Dan Kennedy invited me to guest blog on Media Nation today. Since I’m a Tour de France fanatic, he asked me for my reactions to the news that Tour de France champ Floyd Landis apparently tested positive for testosterone, a performance-enhancing drug, during this year’s tour.
For me, the biggest surprise out of all the media coverage has been learning that the elite athlete had consumed “moderate” amounts of beer and whiskey the night after his flame-out in Alps in Stage 16 when he dropped from first place to 11th and lost about 10 minutes on the new leaders. The Boston Globe reports, “He thought his chances of winning the Tour were slim and was looking for ‘a way to get through the night.’”
Jack Daniel’s? Whatever it takes, I guess.
Although, as we’re learning now, that may not have been all that it took to get Floyd through the night. He may very well have chased his chaser with a testosterone patch.
The collapse — or “bonk” in athletic performance parlance — was painful to watch. Floyd literally ran out of gas. It was evidence, ironically, that this year’s tour was the cleanest it’s been in years. Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, who’s been outspoken about the need to clean up the sport, told The Guardian that he thought the riders this year were honest: “Riders looked tired, they had bad days. For years you never saw any suffering in the riders.”
Did Floyd cheat? The Boston Globe quotes two experts who say that an athlete trying to recover from bonking the way Floyd did would not have turned to testosterone for help:
However, two leading physicians and crusaders in anti-doping circles deplored the release of the damaging information before the second analysis. They added that it would have been nonsensical for Landis to use testosterone as an instant fix.
An elite rider who needed to perform well in a climbing stage as Landis did would be likely to turn to stimulants or blood-boosting techniques such as erythropoietin injections to improve oxygen processing capability, rather than using a strength-building substance like testosterone, they said.
“Something seems a little smelly here,” said Dr. Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor emeritus of exercise and sport science and nationally recognized expert on steroid use. “Testosterone is a training drug, not a competition drug. It doesn’t act that quickly. It’s not going to change your life in a day or a week.
“I feel in an odd position defending any Tour de France rider, but if you wanted to make up eight minutes, you’d blood-dope.”
His view was backed by Dr. Gary Wadler of New York University, who helped craft the current WADA code. “You don’t take anabolic steroids in the morning and race in the afternoon,” Wadler said. “It takes many weeks to get benefits from them. There’s no good evidence that they enhance the aerobic system, although they do shorten recovery time and make you more aggressive and assertive. This makes no sense pharmaceutically.”
But CyclingNews.com has this from German doctor Kurt Moosburger (though the interview took place before news of Floyd’s positive test result and he was not talking about Floyd):
In a frank interview, Moosburger pointed to the average speeds of modern professional races, especially hard tours. “The average in last year’s Tour was 41 kilometres per hour – that is incredible. You can do a hard Alpine stage without doping. But after that, the muscles are exhausted. You need – depending on your training conditions – up to three days in order to regenerate.”
To help recover, testosterone and human growth hormone can be used. “Both are made by the body and are therefore natural substances,” he said. “They help to build
muscle as well as in muscle recovery.”
Dr Moosburger explained how it was done. “You put a standard testosterone patch that is used for male hormone replacement therapy on your scrotum and leave it there for about six hours. The small dose is not sufficient to produce a positive urine result in the doping test, but the body actually recovers faster.”
I’m a Tour de France fan thanks to Lance Armstrong and the OLN Network. Every July for the last seven years, my days have revolved around watching the Tour. Like many, my favorite stage is L’Alpe d’Huez, an insane ride up a mountain so steep that it’s categorized as “beyond classification.” It’s the stage Lance Armstrong dropped German rider Jan Ullrich on in 2001 with what’s now remembered as “the look.” The two were riding head to head on the final part of the climb when Armstrong surged ahead. Instead of just sprinting away without notice, Armstrong arrogantly telegraphed his move by looking directly at Ullrich as if to say: “You coming with me?” And then he took off. Ullrich never recovered. Ullrich, of course, was a favorite to win this year’s Tour until he, along with a bunch of other riders, was booted out of the race under suspicion that he was using performance-enhancing drugs.
I thought this year’s race, without Armstrong, wouldn’t be that exciting to watch. I was wrong. This was the best Tour I’ve ever seen. It was impossible to predict what was going to happen from day to day. The race leader changed from Stage to Stage and, as LeMond remarked, the riders just seemed more human this year. As for now infamous Stage 17, breathlessly described as an “epic” performance by everyone who saw it? It was all that and more.
I hate to think that Floyd cheated. He’s such an appealing character. Check out Outside Magazine’s profile of him from its July issue (Z-man refers to professional rider Dave Zabriskie, who is a close friend of Landis’s):
Landis begins our visit by showing me something on his computer: an image of his grimacing face superimposed on the heavily muscled body of an ax-wielding maniac. Beneath the image, in stylish typescript, are the words I’M A HOMO.
“I e-mailed this to Lance and Z-Man and my wife,” Landis says, smiling hugely. “Z-Man and my wife got right back to me—they thought it was pretty funny. I never heard back from Lance, though.”
“I wonder why?” Z-Man asks, deadpan.
We’ll probably never know if Landis cheated. But if he did, I want him to come clean about it, like world championship rider David Millar. Drugs aren’t going to kill the sport. After all, if that were the case, it would have happened by now. But there are consequences. The German public broadcast network, which airs the Tour de France annually, is rethinking that move: “We signed a broadcasting contract for a sporting event, not a show demonstrating the performances of the pharmaceutical industry,” ZDF editor-in-chief Nikolaus Brender said. “We are going to think about our future as broadcaster and maybe refuse to broadcast this event.”
I’m sure I’ll watch again next year. It’s become a July tradition. But it won’t be with nearly the same excitement I felt in watching this year’s race.