The rush of news reports that followed Tour de France winner Floyd Landis' abnormal test results included a few misconceptions and hastily made judgments. Here's a stab at clearing them up:
1. It's not a positive yet
No doping test is considered positive until it's confirmed by a backup analysis. That's a second test on part of the urine sample taken the same day -- not, as one well-known television host implied, a second test on a different day. The ritual of the B sample, by the way, isn't some bizarre quirk of doping protocol but something that has been scientific convention since, oh, the beginning of time: Experiments have to be repeated before they're validated. And for those who think this is semantic and assume the B sample will back up the A findings -- even Landis admits that's probably the case -- if it were your life and career hanging in the balance, wouldn't you feel entitled to absolute proof before being condemned?
2. It's not about the testosterone level alone
About 99 percent of the headlines the day the Landis story broke asserted that he had tested "positive" (see above) for "elevated levels of testosterone." Back up. The test performed on elite athletes measures a ratio, not an absolute number. A ratio (think back to your grade-school math class) is a relationship between two numbers. Landis' testosterone to epitestosterone ratio is out of whack, according to the A sample. That could be caused by either number being out of the ordinary. His testosterone could be high, or his epitestosterone could be suppressed or low. Both are produced naturally by the body and both can be influenced by a variety of external circumstances or substances, including but not limited to the use of banned artificial testosterone. If the B sample confirms the A, it's up to Landis to prove that whatever happened occurred naturally.
3. The magic bullet theory
Since Landis' abnormal A sample was taken on a day that he turned in an extraordinary performance, making up eight minutes in a mountain stage on a solo breakaway, it seems logical to presume a cause-and-effect relationship. In the interest of balance, it should be mentioned that synthetic testosterone isn't generally used for instant recovery purposes, but taken in long cycles during strength training to help with workout recovery and build muscle mass. Cyclists aren't interested in bulk -- they worry about weight nearly as much as jockeys -- and if you've ever taken a look at their upper bodies, you know they're not doing a lot of lifting. A cyclist rifling the medicine cabinet for a quick fix would have been far more likely to get a transfusion, take a blood-boosting substance like EPO, or pop some speed -- all of which are now easily detectable in doping tests. There's no doubt that athletes do stupid things and are fully capable of taking an ill-advised or possibly ineffective drug in a given situation, but a number of experts raised their eyebrows over this result, which didn't recur in Landis' two subsequent tests at the Tour.
4. Guilt by association
Cycling richly deserves its lousy reputation where doping is concerned, but in the current, panicky, toss-the-baby-with-the-bathwater environment, some goofs are being made. Stories on Landis this week reviewed the sequence of events before this year's Tour, when a number of riders were kept off the start line because their names came up in a Spanish doping investigation. Very few, if any, of those reports included the fact that last week, five of those riders from the disgraced Astana-Wurth team were completely cleared by the court studying the evidence. Ooops! Sorry! See you next year! The sport is, admirably, bending over backwards to try to clean itself up -- just don't assume that every single shot fired in this battle is going to hit the right target.
5. Leave Mom out of it
Landis has remained laconic, if occasionally awkward, in the high-beams this week, but he was unequivocal on one point -- get out of his Mom's face and off her yard. The reality-show stakeout of Landis' devoutly Mennonite parents may be more painful for him than any doping allegations. In a related issue, the uncontested winner of this week's Most Absurd Question sweepstakes was this whopper posed to Landis: "Would you ever lie to your mother?" You don't have to have gone to journalism school to know there is only one answer to that.
Bonnie DeSimone is a freelance writer who has covered the Tour de France since 2000.