The beauty of the internet is also it’s bain – the free dissemination of info across the globe. Anyone can post anything but who’s to know what’s truth or fiction? With experts ranging from legit to chatroom variety weighing in on Floyd’s case, PEZ decided to enlist the consult of a guy who knows a lot more about this stuff than we do.
Like most of us, Jason Hall is a fan of cycling, unlike most of us, Jason delivers lectures at Manchester University (UK) on pharmacology, an area in which he’s earned his Bachelor of Science with Honours, and is working on his PhD in pharmacology.
Some of his answers provide no surprises, after all, we’re all T/E ratio experts now after the last few weeks (right?), but he does put forward some very interesting points.
Pez: Could the corticosteroids Landis takes for his degenerative hip complaint have influenced a test for testosterone?’
Jason: In these matters you can never categorically say ‘no’, but it’s very unlikely, the tests are highly specific in nature.”
Pez: I don’t know if the thyroid complaint he has is over or under-active, but if it’s under he would be taking thyroxin, could that influence the test?
Jason: I would give the same answer – highly unlikely.
Pez: It was argued that alcohol could have caused the positive, is that feasible?
Jason: If you drank something like 20 pints of beer then it might affect the result, but not to the extent to which we saw Landis’s test was out of step. The amount which Landis says he drank wouldn’t cause that sort of anomaly.
Pez: What about the dehydration argument we were asked to accept?
Jason: This would show-up to the tester, it would be apparent by the concentration of the urine and a repeat test would almost certainly be carried-out. If you go to the BBC News website there’s a photo-feature which takes you through the actual test procedure; the specific gravity and PH of the sample are both checked before the samples are sealed.
Pez: The now infamous 11:1 ratio seems to be highly significant.
Jason: Testosterone and epitestosterone are produced independently in the body, usually on a ratio of 1:1 but the UCI allows a ratio of 4:1. The presence of the epitestosterone at that level can well be an indication that testosterone has been introduced into the athlete’s system.
(The testosterone in Landis’s sample, remember has been identified as being exogenous – coming from out-side his own body.)
Pez: It’s being said that it’s unlikely that taking testosterone would have helped Landis in one stage, what’s your take on that?
Jason: I agree, it’s my understanding that the effects – which are increased muscle strength and improved recovery – take place over a number of weeks, not over-night. I think what has to be borne in mind though is that much of the activity that takes place in situations like this is based on what I would call ‘locker room pharmacology’, not scientific fact.
If so-and-so says that a testosterone patch helped recovery then that may be taken-on as fact irrespective of whether or not it is actually beneficial and there is anecdotal evidence that testosterone aids short-term recovery and also the carrying of blood to the muscles.
The psychological effect of taking the product could be as powerful if not more so, than any physical benefit.
Pez: So it’s possible that a rider could take the product, gain no actual physical benefit, win the race because of the perceived benefit, then test positive – but they could have won clean anyway?
Jason: Yes that’s very possible.
Pez: How hard would it be to spike the samples?
Jason: In terms of the chemistry, not that difficult, someone with a university degree in chemistry could do it. It’s not so much the chemical issue – it’s more the question of security. A case like this is obviously very high-profile and it would require a big conspiracy to get hold of both samples and alter them; that BBC web item I mentioned shows the procedures used. But then again, we didn’t imagine Watergate, did we?
There you have it – more fodder for your consideration on your next training ride. Like we said before, it’s likely only Floyd and a very few other people really know what’s going on here… but sadly it’s up to Floyd to convince the sporting ‘powers that be’ (and more than a few fans) that he’s in the right.