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June 02, 2006

Thoughts on the Vrijman report

Lance Armstrong, ITT
Originally uploaded by Frank Steele.
I'm slogging through the Vrijman report (PDF link). It's fairly readable, although I'll admit I fell asleep about halfway through last night.

My initial take, based on the stories about the report, was that Armstrong's exoneration was sort of on a technicality. I no longer feel that way. Here are a few of the findings of the Vrijman report that swayed me:

1) There is some evidence that naturally-occurring (“endogenous”) EPO can undergo changes in storage that cause it to test positive for synthetic (“exogenous”) EPO, also called r-EPO (section 4.54, page 90). As a result, since 2005, labs have been required to perform an additional stability test on any EPO sample. There's no documentation suggesting that test was done on the Tour de France samples from '98 and '99.

2) There's no reliable data showing what effect long-term storage has on EPO tests. Dr. Christian Ayotte, who runs the WADA-certified lab in Montreal, is quoted via VeloNews in the report (section 2.2, page 24):

“EPO is a protein hormone and it is not stable in urine, even when kept frozen”, she said. “This has long had implications for any plan we’ve had to keep samples and specimens for long periods of time with the hope that we might, some day, retest those samples for a new susbtance.”

3) The World Anti-Doping Agency has claimed a number of times that the samples were tested as part of a study intended to better calibrate the EPO test. That study has not been published. As a result, however, the samples were handled differently, and tests were performed differently than they would have been for doping controls (quoting Dr. De Ceaurriz, head of the LNDD, the lab involved, section 4.16, page 59):

“The samples were analysed for EPO in the frame shift of a research program without applying the rules of WADA for anti-doping controls. So, no laboratory documentation packages are available.”


“Research samples were managed differently from the chain of custody used for anti-doping controls. The missing samples have been used for other research purposes.”

Specifically, they were analyzed using an “accelerated measurement procedure” considered good enough for research, but not for sanctions (section 4.13, page 58).

4) WADA further spent six months twisting the lab's arm, until they finally provided the results with “additional information;” specifically the code numbers, which could be tied back to the rider through the doping control sheets. The lab consented to this only with agreement that the results would be kept confidential and that they could not be used as the basis for disciplinary action. The day after the final report, including the code numbers, was sent to WADA and the French Ministry for Sport, the L'Equipe story was published.

5) L'Equipe got doping control forms from the UCI by claiming they wanted to show whether Armstrong had received medical clearance to use any medications as a result of his cancer (he hadn't). UCI cleared the release of those forms with Armstrong, while LNDD did NOT clear use of his (and other riders') B-samples in a research study.

The report suggests very strongly that WADA chose to urinate all over its own WADA Code (PDF link) in order to plant suspicion that Lance Armstrong doped. It did this even with the foreknowledge that the “evidence” thus generated rose barely above the level of innuendo, and couldn't be used as evidence in a real doping inquiry. That's pretty much the definition of a smear campaign.

Also, my favorite phrase from the entire report concerns the source for synthetic EPO: “primarily produced in the ovary cells of Chinese hamsters.”

Posted by Frank Steele on June 2, 2006 in Doping, Lance Armstrong | Permalink


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Thanks for the work producing this summary. Much appreciated.

Posted by: Maarten at Jun 2, 2006 3:14:28 PM

Send a note to WADA at [email protected] and tell them how you feel. I did.
Fire Dick Pound.

Posted by: Tony at Jun 2, 2006 3:14:56 PM

Yeah, Dick Pound is really over the top. He really did set out to smear Lance. He's not accountable to anyone, and his judgement is piss poor. This is no way to eradicate doping -- extremely ineffective. How do you fire this guy?

"Article 8 of the WADA Code provides that any person ‘who is asserted to have
committed an anti-doping rule violation’ is entitled to a fair hearing. Nevertheless,
the conduct and statements of WADA and its President, the LNDD and its Director,
have effectively asserted that Lance Armstrong committed an anti-doping rule
violation when they all knew or should have known that there was no evidentiary
basis for such an assertion and that the current rules and regulations would not
afford Lance Armstrong the opportunity to respond to these assertions by means of
a fair hearing."

I hope L.A. sues his pants off.

One more thing -- people put way too much faith in the so called "science". These measurements in general are pretty fragile, and subject to interpretation. Literally, an interpreter reads some fuzzy images and makes a judgment call. But the report states that "iso-elctropherograms and other essential documents - necessary to evaluate the findings presented in both reports - have not been produced." So, to this day, nobody outside of LNDD has independently assessed the data.

Posted by: Hugh Winkler at Jun 4, 2006 1:45:11 AM

The most stunning thing about this are those hamsters though. I feel for them. I have a feeling those Chinese might not be so nice to them. And all that to make those lousy over the top one hit doping wonders climb a bit faster. Still waiting for the first vegan rider who claims he doesn't use dope because "it creates animal suffering".

Posted by: Jonathan Oudendijk at Jun 4, 2006 7:37:08 AM

whether or not there was a smear campaign
is meaningless to me. even if the tests
were illegally conducted and their results were improperly distributed,
i'm still curious as to the veracity of
the results. i don't find the above excerpts dissuasive.

(not a lance hater) (just a disliker ;-)

Posted by: Michael Wong at Jun 14, 2006 1:42:02 AM

You really are crazy if you think Lance never used performance-enhancing drugs. Wake up.

Posted by: Stolen Underground at Jul 30, 2007 12:09:09 PM