Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Moving Forward

With the unexpected death of another close family member, the onset of what looks to be a cold, dreary, rainy, gray Fall in Pittsburgh (and the difficulty many, myself included, face in motivating themselves to train outdoors - or IN! - in such conditions), and an ongoing personal uncertainty around the next few months and in which direction I'll ultimately be able to move (though if I had my choice it would be either West to Southern California (forevermore known as "SoCal") or South into The Tropics or the Southern Cone until it was again sunny and 78F in Pittsburgh.

Alas, cruel world, neither are options. Therefore, in order that this blog not decay or become stale, dead or worse - an unending stream of me posting about how crappy the weather is and what my current blood values are - I've given my Italian contirbutor, Allesandro Ballanserezióne, free reign for the foreseeable future to start dropping posts full of his swarthy Mediterranean humor, sunny disposition, twisted Italo-Catholic sense of propriety, and hopefully, love of beautiful women. Pappillon would like to state for the record that it recognizes Doucheblog Cycling as the original proponent of the "Add a picture of a hot chick to   so-so   workman-like written content and your readers will be pleased" theory of blogging. What is it they say, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cousin Relationships

UPDATED (Sept. 30) - Wikipedia link to article on Cousins that includes a handy reference matrix, reproduced below. Thanks to nrmrvrk for the tip.

[NOTE: I am not the original author of the text below. My cousin sent it to me unsourced, so if the original creator is out there and reading, give me a shout out and I'll give you a credit.]

A term often found in genealogy is "removed," specifically when referring to family relationships. Indeed, almost everyone has heard of a "second cousin once removed," but many people cannot explain that relationship. Of course, a person might be more than once removed, as in third cousin, four times removed.

In short, the definition of cousins is two people who share a common ancestor. Here are a few definitions of cousin relationships:

First Cousin: Your first cousins are the people in your family who have at least one of the same grandparents as you. In other words, they are the children of your aunts and uncles.

Second Cousin: Your second cousins are the people in your family who share the same great-grandparent with you.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins: Your third cousins share at least one great-great-grandparent, fourth cousins share a great-great-great-grandparent, and so on.

Removed: When the word "removed" is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations. "Once removed" indicates a difference of one generation, "twice removed" indicates a difference of two generations, and so forth.

For example, the child of your first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. That is, your cousin's child would be "almost" your first cousin, except that he or she is one generation removed from that relationship. Likewise, the grandchild of your first cousin is your first cousin, twice removed (two generations removed from being a first cousin).

Many people confuse the term "first cousin, once removed" with "second cousin." The two are not the same.

Keep in mind that you and a relative only need to share one grandparent to be first cousins, or share one great-grandparent to be second cousins, etc. If the ancestor in question had more than one spouse and the two of you are descended from different spouses, you are full cousins. There is no such thing as a "half cousin" although you will hear people use that term occasionally.

Here are a few other terms you may encounter when determining relationships:

HALF - Means you share only one parent. Example: half-brothers may have the same father but different mothers, etc.

STEP - Not blood kin, but a close legal relationship due to re-marriage of a parent, such as step-mother, step-brother, step-son, etc.

DOUBLE FIRST COUSINS - Are first cousins twice, once on your father's side and once on your mother's side, since your father's sibling married your mother's sibling.

IN-LAW - They are not really blood kin but are treated as such because they married blood kin.

Example: Your mother-in-law is not really your mother but is treated as such because you married her daughter/son. In law, you and your spouse are considered "one". Also your brother-in-law is your brother because your parents are also his parents, in "law" (mother-in-law, father-in-law, etc.).

KITH and KIN - "Kith" are friends and acquaintances whereas "Kin" are blood relatives or someone treated as such, in law.

Cuba admits failure to pay farmers on time

If you want to lift the embargo on Cuba, that's fine. Just don't extend credit to the Castro regime and require payment in cash, in-advance prior to delivery of any good or service. The AP reports on the dictatorship's inability to pay its own farmers, in the following article:

HAVANA — Cuba on Monday acknowledged a failure to pay cash-strapped farmers on time and said some local officials lied to cover up the problem — a blunt admission from the communist government that crucial agriculture reforms lauded by President Raul Castro have so far fallen short.

The public mea culpa came in a full page spread Monday in the state-run Granma newspaper, which acknowledged that the issue is a main cause of discontent in the countryside.

It said that after an enormous effort to repay farmers that began in 2004, the problem has come up again.

"We ought to admit that provincial agriculture officials, local governments and the Agriculture Ministry itself have not taken responsibility," Agriculture Minister Ulises Rosales de Toro is quoted as saying.

The minister said that some local officials have falsified records to hide the lack of payments, something that he described as "unconscionable."

"Anybody who acts in this way calls into question his moral authority to lead," the report quoted him as saying.

Despite a warm climate and rich soil, Cuba lacks the ability to feed itself and must import more than $2 billion worth of food a year, much of it from the United States.

Cuban markets offer a grim selection of basic products, and often run out. Many complain that it is hard to get by on government ration books that grant only about 15 days worth of food for an entire month.

Raul Castro, who took over from his elder brother Fidel in February 2008, has made agriculture reform one of the main goals of his administration. He has handed over 80,000 parcels of fallow government land to private farmers and exhorted his countrymen to produce more.

The government says the program is working, although it acknowledges progress is slow. Farmers say they often lack the equipment and fertilizer to plow the new fields, and that inefficiency has caused some food to rot before it can reach supermarket shelves.

According to the Granma report, the government owes farmers about $95,000 — not much by international standards, but a windfall in a country where farmers get by on well under $100 a month and must sell most of their production back to the state.

The payment problems "constitute an immorality in that they make producers think that the state is not willing to pay them," the newspaper said.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2005 Chris Milliman.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009


If you are waiting for success to seek you out, you are headed for a big disappointment. Success is rarely forced upon anyone, and it will never overtake you unexpectedly. You must prepare for it and actively seek it out if you ever plan to achieve any measure of success in your life. Constantly be alert to changes in your business or profession. Subscribe to trade magazines and professional journals, join industry associations or professional societies, and get to know the experts in the field in order to keep abreast of new developments.

Photo Retrospective - 2

Photo Retrospective - 1


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Police Preparations for G-20 Summit

Some intrepid photographer and copy editor put-a together this a G-20-related piece, for which-a we-a no-a take-a credit. But enjoy! Ciao!

G-20 Interactive Safety Map - Available Here!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Blood Passport

"Following repeated requests for information Dr Michael Ashenden has written an easy-to-follow article that describes the concepts, haematology and statistics behind the passport concept. Dr Ashenden is currently a member of the UCI's Blood Passport expert panel responsible for interpreting cyclist's blood results on behalf of the UCI. [What follows are his words entirely.]


The red fluid in our veins we generically refer to as ‘blood’ is a complex mixture of water, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, various proteins, hormones and nutrients. In terms of sport and blood doping, we are only interested in the red blood cells. Contained within the red blood cells is a protein called haemoglobin, which has the unique capacity to bind (and release) oxygen molecules. The red cells pick up oxygen as they pass through the lungs, and carry this oxygen through the circulation until it is offloaded – in this case oxygen is delivered to the exercising muscle.

In the lead up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games (held at an altitude of 2300 m), exercise physiologists became aware that competing at altitude generally hindered endurance performance, since less oxygen was available to be delivered to exercising muscle. Shortly thereafter, it was correctly reasoned that increasing the number of red blood cells in circulation would have the opposite effect – namely to carry more oxygen to the exercising muscle and thereby enhance athletic performance. Since that time endurance sports such as distance running, cycling and cross country skiing have been stained by what has since become known as ‘blood doping’ (artificially increasing the number of red blood cells in circulation).

How do athletes blood dope?

During the 1970-80s, the only available means to blood dope was via transfusions. Although it might seem strange to us in today’s hyper-critical climate, initially blood doping was considered somewhat dubious although not banned outright in sport. In fact at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games the US cycling team used systematic blood transfusions – either reinfusing their own blood (‘autologous’ transfusion) or the blood of relatives/friends (‘homologous’ blood transfusion) in a deliberate attempt to improve their performance. However the subsequent medical outcry after this practice was publicised in the local media led to the International Olympic Committee banning blood transfusions, even though there was no method available to detect this blood doping. Decades later a test was finally introduced to detect when athletes had used homologous transfusions (ironically it was an American cyclist, Tyler Hamilton, who was the first to be sanctioned for transfusion, exactly 20 years after the Los Angeles Olympics). Although the introduction of this test closed one transfusion door (homologous), the alternate door (autologous) remains wide open – as of today no test exists to detect when an athlete has used autologous blood transfusion. As illustrated by the Operacion Puerto affair, this practice is widespread in elite sport.

During the early 1990s yet another door to blood dope was opened for athletes – ‘EPO’ (or more correctly, recombinant human erythropoietin). EPO is a naturally occurring hormone produced mainly in the kidney. The hormone circulates in blood and targets the bone marrow, where it stimulates the production of red blood cells. In 1985 scientists successfully cloned the human gene that produces EPO, and four years later the American pharmaceutical company Amgen released their own recombinant product onto market. The bone marrow behaves like a blind robot and releases extra red blood cells under the influence of EPO, regardless of whether the hormone originated from the kidney or a syringe. Athletes quickly realised that EPO injections were a quicker, neater and more convenient means to blood dope than either homologous or autologous transfusions. Sadly for those of us with a passion for true sporting contest, in the 1990s EPO tipped the sporting world upside down so that cynical doctors and drug gurus, rather than talent and training, came to dominate results.

How does sport seek to detect athletes who blood dope?

The first step taken by federations to counter the farcical performances generated by EPO-doped athletes was to collect blood samples and measure the red cell concentration possessed by the athlete. The rationale was that the concentration of red cells in athletes who had used EPO would be elevated beyond normal levels. Some federations such as cross country skiing (FIS), cycling (UCI) and biathlon (IBU) introduced upper limits whereby athletes would be prevented from competing if their blood concentrations were too high. The most well-known example of this strategy is the “50% haematocrit rule” that prevented cyclists from competing if the concentration of red blood cells exceeded 50%.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games two new strategies to detect athletes using EPO were introduced. One was a urine-based test that was able to discriminate the naturally occurring EPO produced in the kidney from the synthetic EPO delivered via syringe. A decade later this test remains unsurpassed as the cornerstone of antidoping strategies. The second test introduced at Sydney was a blood-based test. Instead of relying on just haematocrit levels, the test also incorporated several other blood variables in an effort to minimise the risk of falsely accusing an athlete of EPO doping in circumstances where genetic, natural or permitted interventions led to increased concentrations of red blood cells.

Since 2000, the sophistication of blood testing has evolved to the point where federations are now conducting routine blood tests, entering these results into a database, and using these historical test results as a benchmark to evaluate the likelihood that an athlete has blood doped. This approach has become known as the ‘Blood Passport’.

What is the Blood Passport?

Although the bone marrow behaves like a blind robot to generate red blood cells when stimulated by EPO, the body has a negative feedback loop in place to protect against the concentration of red blood cells reaching excessive levels in the bloodstream. Sensors in the kidney detect when red cell levels are too high and suppress the production of EPO. Reduced EPO levels in the bloodstream leads to the bone marrow producing less red blood cells, thereby keeping the system in balance. All healthy individuals possess the same negative feedback mechanism, however the level of red blood cells required to trigger the feedback loop differs between individuals. Subsequently one person might have their feedback mechanism triggered when the concentration of red blood cells is 40%, whereas another person may have a different ‘set point’ of 47%. Rather than impose a single absolute threshold, say 50%, the Blood Passport seeks to establish an individual threshold that reflects each athlete’s natural set point level. These individually-tailored thresholds then replace the upper limit of 50%.

How does the Blood Passport work?

In theory the Passport is very simple. We must establish each athlete’s true value, and decide what tolerance around this true value we will allow for situations such as dehydration, exercise or exposure to altitude that we know can temporarily change the blood result.

As an example, one very simplistic approach would be to collect a single blood test from the athlete, and allow them to vary within 15 points (higher or lower) of whatever haematocrit we measured during the first blood test. Unfortunately this would do very little to deter athletes from blood doping, since it would allow athletes to increase their haematocrit from 40% up to 53% without penalty. The unfortunate athlete found to have a haematocrit of 56% might also argue that their baseline value of 40% was incorrect and should instead have been 42% (and subsequently, they could argue that their second reading of 56% would still remain within the permitted 15 point tolerance).

The hypothetical “15 point” rule is a test we would describe as being highly ‘specific’ – it would be exceedingly rare to find an athlete who varied by 15 points who had not doped! But the test would be deemed to have low ‘sensitivity’ – it would not detect any of the athletes who doped but whose value remained within 15 points of their baseline value. Sliding the limit to within (say) 5 points of their baseline would increase sensitivity but decrease specificity (since most athletes who doped would be caught, but some athletes would naturally vary by 5 points without doping and would therefore be a ‘false positive’). Researchers and statisticians have thus worked very hard to develop a Blood Passport approach that has high sensitivity as well as high specificity.

One strategy to increase sensitivity has been to abandon the inclusion of haematocrit in blood tests. Studies have shown that it is difficult for analysers to measure haematocrit precisely, and this value also changes if the blood sample is stored for more than a few hours since the red blood cells swell and thus distort their apparent prevalence in the bloodstream.

Haematology ‘101’
The preferred variable today in the Blood Passport is ‘haemoglobin concentration’. Each red blood cell contains a set amount of haemoglobin (which is the oxygen carrying protein that also gives blood its characteristic red colour). Even if the red cells swell between the time the sample is collected and analysed on the instrument, the amount of haemoglobin within the cell does not change and can be measured with a very high degree of precision by automated haematology analysers. Since transfusing blood or using EPO will increase the amount of haemoglobin in the bloodstream (each additional red blood cell adds to the amount of haemoglobin in circulation), haemoglobin is analogous to measuring haematocrit but with several additional benefits.

The second variable used in the Blood Passport is the percentage of ‘reticulocytes’ in circulation. These are perhaps the most sensitive indicator of blood doping we have, therefore we pay close attention to how reticulocyte levels change in the bloodstream. To explain what reticulocytes are, its necessary to revisit how red cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Circulating red blood cells are the only cells in the body that do not have a nucleus (the region of the cell that contains DNA and releases RNA into the cell cytoplasm). However this is not always the case - when red cells are first generated in the bone marrow they do contain a nucleus, but the nucleus is ‘extruded’ from the cell shortly before it is released from the bone marrow into circulation. For the first day or so in circulation, the red cell contains some remnant RNA leftover from the nucleic activity present when the cell was maturing within the bone marrow. In order to detect these newly released red cells, a stain can be added to the blood sample that attaches only to RNA. Any cell that contains some of this RNA-bound stain is designated to be a ‘reticulocyte’, and sufficient RNA persists in these reticulocytes that they can be detected after they are first released from the bone marrow. Once all of the remnant RNA has vanished from the cell and can no longer be detected via the stain, we designate that they have progressed from being a reticulocyte into a ‘mature’ red blood cell.

Typically we find that about 1% of all red blood cells in circulation contain remnant RNA, so we regard 1% as the ‘baseline’ value for reticulocytes in healthy individuals. There have been many studies conducted where subjects have been treated with EPO and in those subjects we find that once treatment commences, the reticulocyte values do not change for the first 3-4 days after the first injection. This represents the period of time that the immature red blood cells undergo maturation in the bone marrow (i.e., extruding the nucleus). However a few days later the percentage of reticulocytes in circulation gradually increases up to 2%, 3% or even in some extreme cases 4%. The peak values roughly correspond to the dosage of EPO used – the higher the dosage of EPO injected the greater the subsequent peak in reticulocyte percentage. Unfortunately there is not a ‘one size fits all’ equation that equates EPO use with a specific reticulocyte percentage – athletes who vary their dosage, or use infrequent injections can have values anywhere between 1% and 4% when they are using EPO.

Another scenario where we might find elevated reticulocyte levels is in an athlete who has recently donated blood intended for storage and subsequent reinfusion. It takes several weeks for the body to replenish the blood that has been withdrawn, and during this period of time the reticulocyte values increase to 2-3% as the bone marrow is stimulated to release additional reticulocytes to replace the red cells that have been withdrawn. Again it is not possible to designate a specific reticulocyte percentage to reflect blood withdrawal – reticulocyte percentages will be higher if larger volumes of blood are withdrawn and only slightly elevated if smaller volumes of blood were taken. Additionally the reticulocyte levels gradually return to baseline levels (around 1%) during the several weeks it takes for the body to replenish lost cells – so a value of 2% might reflect a large volume of blood withdrawn several weeks before or a small volume of blood withdrawn just a few days earlier.

The ‘OFF’ score

The most enduring outcome from antidoping research leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games is surely the now well-known ‘OFF’ model. During controlled studies when subjects were administered EPO, it became clear to researchers that for several weeks after subjects came ‘off’ EPO they had a lower-than-normal percentage of reticulocytes, in tandem with a higher-than-normal haemoglobin concentration. This finding has been widely reproduced in other laboratories, and is interpreted to be the body’s biological response to elevated levels of red blood cells in circulation. The body does not have a mechanism to remove excess red blood cells, therefore the only avenue open to bring elevated blood levels back to the set point is by reducing the baseline rate of red cell production. As the bone marrow suppresses reticulocyte production, fewer cells are released into circulation thus the percentage of reticulocytes typically falls below 1%. In some extreme cases the reticulocyte levels fall below 0.2% however a more typical post-EPO finding is around 0.4%.

Interestingly, the body demonstrates the same kind of response after additional red blood cells are introduced into circulation via transfusion. However our research shows that post-transfusion the reticulocytes do not fall as dramatically as after EPO usage, and we typically find reticulocyte values in the range of 0.5-0.7% in subjects following blood transfusion.

Although it has been revamped somewhat since 2000, the current OFF model utilised in the Blood Passport combines both haemoglobin concentration and reticulocyte percentage within a single equation to yield the ‘OFF’ score. Specifically, we take the square root of the reticulocyte percentage (square root of 4% is 2), multiply this by 60 and then subtract that value from the haemoglobin concentration. Assuming that an athlete was in the midst of an extremely high EPO treatment we might find a haemoglobin concentration of 180 g/L and reticulocyte percentage of 4%, their OFF score would be 60. If we tested that same athlete 10 days after they stopped EPO their haemoglobin might be unchanged but reticulocyte levels may have dropped to 0.2%, giving them an OFF score of 153.

The first application of the OFF model in sport stipulated that any athlete found with an OFF score in excess of 126 (or thereabouts, the value varies somewhat depending on which instrument is used to measure reticulocytes so some federations use a limit of 133) would be precluded from competition. These limits were derived from measures taken on thousands of athletes and volunteer subjects. On average it was found that a healthy person’s OFF score was around 85. Some people were slightly higher, and some people slightly lower. Very few athletes who had not doped (less than 1 in 1000) had an OFF score in excess of 126. Subsequently, federations imposed a limit of 126 (or 133) confident that the likelihood of a clean athlete exceeding this score was 1 in 1000 but knowing that athletes who had recently ceased using EPO often showed values well in excess of 126 for several weeks afterward.

So where does the Blood Passport fit in?

It did not take athletes long to realise that by decreasing their dosages of EPO, or reducing the volume of blood transfused, they could reduce the changes in haemoglobin and reticulocyte levels and thereby remain below the threshold limit. During the EPO treatment itself (reticulocyte levels elevated) OFF scores would be below 85 and after treatment ceased (reticulocyte percentage suppressed) they would be higher than 85, but at neither point would the absolute level be sufficiently extreme for the federation to take action. Similarly, in the case of blood transfusion, OFF scores would be decreased in the weeks after blood had been withdrawn (elevated reticulocytes) and increased in the weeks after blood had been reinfused (low reticulocytes). But the change in the OFF score over that time period is highly unusual in both scenarios, and searching for these suspicious changes in OFF score (or haemoglobin level) has became the mantra of antidoping researchers worldwide.

Statistics 101

After evaluating the blood results of thousands of athletes, it became clear to researchers that on average athletes have a haemoglobin concentration close to 145 g/L, a reticulocyte value close to 1%, and an OFF score close to 85. Of course, these values vary somewhat due to natural biological factors, day-to-day circumstances such as dehydration/exercise, as well as the error associated with the instrument measuring these variables. Collectively we regard these factors as variations ‘within the subject’ since they represent the variability that we would find in a subject’s blood values if we tested their blood repeatedly over weeks/months.

As well, it is clear that some athletes have set point haemoglobin (and reticulocyte) values that were slightly above or below the average, so in addition to the ‘within subject’ variation there was also a difference between subjects not due to those natural fluctuations but instead representing a ‘permanent’ difference between individuals. We term these differences ‘between subject’ variations since they represent the differences we find between subjects despite allowing for the natural and instrument variations.

One of the first statistical approaches to incorporate the Blood Passport concept has become known as the ‘3G’ approach. After an initial blood sample is tested, the 3G model allows for both ‘within’ and ‘between’ subject variations to set a limit above and below the recorded value. By using an approach analogous to the earlier mentioned 1 in 1000 thresholds, the 3G model establishes how unusual the gap between first and second values is in terms of what would be expected in an athlete who had not doped. It does this by calculating the number of standard deviations (also known as ‘z-scores’) the second value is away from the first. A second value that was exactly the same as the first would have zero standard deviations difference from the first score, whereas a value that differed considerably from the first might be 3 standard deviations away.

The z-scores associated with a blood profile need to be interpreted with some caution, because the units cannot be interpreted in a linear fashion. Changes that are within 2 standard deviations of expected (z-score less than or equal to 2) are commonplace. However as z-scores approach and exceed 3 it becomes highly unlikely that such a change would be found in non-doped athletes. In other words, whether a z-score was 0, 1 or 2 would be immaterial to me, however my attention would certainly be drawn to a sample with a z-score of 3.0 (and a score of 4.0 would be astronomical)!

Because earlier research has established how much the blood values from clean athletes vary between two different tests, we can use the z-score to convey a likelihood that the variations found would have occurred in an athlete who had not doped. Thus a z-score of 3.09 conveys that there is only a 1 in 1000 likelihood of finding such a large difference in an athlete who had not doped.

The 3G model requires a first sample against which to compare the current result. For the third sample, it is compared with the average of the first two samples collected from the athlete. Each additional value is added to the database, and gradually over time the athlete accrues a ‘Passport’ of results belonging to them and against which all of their subsequent results are compared.

A second model, commonly referred to as the ‘Bayesian approach’, is the model currently utilised by the UCI and also to be adopted by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). In its current guise the Bayesian approach utilises a modified Bayesian statistical approach which closely resembles the 3G approach, but it has several potential advantages. First, the Bayesian approach does not need a baseline blood value against which to compare the second – instead, it assumes that the athlete belongs to the normal population and attributes the ‘population’ mean value to the athlete. Each time the athlete provides an additional sample the Bayesian model places greater emphasis on the athlete’s own value and less emphasis on the original population value. It generates tolerable limits in the same fashion as the 3G model – enabling the federations to gauge how unusual each blood value is in the context of previous results from that athlete (i.e., based on the same concept of ‘within’ and ‘between’ subject variations described earlier for the 3G approach).

An added advantage of the Bayesian approach is the capacity to build in allowances for external factors that might influence the blood result – for example whether the athlete had been exposed to altitude, or belonged to a unique ethnic group. Currently there is insufficient background data to confidently make these allowances, but the Bayesian approach is expected to be refined and improved over time when and if this data becomes available.

Aside from setting tolerance limits, the Blood Passport approach also includes a ‘sequence’ step which provides important additional evidence whether a dataset is representative of a non-doped athlete. An athlete who deliberately uses small doses of EPO or transfusion will tend to have values that increase or decrease slightly over time, and this constant but unusual pattern of small change – despite not exceeding thresholds – can be detected by the specialised software used by federations to interpret blood profiles. We always compare back to what we would expect to see in a non-doped athlete, and the sequencing software yields a probability that the repeated small variations apparent in a data set would be found in a clean athlete. In other words, we don’t just look for unusual values that exceed limits, but unusual changes in those values that seem suspicious.

What happens when we find an unusual variation?

The WADA Code stipulates that federations can sanction athletes based on evidence gleaned from the Blood Passport, and the potential to sanction athletes displaying abnormal variations in their blood has been touted as an important application of this tool. However several steps are required before a federation will proceed to a sanction based on Blood Passport data.

In its current format, a blood profile would first need to exceed the 1 in 1000 threshold before it was highlighted as being unusual. This is largely a matter of convenience to ‘sieve’ out only the most unusual profiles from amongst the hundreds/thousands collected by a federation. However various expert panels have reached consensus that if a profile were to exceed this threshold it would be compelling evidence that the profile was abnormal. What this threshold does not reveal, however, is whether the abnormal profile was the result of doping, a medical condition or some other explanation.

To make this determination, the federations must convene a panel of experts who are required to interpret the blood profile to establish whether a non-doping circumstance is present. For example, some pathological conditions give rise to highly unusual blood profiles that may exceed a 1 in 1000 threshold but which can be diagnosed by medical specialists as being due to illness and not doping. By a process of exclusion, when no other explanation can be found for an abnormal profile the panel may deem the unusual result to be evidence that the athlete in question had doped.

In many instances the profile may not exceed the 1 in 1000 threshold, but experts may recognise tell-tale signatures as being characteristic of doping (for example the constant but small changes due to ‘microdosing’ with EPO or transfusion). In those situations, the federation may utilize this information to target test the athlete in question at times where EPO use might be predicted (such as in the week or two preceding a major competition). So in cases where the Blood Passport may not yield sufficient evidence to impose a sanction based on the blood values alone, the utilisation of intelligence gleaned from the Passport may lead to the federation conducting an out-of-competition test at a time when trace amounts of the banned substance are still in circulation – and thus indirectly lead to a sanction.

What’s the future for the Blood Passport?

In the short term, the evidence gleaned from blood profiles will enable federations to allocate their testing resources most heavily on those athletes with the most unusual blood profiles. For example, such information has already led the UCI to re-test samples collected from riders at times when their blood profile – in a historical context – suggested that they may have been using EPO. Although the stored sample had not been tested originally for the presence of EPO, re-testing the sample has found trace amounts of EPO which led to the rider being sanctioned.

One powerful application of the Blood Passport concept may well lie in the combination of results from different tests. As an example, an athlete with consistent, small fluctuations in blood values may be target tested several days after a recent injection of EPO. It could be that neither the urine profile nor the blood profile by themselves exceeded their relevant thresholds. However by combining the two ‘unusual’ outcomes (from independent tests) the cumulative evidence that an athlete doped might exceed the level of certainty required to impose a sanction. Moreover in the future, it is hoped that ‘forensic’ evidence from varied sources (blood tests, urine tests, hormone profiles, whereabouts information) could be combined in a manner that would dramatically increase the sensitivity of any single piece of evidence in isolation.

However, key researchers who developed the mathematical models underlying the Passport approach agree that perhaps the most powerful application of the Passport lies in the realm of no-start penalties. Although this currently sits outside of the WADA Code (an athlete is deemed to have doped, or not doped, but nothing in between) it is hoped that federations will realise the deterrent effect this would pose and introduce no-start penalties under specific rules of sport.

It is to be expected that as athletes seek to evade detection by maintaining blood values within thresholds, the variations apparent in blood profiles collected by federations will become smaller and less extreme over time. A rule of sport, rather than the WADA Code, could be the key to counter this evolution. Athletes would quickly realise that even ‘modulated’ doping within Passport limits would be counterproductive if it led to them being ruled ineligible to compete at a major competition. The burden of evidence to exclude an athlete from competition is necessarily less than the level of evidence required to impose a two year sanction, and it is envisaged that this ‘interim’ step to counter profiles that were suspicious but remained within the threshold might form a crucial pillar of future Blood Passport strategies."

Memorial Ride

Today's memorial ride is canceled, not due to weather, but rather - equipment difficulties.

Be Like Vodka and Chill, Homeboys

Monday, September 21, 2009

To All the Haters

Gmail Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Family - I'm So Tired of my Involement in Doping - but I can't end it

Does anyone who reads this blog realize that I'm married to an amazing woman, who was herself a world class rider, comparatively better than me as an athlete and an all-around-good person? The only problem was that she is Cuban and I am American. I was recently asked if I was divorced, because it said in my wikipedia that my wife, Yuliet, and I were separated or something. Well, yes, we are separated by the evil tyranny of the Castro regime in Cuba and the inefficient system in place by the US to grant visa's to the foreign spouses of US citizens. I haven't seen Yuliet for nearly three years, our last reunion being in late-2006. Emigration plans were in place, and she might have been in the US that spring - but for the fact that she became pregnant.

If the Cuban and US bureaucracies would have gotten off their collective asses and considered this situation for what it really was, maybe they would have showed a bit of humanity to get Yuliet out then and there, but they didn't. By the time the US papers were ready (and I commend the staff of the USIS in Havana for their self-less efforts on behalf of my wife), the Cuban papers weren't, and probably never will be. Eventually, too pregnant to travel, Yuliet gave birth to a boy in Cuba in July 2007. Two years and around two months have passed, and yet I've never held him in my arms. But he kept calling me "Papa, Papa!" during one of these rare phone calls we can make work. There might be internet in hotels and state offices in Cuba, but the normal, average Cuban is lucky to find food on a daily basis - let alone have access to email and broadband.

If you're ignorant of the horror of the modern Cuba, visit The Real Cuba. I competed (doped and clean ) in the Vuelta a Cuba five times, and with my own eyes I saw the deprivations that Castro claims don't exist there.Yet Cuba has the potential to be the most beautiful country in the world. If my shit was together, and there was a foreign multi-national hiring MBA students to work in Cuba, I'd be there in a second. Three years without my wife and the son Ive never seen, who called me "Papa! Papa!" tonight , have left me a tormented man. Trying to be correct and proper we did our best to follow the legal process for securing Yuliet's departure from Cuba. If I came from a family of means, I would have paid a team of mercenaries to extract her and our child from a remote beach somewhere so we could be reunited... Powerball loterry anyone?

SO if you think I am dick or a jerk or a putz as a result of our having an interaction at some point during these last three years, keep in mind that I'm very negatively affected, always by the notion that my wife and I, who love each other very much, stand little change of being reunited again. That weighs heavy on my heart, and it's a big reason why I don't write much about Cuba anymore here at Pappillon.

The reason I don't write about my family here is because to do so forces me to confront the terrible, horrible pain that accompanies the impotency of not being able to free your wife and a little two-year old boy from the clutches of a tyranny only 90 miles south of Miami.

Lance Armstrong Meets BioPassport: Tour Hgb not Explainable

UPDATE: Armstrong Exonerated
from Doping at 2009 Tour de France.

UPDATED (Sept. 20): Part 4 Now Available!

Personally, I think Lance Armstrong Doped. But here is an excerpt from part 4:

"...What becomes evident from the composite prediction is that a rise in Retic between the end of the Giro and 6/16 may have been missed. The low Retic at 6/16 may be consistent with the fall after an initial peak. Similarly, the low point at 1 week after altitude exposure may be consistent with the low point after altitude exposure. Overal, assuming that the Retic did in fact trend up before falling you end up with a somewhat akward but plausible fit.

The explanation becomes less convincing when the Retic stays flat after reaching its low. The Retic does show a recovery, but it comes a week later than expected and is followed by another drop. In the end, altitude could be used to account for the initial drop in Retic, but it is not a solid explanation for a persistent low normal Retic.

Taking into account training status, the effect of a Grand Tour, and altitude exposure the analysis fails to fully explain the persistently low normal retic from 6/16 through the Tour. While other factors may be at play they probably have less of an impact. There is also the possibility of a synergistic effect, but it would be difficult to find data that supports this argument while excluding the possibility of manipulation at the same time..."

UPDATED (Sept. 15): Part 3 Now Available!

According to Local Cyclist:

"Yes the Tour Hgb is explainable. In fact, the Hgb may have behaved in a completely consistent manner... the the expected volume expansion did in fact take place. It simply started before the second grand tour and reached a physiologic limit before the end of the race. The clue to this possibility is listening to the Retic..."

Watch this space for a link to the full, upcoming article.

UPDATED (Sept. 15): Part 3 Now Available!

A Tale of Two Cyclists: Part 2; Part 1

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nicole Reinhart: June 3, 1976 - Sept. 17, 2000

On September 17, 2000, Nicole Reinhart was killed during a 42-mile circuit race held on a 3.5-mile course in Arlington, Massachusetts. She was thrown from her bicycle and struck a tree. This event was the last of four races comprising the 2000 BMC Software Cycling Grand Prix. She had won the previous three. The organizers offered $250,000 to any rider who won all four. The prize was donated to her family, who established the Nicole Reinhart Foundation in Macungie, Pennsylvania, in her honor.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cadel Evans' Nickname

Far and away the best nickname submitted thus far for Cadel Evans was one from our Italian fan base: "l'orchidea". While it stands up next to "il (now-retired but still has a fan club) Grillo", I was hoping for something a bit more ... well, I was hoping for something that departed from the perceived truth and recast Cadel Evans as the fucking mountain climbing, time-trialing machine that he is. While I'll let "l'orchidea" stand in deference to the common belief about Cadel's delicate, yet beautiful but fragile persona and psyche, my own personal suggestions are (in Italian, to keep with the theme set by "John" from Melbourne):

1) "il metronomo" or

2) "la mantide religiosa"

And from the USA's own Bill Laudien, we have this doozy, which just arrived [Note: Pappillon checked with Mr. Laudien and reminded him he did not have to speak for attribution, but he insisted on being quoted. - Ed.] :

Cadel "Show" Evans - as in Win...Place...or Show. Ouch. That hurts. Though I bet Cadel Evans would be happy with third place on the podium of this year's Vuelta a España.

I'm not sure that either get at the REAL Cadel (especially because I've never had a chance to sit down for a beer and a chat with the guy - not that I expect he'd welcome me to his table), but at least it's not "Cookie" and these are certainly better than "Cuddles."

UPDATED (Sept. 16): More nicknames, delivered from the US and Australia. First those from down under:

4) "The Lung" - You could tell he was something special & was destined for great things.
5) "Chrystal Cranks”*
6) “Powder Puff"*
7) “Snow Flake”*

*(The Aussie who sent me these added a disclaimer pertaining to CC-SF: *"These of course are tongue in cheek as I know he is an incredible athlete and have total respect for his achievements on the bike."Fair enough. Good show.)

8) "Cradel"

Less kind are my fellow Americans, offering:

9) "Woody" - 'As in would he crack today or the next.'

10) "Adobe"- 'He crumbles with age.'

11) "The Conductor" - 'Would be cool but he hasn't punched many tickets as of late.'

We'll keep accepting suggestions through the end of the week, and will share some of the best ones with you. Submissions in any language are fine, as long as you ensure I can figure out what the language is, and Google Translate can handle the job of rendering it in English for my monolingual base.

Hey, we can't all be the Tommeke of our world. Or Can We? Click "Play" below and decide for yourself.

Ponder that, and until you have the answer, just Venga! But please remember, all photos are (c) UNIPUBLIC. Gracias!

(He just doesn't look that cuddly...) (c) UNIPUBLIC

If you're not exactly sure what Mr. Laudien meant when he gave Cadel Evans the "Show" nickname, it helps to know a bit about horse racing and bets. For that we turn to, which explains:

"Win, Place, and Show bets are commonly called straight wagers, and are the most traditional in horse racing. They are lower risk bets compared to exotic wagers like Exactas and Trifectas. These wagers are a good place for the novice horseplayer to jump in.

The three bet types:

Win: If you wager $2 to Win on your horse, you collect only if your horse finished first.
Place: If you wager $2 to Place, your horse must finish first or second for you to collect. But remember, you don't get the Win payoff, just the Place payoff, which is generally smaller than the win payoff.
Show: If you wager $2 to Show, your horse must finish first, second, or third. But remember, you only collect the Show payoff.

Many experts consider playing a horse to Win to be the best bet in horse racing. Before placing a Win bet a horseplayer can see the odds on the tote board and then determine if those odds represent good wagering value.

After all, return on investment is really the name of the game."

And there you go. But before you do, here is a reprise of our Vuelta a España Stage 17 preview:

Stage 17 Preview:

The 17th stage will take place on Wednesday 16th September and, on paper, represents the best opportunity the GC favourites have to take it easy and recover their strength as, following the three consecutive mountain finishes in Andalucia, they still have a good deal climbing ahead of them in and around Madrid.

The 17th stage starts in Ciudad Real and finishes in Talavera de Reina, a city that is world renowned for its ceramics. The route covers a total of 193 kilometers and includes no climbs. There are only two special sprints, both located in the final kilometres of the stage.

Previous editions:

Prior to 2005, Ciudad Real had only hosted on stage start. Since then, however, the city has been a fixture in the race schedule, to the point where the race passed through the city twice in 2008. Talavera has also figured in recent editions: in 2007 it hosted the finish of a stage that also started in Ciduad Real. The winner on that occasion was Daniele Bennati.

It's HOT in Cuba and the Fans Don't Work

Think it's hot where you live? Think your AC unit doesn't cool off your Burbank apartment quickly enough? Think everything is paradise in Cuba? I invite you to watch this, then.

Sudando la Gota Gorda
Documental de Katy Watson, Joey Seager, Winston Bell y Helen Woolston, 2008. (EICTV)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vino Galley

I've written admiringly about Vino before, if only because of his personality and the color he brings to cycling. Yes, he was an unrepentant doper. But some make the same claim about Lance. The only difference in that situation might be that Lance never tested positive, whilst Vino was caught for blood doping. He obviously rode the Vuelta clean this year, abandoning on stage 12 - but is scheduled to ride the Worlds for Kazakhstan. I think that is a good enough excuse to revisit a Vino Vuelta '06 Gallery, starting with a TT-depart from which I'd be pained to be sent away ...

All photos (c) UNIPUBLIC

All photos (c) UNIPUBLIC

Bruyneel's Downfall (Complimenti a Hitler)

"But the shit we're using this year is so new it's undetectable!"

Or is it?

Vuelta Stage 16: Greipel se impone en el día más tranquilo de la Vuelta

El ciclista de Columbia, Andre Greipel, se ha impuesto en la decimosexta etapa de la Vuelta con final en Puertollano. William Bonnet (Bouygues Telecom) y Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) han sido segundo y tercero respectivamente. Los 170 kilómetros entre Córdoba y Puertollano han sido, sin duda, los más tranquilos de la Vuelta. Nada más comenzar, el pelotón ha ascendido compacto el Alto de los Villares y nada más coronar ha atacado el corredor del Andalucía-CajaSur, Jesús Rosendo.

Y así han sido los 150 kilómetros siguientes. El pelotón se lo ha tomado con calma y Rosendo ha ido aumentando la diferencia hasta lograr una ventaja máxima de 13 minutos. A partir de ahí, Columbia, Liquigas, Contentpolis-AMPO y Milram han trabajado en cabeza para neutralizar a Rosendo.

A falta de 18 kilómetros, la aventura del andaluz ha llegado a su fin y los equipos de los sprinters han luchado para posicionarse en cabeza y llegar al sprint con opciones. A falta de tres kilómetros ha habido una caída. Afortunadamente los cuatro afectados han podido cruzar la línea de meta. Y en el final, Greipel ha hecho bueno el trabajo de Columbia y ha obtenido la tercera victoria en esta Vuelta.

Stage 17 Preview:

The 17th stage will take place on Wednesday 16th September and, on paper, represents the best opportunity the GC favourites have to take it easy and recover their strength as, following the three consecutive mountain finishes in Andalucia, they still have a good deal climbing ahead of them in and around Madrid.

The 17th stage starts in Ciudad Real and finishes in Talavera de Reina, a city that is world renowned for its ceramics. The route covers a total of 193 kilometers and includes no climbs. There are only two special sprints, both located in the final kilometres of the stage.

Previous editions:

Prior to 2005, Ciudad Real had only hosted on stage start. Since then, however, the city has been a fixture in the race schedule, to the point where the race passed through the city twice in 2008. Talavera has also figured in recent editions: in 2007 it hosted the finish of a stage that also started in Ciduad Real. The winner on that ocassion was Daniele Bennati.

All Photos (c) UNIPUBLIC.

We Leave (or Welcome you to) the Vuelta with this Photo

Remember, give Cadel Evans a new nickname!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vuelta a España - Stage 16 - Preview

The 16th stage, which starts in Cordoba and finishes in Pertollano, will take place on Tuesday 15th September. This time we are almost certain to see a sprint finish and a day of peace for the main favourites to the 2009 Vuelta crown..

The stage, which links Andalucía and Castilla-La Mancha, includes two 3rd-category climbs, Villares and Chimorra, both of which are located early in the route. The final, slightly uphill, kilometres wouldn’t seem to provide a major obstacle to a bunch finish.

Previous editions: Córdoba has hosted 14 stage starts. Puertollano has a less intense, although more concentrated, history in the Vuelta, having hosted finishes every year since 2005. Alessandro Petacchi, Leonardo Duque and Daniele Bennati figure among the list of distinguished winners to claim victory in the city.

As VeloNews reported on today's stage:

"Race leader Alejandro Valverde and his Caisse d’Epargne team declared an unofficial rest day as Lars Boom (Rabobank) won stage 15 out of a 13-rider break.

Boom attacked a large breakaway on the second of two trips up the Category 2 Alto de San Jeronimo and soloed in for the victory more than 90 seconds ahead of David Herrero (Xacobeo Galicia) with Dominik Roels (Milram) third.

"This is something special and important because it is a major tour," Boom said.

Behind — and we do mean behind — the peloton was coasting along, content to let the break have its way after three tough days in the mountains. André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) finally led the peloton in 25 minutes after Boom crossed the line.

Third-placed Samuel Sanchez Euskaltel-Euskadi) tried a little move on the final descent, but it was neither fast nor technical enough for him to take any time on the race leader, and the GC remained unchanged.

"Valverde is concentrated as never before but I will continue to try to overtake him. At one minute ... it is a good result ... I don't rule anything out at all," said Sanchez."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vuelta a España - Stage 15 - Preview

Tomorrow's 15th stage of the Vuelta a España sees the riders enjoying a well-deserved break after three consecutive stages with mountain finishes. However, their rest will be relative, given that the route between Jaén and Córdoba would not seem to be the most appropriate for the sprinters. The stage covers a total of 167 kilometers.

The stage itself has been designed by and for cycling fans [Note: my input was not solicited - Ed.], with two laps of Córdoba before the stage finish and, therefore, with climbs of to San Jerónimo (2nd Category,), which has proved on previous occasions to be no mean obstacle for the sprinters. The summit is located just over 10 kilometers from the finish. Even the GC favorites will have their options at the finish.

Previous editions: Jaén has hosted nine stage starts, whilst Cordoba has hosted 17 stage finishes. The most recent stage to finish in Córdoba also started in Jaén. This was in 2008 and was won by Tom Boonen, who unfortunately abandoned the Vuelta yesterday, during the arduous stage to Sierra Nevada. This year, however, the finish is more challenging and the riders will arrive with a lot less strength than on the previous occasion.

Cadel Evans remains this correspondent's sentimental favorite, though after yesterday's untimely mechanical and his pained 7th place finish on today's stage, only a fool would bet on the Australian against the whole of Spain. Sitting 5th at 1:51 from race leader Alejandro Valverde, the man with a Wikipedia-verified nickname of "Cuddles" needs to stop being warm, fuzzy and whiny and instead slash and burn his way back into contention.

With five stages to go before next week's individual time trial, the penultimate day of racing in the Vuelta, it's imperative that Evans lose the "Cuddles" moniker and redeem himself in the eyes of the cycling press (of which I'm now apparently a legitimate member, once again). This writer strongly believes that it's Evan's sappy, sentimental and overly-sweet nickname that has impaired his performance (and not an absence of CERA from his Australian blood, for example), and invites you - the reader - to make haste and quickly rechristen "Cuddles" with an apodo befitting a Grant Tour Winner. While "'Roo," "VegemiteyCadel" or even "The Wizard of Oz" would be better nicknames than "Cuddles," I don't agree with Bike S(n)ob NYC, who swings too far into the territory of suggested autocriticism when he refers to Evans as "The John Coltrane of Excuses." Many of Evans' excuses would seem legitimate to a fellow cyclist, though the one thing that can't be explained-away is that fucking nickname. So get on it! I'm calling on my Australian readers especially to lead the charge here - give your man a new name and help him back into the top-3!

On another note, if betting were legal in the USA, my pick for the Worlds would be Damiano Cunego, with an assist by able-bodied Filippo "The Ego" Pozzato. Il Piccolo Principe flew up the final climb today to take his second win of this year's Vuelta, as described by VeloNews:

"Damiano Cunego (Lampre) collected his second win of the 2009 Vuelta a España on Sunday atop the Alto Sierra de la Pandera.

Cunego jumped away from a crumbling nine-man break to climb the Pandera alone to victory as the battle for the overall was fought behind him. Fellow breakaway Jacob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) hung on for second at 2:23, with a resurgent Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) third at 3:08.

Race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) briefly found himself in difficulty on the steeps of the Pandera, but fought his way back to finish fifth on the day at 3:22, 12 seconds behind the ever-aggressive Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia).

Rather than losing time, Valverde actually took some seconds on his rivals — Robert Gesink (Rabobank) finished sixth at 3:26, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) seventh at 3:40 and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) ninth at 3:48."

Take a look at the complete route map for this year's Vuelta, courtesy of Unipublic, which has seen fit to accredit Pappillon and its staff as "virtual" prensa for the remainder of the race. We'll bring you all of the standard race coverage you depend on, such as stage profiles, maps and results, infused with brilliant, hi-res imagery and snarky or otherwise non-PC commentary.