Saturday, May 14, 2011

Le Dossier Secret de l'UCI

So, the big news in road cycling is yesterday's UCI leak which saw a secret list rating the pros' levels of suspicion as dopers, from 0 (no suspicion) to 10 (very suspicious). The dossier lists 198 cyclists who took part in the 2010 Tour de France and was first published by the French paper, L'Équipe. Plenty has been written about this. As always, The Inner Ring offers an excellent overview.

Here's the list for your perusal:

If you watched last night's stage on Eurosport, you would have been treated to David Harmon going on and on and on about how bad it was for the paper to leak the document. Not before declaring with a heavy heart that the topic would have to be at least touched upon. He kept chiming to the viewers and his mostly mute colleague, Sean Kelly, "Why would l'Équipe do this? How does it help anyone? Who does it benefit? There is no reason for L'Équipe to release this! What good does it do?" He seemed to forget that a lot of journalism doesn't actually do anyone any good. Anyway, I don't plan to go on about him as long as he did about it. It just seemed a bit odd, that's all. It clearly offended his sensibilities. Maybe he's just more of a gentleman than me.

I can see that this would clearly piss a lot of people off, not least the riders, but you can't really question why the paper published it. It's extremely interesting and quite frankly, the list itself makes a bit of sense. The UCI don't have infinite funds, so why shouldn't they target the riders they feel are more likely to be doping more?

Anyway, I had some time to waste on the couch last night, so I applied some layman's statistics to the list. I was interested to see if a rider's suspicion level correlated to his overall position in the 2010 Tour. To do this, I simply found the average finishing position for each of the suspicion levels.

Here's what I found;

Suspicion level
Average position

As you can see, I didn't find much. The riders in the top two levels (bottom two? (10 & 9)) don't offer much insight as there are only three of them in total. After that, the numbers fluctuate randomly between about 70th and 100th.

This was a bit annoying; I was hoping to make a massive revelation showing there was a direct correlation between the UCI's suspicion level and a rider's performance. Alas, it was not to be. This isn't really surprising though, as while there is no doubt that doping makes you faster, it isn't the case that all riders are created equal. So, doping can make an average cyclist good, a good cyclist excellent, and an excellent cyclist great. Further, the term "suspicion" is not really related to the term "definite".

And what do the varying suspicion levels mean? Well, the UCI use a biological passport system that monitors cyclists' blood values and looks for abnormalities. According to L'Équipe, a level of 0 means a rider has produced no suspicious values whatsoever. Level 1 is "guère plus" (hardly more).

Levels 2, 3 and 4 riders have shown up some vague evidence, usually with just one isolated abnormal value. The level 5 rider offers some slightly more precise evidence, sometimes "très affirmatives".

A line seems to be drawn at this point, and riders prescribed with a level of 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 offer evidence of doping which "deviennent assez accablants" (becomes fairly overwhelming). Further, some of these riders have already been the focus of an investigation by UCI experts. Some examples of behaviour that get a rider tagged with one of these higher levels are: recurring abnormal blood profiles; enormous variations; evidence of doping products; evidence of the administration of doping products; and suddenly riding much faster.

The word "overwhelming" is pretty overwhelming. To me it screams "guilty!" And I guess this is where the problem arises with this list. It's important not to judge these cyclists too harshly despite it being so easy to do so. L'Équipe did make this point clear, which for me is all that they needed to do to justify publishing the document. Of course, many people will ignore this section of the article and read this in the most negative light possible. It's not the first time this will happen and it certainly won't be the last. In the meantime, it's very interesting...

As a side note, if you'd like to make a donation to Wouter Weylandt's family, you can do so in the form of purchasing a t-shirt here.

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