’ in the fight against doping: the example of the biological passport
    Accreditation and Quality Assurance, 15 (2010) 373-374

    These and other concerns (e.g. the decisive role of CAS) have now been recognized by the legal community:

    N. Hailey
    A false start in the race against doping in sport: concerns with cycling’s biological passport
    Duke Law Journal, 61 (2011) 393-432

    Prosecution on the basis of the biological passport was enabled by WADA as per January 1, 2009. Anti-doping researchers have had the opportunity to develop sound methodology since blood testing started in 1996. Twelve years of trial and error have resulted in a decision scheme that is intrinsically flawed. Congrats!

    Klaas Faber

  3. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    I think it’s important to consider there are two possible goals for the passport scheme. 1. Make it extremely difficult to get away with cheating 2. Make it LOOK LIKE it’s extremely difficult to get away with cheating. While the passport may have been created for reason #1, some of the stuff coming out, especially the details of the Contador case, makes one wonder if #2 is not the real goal? Not that there’s anything new about it, I believe many in pro cycling have never believed in #1 and have always been more concerned about #2.

  4. Sisu Says:

    Nice. I’m passing your sage advice to someone else on a completely unrelated matter. But it works….


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