Friday, August 26, 2005

Dr. Christiane Ayotte is Doping Control director at Canada’s Institut National de la Recherché Scientifique, which is a World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) certified lab. Dr. Ayotte said on Tuesday (Aug. 23) that three ethically critical, and important, scientific questions were raised by a four-page doping allegation in the French cycling daily L’Équipe. L’Équipe released lab data with a medical identification allegedly finding banned EPO in five year old samples of cyclist Lance Armstrong’s urine, originally taken after he won the 1999 Tour de France.

Ayotte expressed surprise that chemical testing of 1999 urine could have been done in 2004 at the French national anti-doping laboratory at Châtenay-Malabry. She said that she routinely instructs all doping laboratory organizations that EPO deteriorates and disappears after two or three months, even if the urine is frozen. Ayotte does not question whether the new type of analysis is correct; rather she questions the ethics of long-delayed test results.

The first ethical problem , in her opinion, is that an adverse finding cannot be confirmed with second samples, as required by WADA regulations. She states that there are normally two samples, “A” and “B”. The Châtenay-Malabry EPO findings were based on Armstrong’s “B” samples. Armstrong’s “A” samples were depleted in 1999 for tests that did not include EPO, because no EPO test was available that year.

French Sports Minister Jean-François Lamour said that without the “A” samples, no disciplinary action could be taken against Armstrong.

The second ethical problem, in Ayotte’s view, is that an athlete charged with doping long after the athletic event has no way to submit to additional testing to disprove an adverse finding.

The third ethical problem for Ayotte is that L’Équipe disclosed Armstrong’s medical identity. “It seems to me,” Ayotte continued, “that this whole thing is breach of the WADA code. We are supposed to work confidentially until such time that we can confirm a result. By no means does this mean that we sweep a result under the carpet, but it has to meet a certain set of requirements.”

Ayotte continued, “I’m worried, because I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in Paris. I am concerned that they did not cover their backs before being dragged into a very public issue of this kind.”

Lance Armstrong has responded on his website, branding L’Équipe’s reporting as being “nothing short of tabloid journalism.” Armstrong says: “I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance[-]enhancing drugs.”

Further confusing public understanding of the EPO doping claim is Armstrong’s statement in his autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike: he said he received EPO during his cancer chemotherapy treatment. “It was the only thing that kept me alive,” he wrote.

Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, said that Armstrong owes cycling fans an explanation. Leblanc said; “For the first time—and these are no longer rumors, or insinuations, these are proven scientific facts—someone has shown me that in 1999, Armstrong had a banned substance called EPO in his body.”