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When is a positive test not a positive test?

Why should the AFL keep the WADA code? Look no further than pro cycling. (AFP PHOTO / Files / JOEL SAGET)
Expert
16th April, 2013
7

The UCI Congress will hold its elections in September, with controversial chief Pat McQuaid hoping for a third term in the top job. If you’re not sure which way the vote should go, then read on.

This week’s latest revelations about Lance Armstrong’s doping history, and what the UCI did next should make your mind up.

In its reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong, the US Anti-Doping Authority said this about the 2001 Tour de Suisse, a race which Armstrong won.

“Armstrong told both Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that he had tested positive for EPO at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland and stated or implied that he had been able to make the EPO test result go away,” the report noted.

“Armstrong’s conversation with Hamilton was in 2001, and he told Hamilton ‘his people had been in touch with UCI, they were going to have a meeting and everything was going to be ok’.

“Armstrong’s conversation with Landis was in 2002, and Landis recalled Armstrong saying that, ‘he and Mr Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement to keep the positive test hidden’.”

Pat McQuaid has never denied the Armstrong/Bruyneel visit took place. He also admitted that Armstrong paid the UCI more than $100,000 to “help with the development of cycling.”

And Pat McQuaid agreed that at least one of the EPO-laden samples from race did belong to Armstrong.

USADA’s report talks of nine urine samples from the 2001 Tour de Suisse of which four were “suspect”.

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And by suspect, USADA means when they “showed between 70 and 80 percent of the typical EPO parameters (basic area percentage).”

This is not to be confused with haematocrit, which was a blood-based EPO measurement, where a reading over 50 was indicative of doping.

Remember that in 2001 the EPO test was still quite new, so as USADA explains, measurements were set very conservatively when it came to deciding whether a sample was positive or just suspect.

So what in 2001 was ‘suspect’ may now be ‘positive’ which is exactly what USADA says in its report.

“Under current WADA standards, a sample in the 70 to 80 percent (basic area percentage) range can be considered positive if other criteria relating to the testing are met.

Dr. Saugy led USADA to understand that, under the current positivity criteria for EPO, the 2001 samples would have been considered ‘positive’ rather than merely ‘suspicious’ as had been the case in 2001.”

The report also states that when asked to provide Armstrong’s Tour de Suisse test results to help disprove the positive test claims, the UCI refused, stating that “they had asked for Mr. Armstrong’s consent to provide this information to USADA, but that Mr Armstrong had refused.”

You can only guess as to why Armstrong refused but it’s not a good look.

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Based on this evidence most reasonable people would say he was using EPO.

But it seems the UCI boss is not among those reasonable people.

This week 3wiresports.com ran a story about a five-page letter Pat McQuaid sent to USADA which in essence said there is no evidence that Armstrong tested positive.

In the letters are details about the five tests Armstrong took at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. He was tested in Lausanne on June 19, 20, 26, 27 and 28.

The June 19 and June 27 tests came back showing “strong suspicion of the presence of EPO, (but) the positivity criteria are not all met.”

Remembering back then that 70-80 percent measurement indicated a ‘highly suspicious’ reading, Armstrong’s were 75.1 percent (June 19 test) and 70 percent (June 26 test).

These figures were confirmed when the samples were sent to France for secondary testing on August 10 and 7 respectively.

But according to McQuaid, the highly suspicious line is good enough for him. As he wrote in the letter to USADA, it “finally puts pay to the completely untrue allegations” of a positive test and “any subsequent cover-up by the UCI.”

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“I reiterate therefore that not one of Armstrong’s samples could in any way have been considered to be positive results.”

Sorry, but who is McQuaid kidding?

Why can’t he acknowledge that the measurements used in 2001 were much more conservative that they are now?

More importantly, why hasn’t Pat McQuaid realised that with an election looming and given what has happened to cycling in the past six months, hitching your wagon to the coat tails of an acknowledged doper maybe isn’t the brightest move?

It’s good to see Cycling Australia President Klaus Mueller is questioning what’s happened to the Independent Commission the UCI was going to set up in the wake of USADA’s reasoned decision.

The UCI disbanded the Commission earlier this year after discussions with WADA.

“It was such a major scandal for so long people are entitled to have some suspicion,” Mueller told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sadly McQuaid’s latest comments have only added to that suspicion.

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Hopefully between now and September, others will realise this can’t go on.