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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Suspend the French national anti-doping lab at Châtenay-Malabry

Sam Sheepdog, Ralph Wolf, and a "L'Equipe-friendly" anti-doping lab long mired in controversy involving longterm procedural violations, tampering due to negligence and allegations of favored treatment for French athletes

Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis have both had issues with France's national anti-doping lab.  The "Vrijman Report" took care of matters in the Armstrong case, blasting the lab, among others.  Landis now claims that this same lab was sloppy in handling samples from the 2006 Tour de France.  He is asking that the case against him be thrown out.  What's been going on at this lab anyway?

During the 1988 Tour de France, Spanish cyclist Pedro Delgado tested positive for probenecid.  The drug was considered a doping masking agent by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but not by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of cycling.  Delgado thus was not sanctioned and went on to win the race.  But what became known as the "Delgado Affair" had damaged the Tour's image.

With the Tour's credibility at stake, the Amaury Group, owner then and now of both Amaury Sport Organization* (A.S.O.), organizer of the Tour, and French sports daily L'Equipe, was looking for a new race director for the 1989 edition.  That July, in 1988, in the middle of the Tour, Amaury sought out one of its employees, a man by the name of Jean-Marie Leblanc, chief of L'Equipe's cycling pages, for his opinion on candidates for race director.  Leblanc quickly identified a Dutchman by the name of Hein Verbruggen, then (and until September, 2005) head of the UCI, as his top candidate to run cycling's biggest race.  Verbruggen, in perhaps one of cycling's greatest career non-moves, thanked Leblanc for the consideration but said the Tour should be run by a Frenchman.  With the position still vacant, it was Leblanc himself who was named the new director of the Tour de France in October, 1988.

Those who have followed professional cycling in recent years, with its very public and ongoing battles fought between A.S.O. and the UCI, will appreciate the irony of Leblanc once suggesting Verbruggen run the Tour de France.  Throw World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) head Dick Pound into the ring and, publicly anyway, more often than not all parties seem to be involved in a gloves-off boxing match.  We do hear regularly of "progress" in discussions, of amiable dinners from which new ideas reportedly spring, only to witness more battles whenever the prospect of real change must be faced, change mostly regarding financial matters but usually presented as some supposed anti-doping fight.  We are reminded of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons featuring Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf who, after an amiable "Morning, Ralph" ... "Morning, Sam" chat while punching in for the day's work, proceed to try and beat the crap out of one another.  Sam Sheepdog always wins those battles but in cycling no one is winning.  Indeed, nearly two months after the end of the 2006 Tour, won by Floyd Landis, no one knows for sure who will ultimately be declared winner for the history books, due to Landis's positive dope sample and the upcoming hearings and appeals.

How is it that 18 years after the "Delgado Affair," after which Leblanc took control of the Tour when Verbruggen turned down the opportunity, that the Tour is facing its biggest-ever credibility problem, the same problem Leblanc set out to fix starting in 1989?

And why is it that all these parties seem to try to outdo one another in denying Landis his rights as a man accused of doping?

At the center of the "Landis Affair," which involves the Tour winner, Landis, giving a urine sample that under the responsibility of the UCI was sent to the WADA-accredited French national anti-doping lab, sits the lab itself, the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD) in Châtenay-Malabry.  LNDD is no doubt the most controversial anti-doping lab in the world.

Strangely, despite a recommendation from the UCI-commissioned "Vrijman Report," which looked into L'Equipe's doping allegations against Lance Armstrong, that LNDD have its WADA accreditation suspended pending a more thorough investigation, the UCI, publicly anyway, appears to have full confidence in the lab's handling of testing, leaks notwithstanding.

Before the Vrijman Report recommended suspending the lab, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and Sergei Bubka, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) athlete's commission chief asked WADA to suspend LNDD for not assuring confidentiality in the re-testing of old urine samples for research purposes in the case known for singling out and specifically targeting Armstrong.  Dick Pound refused, then said that he didn't have the authority to suspend the lab's accreditation.

And before L'Equipe's Armstrong allegations, and the subsequent finding, by Vrijman, of fault and/or non-cooperation on the part of WADA, LNDD and the French Ministry of Youth and Sport, which funds the lab, there is a history of troubling cases at this same anti-doping laboratory.  (See "Past problems at France's national anti-doping laboratory")  The cases are as varied as they are troubling, involving longterm procedural violations, suspicious tampering due to negligence and allegations that French athletes have, in one case anyway, been spared dope testing.

Throw in evidence, revealed today at, that someone at L'Equipe, which works closely with the lab, imagined targeting cycling's biggest star with the goal of taking down the sport, and it is fair to ask, as Armstrong did, "Can this lab be trusted?"

LNDD perhaps is staffed by competent lab personnel doing their jobs.  But it has long been under political pressure and when, according to investigator Vrijman, LNDD's director, Professor Jacques de Ceaurriz and his top assistant, Dr. Françoise Lasne, came tantalizingly close to talking about some of it, they suddenly shut the door, no doubt due to pressure from the French Ministry of Youth and Sport.

There are too many unanswered questions centered on this lab and the answers can only come with the full cooperation of  lab personnel, WADA and the French Ministry.  But who can secure their cooperation and under what conditions?  While Armstrong reportedly is considering going to Congress to put pressure on WADA (which receives funding from governments) and WADA head Pound finds himself facing libel proceedings in Austria due to comments he made about former Austrian ski coach, Walter Mayer, (some cyclists likely will be watching that case closely), in France short of an unlikely French court order it would appear that the only competent authority for ensuring cooperation is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which created WADA, under threat of Olympic sanctions against French athletes.  Only by making it a French national concern can you hope to get cooperation from the government and consequently from the lab.  Full transparency with regard to ALL parties is necessary.  Failure to cooperate would hurt French Olympic athletes.  Such a threat is likely the only tool that could succeed in getting at the truth of the full context of LNDD in present and past doping cases.  It is the same tool used by WADA to force international federations, in Olympic sports, to comply with the WADA anti-doping code to begin with.

Cycling is the only sport to immediately suspend its athletes simply because they are under investigation.  LNDD, and specifically the no doubt difficult political, financial and other pressures it is under, should be investigated.  Its staff should be given a chance to speak up without fear of sanction from the French government or WADA.  And during this investigation, its WADA accreditation should be suspended.

* A.S.O. was created in September, 1992.  In 1988, the race organization was simply called the Société du Tour de France.  Today, A.S.O. also organizes Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, the Criterium International and other bike races, as well as the Paris Marathon and Dakar rally (formerly Paris-Dakar).
LEquipe vs. Lance: Payback

You may have heard of David Walsh and Pierre Ballester , co-authors of the 2004 book, "L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong".  Forget about them.  As Armstrong foes, they are cub scouts compared to the man who for years, behind the scenes, rather quietly imagined going after Armstrong and then did just that in 2005.  The name of that man may not mean anything to you.  It might not mean anything to Armstrong himself.  And yet that man, the boss of French sports daily L'Equipe's doping reporter Damien Ressiot is Armstrong's biggest-ever foe, behind no doubt one of the largest propaganda campaigns in the history of sports journalism.  In a stunning twist to the story of L'Equipe's pursuit of Armstrong, this mystery man wrote about targeting cycling's biggest star over three years ago with the goal of bringing the sport to its knees.   Part I  -  Part II  (coming)

Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage, Chatenay-Malabry
Storm clouds over France's national anti-doping lab, the controversial Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD) in Châtenay-Malabry, southwest of Paris
(photo Pete Geyer)

Past problems at France's national anti-doping laboratory
by Pete Geyer

December, 1997:  Alain Garnier, medical director at the French Ministry of Youth and Sport, after a confrontation with the French national soccer team over an out-of-competition doping control, asks a ministry cabinet member if it is okay to continue random out-of-competition drug testing of the team in the months leading up to the 1998 World Cup.  The answer he gets is:  "No, you must no longer do any random testing of French team members."  When he asks if he can have that in writing, the answer is "Of course not!"  Three days after Garnier's confrontation with the French soccer team, Jacques de Ceaurriz, director of France's national anti-doping lab, the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD) in Châtenay-Malabry outside Paris, is summoned to the Ministry of Sport.

Five years later, former Minister of Sport Marie-George Buffet and members of her cabinet disagreed with Garnier's version of events.  One suggested that Garnier's anti-doping work had become "too personal".

Today, Dr. Garnier is medical director at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

July, 2001:  Russian track and field star Olga Yegorova tests positive for EPO during a competition in Saint-Denis north of Paris.  The "A" test result, produced at LNDD, is leaked to L'Equipe and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspends Yegorova from competition pending the results of the "B" test.  The French lab expects this second test to be a formality.  A Russian scientist, Nicolai Durmanov,  is sent to Chatenay-Malabry to witness it for Yegorova to be sure it is carried out correctly.  LNDD director Jacques de Céaurriz and his top assistant, Françoise Lasne, at one point leave Durmanov alone in the lab for 30 minutes, despite knowing that he is an expert in the production of EPO.  When the lab technicians return to proceed with the test, they realize Yegorova's sample is compromised and they cannot complete the "B" sample analysis.  No confirmation means no positive and Yegorova is off the hook.  Of interest is that according to de Céaurriz, Durmanov didn't even have access to the sample itself but did have access to the equipment used to contain it or analyze it, demonstrating how easily a sample can be manipulated, even if there is no proof that Durmanov manipulated the sample.  The case of course also demonstrates negligence on the part of LNDD.

September 7, 2001:  In a column in L'Equipe, the newspaper's doping reporter, Damien Ressiot, discusses the Yegorova case foul-up at LNDD.  This is the same newspaper and same reporter for whom LNDD is infallible in August, 2005, when L'Equipe print their story, "The Armstrong Lie".

February 7, 2003:  French Minister of Sport Jean-Francois Lamour scolds LNDD, still directed by Jacques de Ceaurriz, for procedural violations resulting in a declared non-negative "A" sample for rugby player Pieter de Villiers, a result leaked to L'Equipe and revealed two days earlier by doping reporter Damien Ressiot.  In fact, for nearly a year, LNDD has been violating procedure related to out-of-competition testing, testing for substances it was not to be looking for without an express demand from a responsible authority.

September, 2005:  The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and Sergei Bubka, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) athlete's commission chief ask WADA to suspend the LNDD lab at Châtenay-Malabry for not assuring confidentiality in the Lance Armstrong case.  WADA refuses.

May, 2006:  Emile Vrijman, a Dutch investigator appointed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to look into L'Equipe's Armstrong allegations and the LNDD-produced test results, blasts WADA, the French Ministry of Youth and Sport and the lab itself for the manner in which the tests were carried out and the lack of cooperation in determining exactly under what circumstances the tests were ordered and conducted.

The pre-2005 examples above are among the cases covered in a book, "Les scandales du sport contaminé" by an independent French journalist, Eric Maitrot.  I consider this to be the single most important and useful book in existence today on the topic of doping in sport.  While most doping books focus on individual athletes or are tell-all books by athletes themselves, Maitrot's book is the result of a serious, objective 18-month investigation of all aspects of doping and the supposed anti-doping fight.  It is unfortunate that a monopolistic publication like L'Equipe, with the potential to really educate the public, instead chooses to package sensational stories most likely to sell.  I met Maitrot in Paris over the winter and asked him if he had once worked for L'Equipe.  He responded, "Yes, but that was a long time ago," seemingly eager to distance himself from what the paper has become today.  Maitrot's book, like the vast majority of books on doping, particularly in cycling, is only available in French.  As I told Maitrot, I'd like to see this book published in English...

Vuelta: Quick glance at the top 10+ (before Stage 17)
Alejandro Valverde on Mont Ventoux, 2006
1. Alejandro Valverde
(Caisse d'Epargne - Illes Balears )

Valverde had no trouble dealing with Vino's attacks in stage 16 and took a step closer to overall victory.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana Team)
2. Alexandre Vinokourov
(Astana Team)

Moves up to second from fourth, swapping places with Kachechkin.  Needs Valverde to have a bad day.
Carlos Sastre (Team CSC)
3. Carlos Sastre
(Team CSC)

Riding his third Grand Tour of the year, can he hold on to finish on the Vuelta podium for the second year in a row?
Andrey Kashechkin (Astana Team)
4. Andrey Kashechkin
(Astana Team)

Lost over a minute to Valverde and Vinokourov on stage 16.  If he can regroup, perhaps he can put pressure on Valverde in the service of team leader "Vino".

Jose Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
5. Jose Angel Gomez Marchante
(Saunier Duval-Prodir)

Lost a couple of minutes on stage 16 but remains in top 5.  Can he hold off Beltran?
Manuel Beltran (Discovery Channel)
6. Manuel Beltran
(Discovery Channel)

Is now top-placed Discovery Channel rider in the race.  On his way to Liquigas next season.
Danilo Di Luca
7. Danilo Di Luca

Stage 5 winner, "Killer" is targeting World Championships later this month
Vladimir Karpets
8. Vladimir Karpets
(Caisse d'Epargne - Illes Balears )

All for team leader Valverde
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
9. Samuel Sanchez

On a very successful day for Euskaltel, Sanchez disrupted the chase group trying to bring back his teammate and eventual stage 16 winner, Igor Anton, and also moved into the top 10.

Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel)
10. Tom Danielson
(Discovery Channel)

Getting better in the final week, climber Danielson moved into the top 10, bumping teammate Devolder down a position.
Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel)
11. Stijn Devolder
(Discovery Channel)

Like Brajkovic, Devolder has a promising future with the team, if they can hold on to him.

Photos Copyright © 2005-2006 Pete Geyer unless otherwise noted

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