The doping solution

August 23, 2012

Jonathan Vaughters’ interview with Bicycling had this interesting section about anti-doping efforts:

Vaughters called for better anti-doping enforcement. I ask what he meant by that.

“Money,” he says. Money funds better testing, and research for better tests, so that anti-doping authorities can keep up with advances in cheating.

Even though teams do fund most anti-doping, they’re resistant to paying more, too. But to hear Vaughters tell it, the obstacle isn’t the cost alone, or even the specter that with more testing comes more positives and, in the short term, more pain.

The problem is trust.

“When I go to the other team managers and say we should put in more money, I almost get spit in the face,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Fuck that. Why would I put in more money to an organization that only seeks to hurt my team?’”

Well, if that is the problem, then I honestly don’t understand why the teams haven’t solved it yet. This is how to do it.

  • So you don’t trust the UCI? That’s fine, do it yourself.
  • Over the past few years, several teams have had an internal anti-doping program.
  • Ironically, teams with an internal anti-doping program can make a better biological passport profile than the UCI can, if they want to (and don’t have the program just for PR or worse). You see, such teams have their own test results AND the UCI test results. So they have more data points than the UCI and hence a tighter profile.
  • Take this idea but use it across all teams and organize it centrally.
  • Start a Rider Anti Doping Institute – Cyclists As Leaders (RADICAL). This institute can be owned by the riders and the teams, or some foundation, whatever construction teams and riders trust (so not the UCI according to Vaughters). It doesn’t matter.
  • Have the teams put money into RADICAL, the money they would be willing to spend extra on anti-doping if only they trusted the UCI.
  • If the teams are smart, they will understand the amount doesn’t matter for their budget. As long as they are all putting it in, it will come off of the only variable they really have: rider salaries.
  • Nowadays WorldTour teams pay a 120,000 Euro fee for the Biological Passport (somehow this sounds low, but it’s in this UCI bulletin). As most WorldTour budgets are 10-20M Euro, that’s nothing. The fee paid to RADICAL could slowly increase from 200k to 1M per year.
  • You’d have a total of around 30 teams participating (WorldTour and those ProConti teams who want to race a Monument)
  • When you have a 6M Euro fund for anti-doping measurements (already much more than the current bio pass budget, and the two together makes close to 10M), increasing to 30M+ (an insane amount).
  • Now you can really do some research to keep up with the dopers. You can also increase the frequency of testing which makes the passport more effective. It may not prevent somebody doping, but it does reduce the level of doping and therefore the effectiveness, making the playing field more level.
  • Teams should also agree to a few simple measures to make sure their money goes as far as possible. For example, ban training camps in faraway places. If all teams agree, it affects everybody equally so it won’t make a real difference, and you avoid people training on Sicily or Tenerife who can either not be tested at all or only at great cost.

I am sure there are reasons why people say this won’t work, but why not think about reasons it will work?Let me know your thoughts? To be continued, so subscribe to this blog if you don’t want to miss it.

41 Responses to “The doping solution”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The problem with this is that it would be teams policing themselves. They would have an even bigger conflict of interest than the UCI when it comes to antidoping. So when you say this:
    “This institute can be owned by the riders and the teams, or some foundation, whatever construction teams and riders trust (so not the UCI according to Vaughters). It doesn’t matter.”
    I have to disagree. It does matter. It can’t be owned by the riders and the teams, it must be owned by an independent body.

    Other than that, I agree.


    • Right, but my point is this. As with most of these things, once you set it up, the genie is out of the bottle. If this institute starts testing seriously, there isn’t much people who don’t like it can do about it. No worse PR than threatening to withhold your money or similar moves.

      Of course you make sure it’s independent operationally, but you will need to give riders and teams a level of comfort to start it up. Like it or not, if they fund it, they need comfort.

      As fans, of course we can have our own stance. If we start a “FAN AnTI Cheating Agency Llc (FANATICAL) and all agree not to watch races or buy team apparel from teams who do not fund it with at least 500k, that might work too. Just tough to organize all the fans for such a boycot.

  2. RP Says:

    I think, in addition to better policing, there needs to be stricter action against those caught. Case in point, Contador’s “two year ban” was not really two years. It was “two years from when he was caught, but he kept racing for a year afterwards” kind of thing.
    I was once an amateur athlete in a sport that has never had pro ranks, I never cheated, never doped, but I knew people who did. And I knew great champions who did not.
    It also comes down to these guys asking themselves later in life “was it worth it to have cheated?”


  3. I think you and Vaughters DO agree. It’s going to take more money!

  4. a brit Says:

    Is it really that difficult to test in Sicily or Tenerife, compared to somewhere faraway like, say, USA.


    • Yes, for two reasons:
      1) The rules state you need to get it to an accredited lab within 36 hours. There is no lab on Tenerife, while there are labs in the USA.
      2) There are limited ways to get to Sicily or Tenerife. There is a suspicion that people are tipped off in advance if a sample collector is on the way.


      • I’ll disagree with this. I understand one gives up a number of freedoms when one enters a professional cycling career (one of the reasons to stay riding as an amateur, but I’ll digress on this some other time), and I could even fathom there being ‘off-limits’ territories where one couldn’t set foot during {the season/the whole year/the extent of the contract/etc}.
        But Sicily and Tenerife are just not good examples. I just checked, and from basically anywhere in continental Europe, one can board a plane to any of those destinations, today, for ~500 euros. If the budget to be allocated is, as you propose, in the order of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, then one could even charter a small private jet to do so.


        • It’s not just the cost of flying, look into the rules of chain of custody and you’ll get an idea .The cost of sample collection on those islands is much higher than it is on the continent.

          So if you have the money to either test riders 5x per year on Tenerife or 25x per year on the continent, that makes a big difference.

          And unless you have the sample collectors parachuting in, you won’t solve problem 2. I’m not in favor of restricting people’s freedom either, but the only reason to go there is to train. If all riders agree not to train there, problem solved. Unless somebody lives there of course.

      • Paul Jakma Says:

        Its pretty obvious why Tenerife is so attractive to racers:

        - It’s a huge volcano, and there’s just so many roads that just go up for 1 to 2+ km.

        - It’s at African latitudes, so it’s still warm in the winter

        - There’s a hotel at 2 km altitude.

        So there’s some pretty compelling reasons that make Tenerife ideal for off-season training. You don’t have to come up with doping conspiracy reasons to explain why. Indeed, even if you feel you must, the question still is: where else in Europe can they go at that time? The alps and pyrennees are far from fun, weather-wise – indeed the altitudes involved may not even be reachable.

        As for the 36 hours, because of the tourism Tenerife is very well-connected. It has 2 airports, and many flights across europe. Testers could arrive in the morning and be back at any one of number of European hubs that night, if they wished.


        • Of course the training conditions are good. I don’t deny that and I am not saying that everybody who trains there is a doper. Far from it, it is a smart place to train if you’re clean.

          But that doesn’t change the fact that sample collection there is very expensive, so if you can choose between testing riders five times a year on Tenerife or 25 times on the continent, guess what gives you the best bang for teh buck?

          And whether everybody trains there or nobody trains there makes no relative difference to the clean riders, but it does to the cheaters.

          BTW, why do you think our great gynecologist Fuentes moved to Tenerife? Because there are more women there?

        • Paul Jakma Says:

          Well, one way is to let the cost of anti-doping controls fall on the team, to some greater or lesser extent, but in proportion to the cost of the control. Then the team can balance the value of training on Tenerife against the cost of the controls, and make its own determination as to the net economic benefit.

          Tenerife is clearly an ideal place to train, regardless of the doping issues. So if the only issue is the economics of controls, well let it be sorted out by making those who see the benefits also see the costs.

          As for Fuentes, I’m sure he went there he went there because the pro cyclists go there, and they go there because it’s ideal for winter training for Europeans – and has been for a long time. I strongly suspect pro-cyclists have been going to Tenerife for training before Fuentes even had his medical degree. E.g. Merkcx has trained there, no?

  5. Luis Oliveira Says:

    Money and will to do it, as you put it, comes down to one concept: governance. Cycling (as do many, many other sports, such as football) suffer, first and foremost, from awful governance. Corruption, doping, results fixing, all those derive from poor governance.

    I like your idea, but there are lots more details to be ironed out. For example, what’s the relation to WADA and who gets to have jurisdiction over anti-doping persecution? UCI or RADICAL?


    • Hi Luis, one could argue any sport and almost all countries and companies suffer from poor governance. Come to think of it, maybe humans just aren’t very good at it.

      As to the relation to WADA or jurisdiction, that could be similar to what it is with team-internal programs. When a team finds something, it is reported to the federation. If you want to give further powers to such a new organization, it would probably take forever.

      • Luis Oliveira Says:

        You’re too harsh, GV. WADA is one good example of a pretty good (not perfect, but pretty good) governance model. Checks and balances, “fox out of hen house”, etc. You have several names, but the concept is pretty simple.

      • Nancy Says:

        How do you make sure that the team will report every abnormal or suspicious test to the federation or UCI?


        • As is the case now, the actual sample taking would be done by an independent company (there are specialized companies who already provide this service for federations). The samples are then analyzed by accredited labs, and the procedure would simply be that all test results are reported to RADICAL but also to the applicable federations and agencies such as for example the UCI or WADA.

  6. Paul Jakma Says:

    Isn’t there already a pact/protocol between a number of teams to undertake additional anti-doping measures? Not quite a separate organisation yet, but a first step on the way. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it at the moment – but it’s in French and Slipstream are signed up to it. What is it again? damn…


    • MPCC you probably mean. But those are mostly teams agreeing not to do certain things (no IVs, not racing riders who need cortisones for medical reasons instead of asking for a Therapeutic Use Exemption). Sometimes they test for those things but not very often.


  7. 120k may be relatively low amount for a Pro Team, but this is a significant amount for most Pro Conti teams.

    I don’t necessarily think there are fundamental issues with the testing programs that currently exist, but it is more in how they are administered and adjudicated.

    Clearly a 3rd party should handle all aspects of this; at this point, the entity should be WADA in cooperation with their affiliates; the World & National Governing bodies (of all sports, not just cycling) need to be removed from the process, other than enforcing suspensions.

    I have heard from a very credible source, that cycling teams are often warned by the governing bodies when testing will occur; the opportunity for corruption must be removed from the process, by eliminating the participation of interested parties.

    There also need to be clear rules of due process and jurisprudence; at the moment the situation is a complete farce. Everyone needs equal protection under the law, there needs to be established rules of evidence, a clear set of procedural rules, sentencing guidelines that are consistently enforced, among other measure.


    • I know, we were a pro conti. But for them it’s 80k now, although probably the full 120k if you participate in the Monuments.

    • Luis Oliveira Says:

      Man, do I agree. Create a system where the incentives to proper behavior are in place, there are no incentives to improper behavior and, foremost, there are others with skin on the game to keep you honest. Good governance in a nutshell.

  8. Anon Says:

    I think that Armstrong had it right when he put his test data in the public domain back in ’09. It didn’t take long for the masses to pick apart the inconsistencies in the data and then the data disappeared.

    It wouldn’t cost too much for a team to put their riders passport data in the public domain so the masses could determine who is clean and who isn’t. The riders names could be coded or left out of the data.

    This would also put pressure on the other teams to make the same data available for review.


  9. Why is the Canaries far away, or even Sicily for that matter, it’s the only place that has the weather for training all year round. If you siad South Africa or Mexico then fine, but how could you condone saying, don’t train there, but you can race there, or the Tour of Langawi? Cancel that too? why, because it’s too far? Too far from what? What not have local or regional testers working to a spec.?

    • Clarkie Says:

      I agree in some part, but I think that the testing would have to be carried out at the approved labs as it is now. I imagine that setting up such a lab would be quite expensive, but maybe with the large number of athletes (not just cyclists) training there, that maybe WADA or RADICAL (whoever) should look into it.
      What could happen is that local doctors are trained to collect, package and ship the samples to the accredited labs for testing there. That would solve “problem 2″, although these doctors would have to be checked up on and their licences be on the line if they did try to cheat the system (as there are obviously historical examples of doctors trying to beat the system – Ferrari, Fuetes etc).


      • It’s a bit more complicated than that. There is no “packaging and shipping” of samples, the chain of custody rules are very strict. It’s all personal delivery, with the samples being cooled (this is an issue for blood samples rather than urine samples), etc.

        • Clarkie Says:

          Could that not be overcome by having registered couriers (certified by the labs) who would take control of the samples from the local doctor after collection? I can see that it could be seen as an issue, but it would only be one more step in the chain of custody. Still more expense, but as a previous poster has said, these costs should be put onto the teams as they have chosen to train in such a remote location.


        • Hi Clarkie, I am sure such issues can be overcome. The island issue can be solved in many ways, what is most troubling is that we don’t hear the teams or the UCI or WADA about solving it (one way or another).

          If teams are unwilling at this point to put in more money, at least they can alter their behavior? Maybe not as elegant, but cheap and effective.

          Also realize that this is a relatively small issue for cycling. Just think about the 100m sprint, how many of the Olympic finalists live on islands?


    • The statement that these islands are the only places for all-year training is simply not true. The majority of cyclists trains year-round without leaving continental Europe. That doesn’t change the fact that they are great places to train, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as if pro cycling will crumble if people can’t train on islands.

      When there are races such as the Tour of Langkawi, you have 150 riders in the same spot. Very cheap for testing. So as an alternative, you could have certain times to train on Tenerife, so that you have 150 riders there as well. Then you can even set up a mobile lab (accredited of course).

      Anyway, these are details, not the big picture.

      • A Brit Says:

        GV – my original comment was really based on what “far away” meant. I think you answered that well – far away from a lab. How much equipment/expertise/£$Euro does it take to set up a creditable lab? Or a creditable MOBILE lab?

  10. PeterB Says:

    I certainly agree that a testing body independant of the UCI is essential. If it can be done by the teams independantly from their control then RADICAL could be a great idea. GV I do enjoy reading your blog for the ideas that you put out there.

    I also think that the teams doctors need to be looked at. I would like to see a panel of doctors work with the pro teams for a limited period and then move to another team. The time period may be 3 months. These doctor could be employed by RADICAL and their reason for being is to look after the health of the riders and not assist in setting up doping programs.

    I have serious concerns about doctors being employed directly by teams.

    Thanks again for your ideas. Great to read.

  11. Evan Shaw Says:

    If your income originates with those who don’t want to know, you will never understand nor do what it takes to know. Like Global Warming. Exxon Mobil will have US senators denying warming.

    When the entire structure of cycling is on steroids HGH Testoserone Steroids and insulin and the fans need heroes they will supply us with heroes.

    My father mother my teachers my great grand mother who immigrated by herself with six kids and raised them all of them are my heros.

    I just want clean sports. LA was just a powerful tip of that spear.

  12. James Drake Says:

    I am sure Tenneriffe is aghast by your suggestion that Pro-teams not go to the island. So why not suggest to them that they set up a lab there, where the testing can be done in-situ.. In fact… the riders can check the results as they come out of the lab, to have more peace of mind! :-)

  13. Retro Active Says:

    Sounds like WADA (or whomever) could use a floating lab or two. Cruise the Med. and beyond, the Carib. etc. Will it happen? Probably not.
    Everywhere one turns corruption rears it’s head these days, if one chooses to see. Seems to be a sign of the times, everything gets old and corrupted eventually. A systemic crises in all spheres.
    I walked away from cycling in 1991 as it was clear then that EPO specifically (amateur deaths) and doping in general were rampant in Euro. cycling and there was no way around it. Best decision I’ve ever made. Great sport, terrible practices.
    I’ve known some incredibly talented (certainly more than myself) people who made similar choices. This Armstrong news has been a long time coming.

  14. Evan Shaw Says:

    WADA head says drug test detectors likely knew Armstrong and USPS was doping

    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – World Anti-Doping Agency Director-General David Howman said Lance Armstrong pursued what appears to be a systematic doping program for a decade “probably with the knowledge” of people who were charged with detecting drug cheats.
    Howman told New Zealand’s LiveSport Radio on Friday that Armstrong’s repeated claim he has never tested positive for a banned substance could no longer be regarded as proof of his innocence.
    “What seems to have happened in this particular scenario is that it went on for many years under the noses of those who were supposed to be detecting it and at times probably with their knowledge,” Howman told the New Zealand program from WADA’s headquarters in Montreal.
    Howman said Armstrong had finally been caught because fellow cyclists had broken a code of omerta (silence) and confessed their parts in a “conspiracy to defraud the sport.”
    He did not specifically identify the agencies or individuals he suspected may have turned a blind eye to doping by Armstrong or his teams. But he referred to “suggestions” contained in the report of the United States Anti-Doping Agency that irregularities in some Armstrong tests might not have been investigated as rigorously as they should have been.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/cycling/wires/10/11/2080.ap.cyc.armstrong.wada.1234/index.html#ixzz299Fqd7ji


  15. [...] with – is a non-starter and that this hampered anti-doping efforts. I thought this issue is easily solved (give the money for anti-doping to somebody else) and Vaughters makes the same point here. In fact [...]


  16. […] Even better than giving an expert access to bio pass and internal team data, give a bunch of experts the power to take blood samples and get the power data for all riders. Fund it through the teams & riders, make this expert independent of teams & riders and independent of the UCI. Of course that is the independent anti-doping organization many are calling for, it’s just a matter of how to fund it (and some thoughts on that are here.) […]


  17. […] Even better than giving an expert access to bio pass and internal team data, give a bunch of experts the power to take blood samples and get the power data for all riders. Fund it through the teams & riders, make this expert independent of teams & riders and independent of the UCI. Of course that is the independent anti-doping organization many are calling for, it’s just a matter of how to fund it (and some thoughts on that are here.) […]

  18. Roger Sitterly Says:

    As noted several times above, an independent and effective anti-doping program is going to take both a lot of money and the will of all involved to make it happen in a rigorous, fair, and honest manner.

    It’s a shame this conversation is taking place here instead of publicly through the combined efforts of the UCI, WADA/the national anti-doping agencies, the riders, the team managements, and the sponsors. Every single one of those groups has skin in the game and would benefit greatly from the existence of a serious and effective anti-doping program, but for various reasons (some legitimate, some pretty specious) there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to get the conversation going between the very groups who would most benefit from it.

    At the same time, at least there is a conversation going on here, and Dave Brailsford’s recent comments are a useful addition to the discussion. Perhaps we are fated to achieve our goal in small steps, or in fits and starts, rather than in a smooth and rapid trajectory, but at least some progress has been made in recent years. While there remains a long way to go, I find that encouraging.

    GV – please continue putting forth what I personally find to be well-considered, rational, and sensible ideas concerning the sport. It’s a great breath of fresh air!


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