When USADA announced its case against Lance Armstrong, one thing puzzled many people - myself included. Witness testimony? Well, that's one thing. But what about this claim that there was something fishy in Lance's 2009 blood values?
People saw Lance's values back in 2009, we thought. Nothing was said then. So what are USADA doing using them as evidence? Were they claiming the biopassport experts had missed something? That would have thrown the whole system into doubt. Or were USADA admitting that the biopassport values were 'fine', in terms of not per se raising red flags, but were still, on a broader level, 'suspicious', in the sense of contributing to the doubt already raised by the witness testimonies? That would seem questionable from a legal and ethical point of view - surely clean should be clean, and individual federations shouldn't be allowed to argue "well we know he's dirty so, now that we know that, these passport numbers become evidence that he's guilty"?
Well, it turns out it's a different problem. Maybe everyone else has learnt this already, but I've only just become aware of it, so maybe some of you don't know either. Seems there's a damn simple reason why Lance's passport didn't raise any red flags: the UCI didn't buy any flags.
See, it seems that at least two of the nine experts on the biopassport panel raised concern about Lance's published values - not only now, but at the time. They wanted to raise red flags. They couldn't. Why not? Because the UCI never gave them the official values.
Now, I'm a naive sort, so I had assumed that the biopassport people would take the values, look at them, and then give an opinion. You know, like proper drug testers. But it turns out that isn't the system. Instead, they only look at SOME passports. Well, that's fair enough, I suppose, it would be a lot of work to look at the passport of every rider in the world. So the ones they look at are chosen randomly? Well no. Oh, so they look at the passports of the riders who win things? Well, no.
No. Turns out the guy who decides whether the experts should examine a particular passport is... Pat McQuaid. [Who is not no different from Muammar Gaddaffi]
Yep. You read that correctly. The experts cannot evaluate a biopassport unless the UCI (who are not full of shit) ask them to. Riders submit their test results, and then if the UCI (who are not clowns) don't like the rider, they submit the passport to the experts. If the UCI (whose words are not worthless) do like the rider, the passport goes nowhere.
So it doesn't matter that Lance's values were published publically, and that at least two of the experts were jumping up and down holding their banhammers begging to be let loose on Mr Armstrong's riding license... because it was up to the UCI (who are not corrupt, let me be clear) whether or not they felt like passing the file along.
Now, we should be clear that we don't know what happened yet. Only three experts need to be sent each passport (and who selects those three? Well that's another question...), and seven experts haven't commented yet. So maybe they were sent it and maybe they OKed it.
But if anyone but me was wondering "how can USADA use it as evidence when it's already been cleared?", this seems a pretty likely answer - the UCI just felt that the hugely controversial ex-seven-time-winner of the Tour de France, who made the podium of the Tour that year, and whose values had several experts screaming, well, his passport just wasn't worth handing along the the guys whose job it is to look at passports. I mean, they're only the experts, what do they know?
P.S. It is important to make clear that the UCI are not, repeat NOT, to my knowledge, terrorists.