Chris asked an interesting question before Christmas: are the classics cleaner or dirtier than the Grand Tours, where doping is concerned? Finally I've decided to dig my manky anorak from out of the closet and look at what passes for empirical evidence in this sport.
First up, the Grand Tours and the relevant stats (note: hate numbers? Skip to the bottom of the page):
(CO = official UCI/whoever control, CJ = the justice authorities poking their noses into the sport.)
|Giro d'Italia||Tour de France||Vuelta a España||Totals|
For the purpose of this, Gen-EPO is the last twenty-one years, 1990 to date.
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Some observations on the above:
First, and most obviously, these numbers are totally meaningless. Why? All sorts of reasons.
Let's begin at the beginning. As we have to begin somewhere, these stats start in 1960. Because that's when the UCI (blessings be upon them) banned doping. In the words of our former great leader, Hein Verbruggen: "In 1960, when no regulations dealt with the taking of doping substances, the sports federations that wanted to fight against the phenomenon were few and acted on an ad hoc basis. It was the UCI which was the first, without anything or anyone forcing it, to add a 'doping' article to its Sports Code." (40 Years Fighting Against Doping)
As I've previously pointed out the mis-representations in that statement I won't go into them again here. For the purpose of this analysis, what matters is that we accept 1960 as cycling's Year Zero. What happened before then was the past, and we built a bridge and got over it.
There is a problem with picking 1960 though: the UCI (blessings be upon them) didn't actually look for doping once they'd banned it. Those two busts in 1960? Accidental. One was Roger Rivière, who was caught with Palfium in his pockets after he Schlecked out of the Tour.
Dope testing proper only began in 1965 or so, when the French and Belgians brought in legislation. The French conducted tests at the 1966 Tour. At that stage, amphetamines were the drugs du jour, and that's what the testers looked for. And found. As Gilbert Bellone, Jean Dupont, Roger Millot, Guido Neri, Herman Van Springel and one other discovered.
As new tests were developed, more people were caught. 1974 proved to be a fun year, more at the classics that the Grand Tours, because a new test for Ritalin was introduced, catching quite a few riders on the hop. Something similar happened in '77, when Stimul could be tested for, which helps explain the spike in positives at the '77 Tour. The '82 Vuelta busts were for Ritalin, Spanish labs having been upgraded in preparation for their hosting the World Cup. The '83 Tour was the Nandrolone Tour. 2008 you'll remember as the year of the CERA Tour. 2002 had been the NESP and Aranesp Giro.
1997 we know saw the introduction of the H-test, which caught a few riders here and there. But the lack of positives in the years preceding '97 now looks interesting, because we've a pretty good idea of what was going on during them. One consequence of the H-test was to limit the amount of EPO used, which had the knock-on effect of turning riders to other products, sometimes ones which could be tested for. Or methods. Such as blood doping. Which could only be tested for in 2004, and even then not very effectively.
So all those gaps in the stats - clean years? If you want to be believe that, good luck to you. But really, to understand the stats, you need to know what's not being tested for. Without that knowledge, they're just numbers. Without that knowledge, you might believe in something like an Italian renaissance without acknowledging the rôle one or two doctors have played in the performances behind the scenes.
The years 1998 and 2001 stand out in the numbers above. The former was the year of the Festina affaire, the latter the Giro raids. Personally I find it interesting that judicial investigators in those cases caught more people than the official sport-sanctioned tests had been able to. The judiciary were kept out of future Tours, but maintained an interest in the Giro. They don't ever seem to have taken an interest in the Vuelta. Should those stats be included here? You decide.
If the total figure for busts at the Grand Tours over the first fifty-one years of anti-doping seems unacceptably high to you, consider this: those fifty-one years cover more than three-thousand days of racing. Seen in that light, are the numbers really all that high?
How many tests were carried out though? In the eighties, the testing was the GC leader, stage winner and two riders at random. At most four tests a day, could be three. And on the last day, only the maillot jaune would be tested. You could win the green jersey, or the KOM one, without once being tested. Typically, you had a better than fifty-fifty chance of not being tested during a Grand Tour. Over the years since the Delgado affaire, the number of tests conducted has increased.
Another problem arises when you consider confessions. They're not included here. Take Team Telekom for instance. How many of their riders came out and said either they doped all the time or for certain named races? Accounting for these is too difficult. So no confessions are in the above numbers. But you know of quite a few, I'm sure.
Nor am I including things like the 1999 re-tests. Life's too short.
Another reason to believe the numbers are understated is the difficulty of getting information. I'm using the numbers on Cyclisme Dopage, a pretty reliable source. They anonymised their data in 2006, but it's clear from the way they did it that new data has been added since then for old Grand Tours. The more they dig, the more they find. It's not like the UCI just makes all this information available to people at the click of a link. For a time in the nineties, they didn't even announce positives and it took a bit of digging by journalists to discover a rider got busted.
I'll throw in one other caveat, which relates to Gen-EPO. There is a narrow testing window for EPO. Most people seem to say three days or so. In the Grand Tours, because you're looking at three continuous weeks of racing, I would expect there to be more EPO busts than at single day races. So I don't think we're really comparing like with like.
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Regardless of the above caveats, let's see how the numbers can help us answer Chris' original question: are the Grand Tours cleaner or dirtier than the classics?
By classics, I'm going to take that to mean the important single day races. The five Monuments (Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia) along with the key surviving classics (Het Volk, Ghent Wevelgem, the Flèche Wallonne, the Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Tours) and the World Championships (road and ITT). I'm not trying to deliberately skew the data one way or another and produce the result I want (I'm not sure what result I want) but I think that's a fair selection of single day races to compare with the three Grand Tours.
We could do a really dumb analysis, just look at the total number of offences at the Grand Tours and the total number of offences at the one day races. If that's what floats your boat, go for it, but me, I think we really need to be looking at offences as a proportion of racing days.
Now because I'm a lazy git, I'm guessing that all the pre 1988 Grand Tours were twenty-three days long, while after '88 it's twenty-one. That gives a figure of nearly three thousand four hundred racing days for all the Grand Tours, or about thirteen hundred for the Gen-EPO years.
Because we've got two types of offences at the Grand Tours - the UCI ones and the real world ones - we're looking at a range into which offences at the one day races need to fall. Below the lower end of the range and, in my best Hein Verbruggen impression, I'll declare the one day races clean. "The statistics prove it! The war on doping is won!" If, however, we get a result above the top end of the range, I think it'll be the volcanic Paul Kimmage I'll be impersonating.
So what's the range we're looking for? Looking at the whole of the last fifty-one years, it's thirty-two (UCI offences only) to forty-four (all offences). For Gen-EPO, the range should be sixteen to twenty-eight. What do you think it's going to be? Higher or lower at the one day races? Bang in the ballpark? Read on and all will be revealed.
Before that, one comment about the next data set. There's only one type of offence here, as the judiciary don't seem to raid the one day races. (Oh, all the caveats applied to the Grand Tour data also apply here. Probably more so.)
The races are: Het Volk, Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Ghent Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix, the Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Amstel Gold Race, Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia and the World Championships - road and ITT.
|HV||MSR||RvV||GW||PR||FW||LBL||AGR||PT||GdL||WC RR||WC ITT||Total|
To remind you: for the offences to be in the same proportion as at the Grand Tours, for the whole of the last fifty-one years they should be in the range of thirty-two (UCI offences only) to forty-four (all offences). For Gen-EPO, the range should be sixteen to twenty-eight.
Ninety-four offences over fifty-one years?!? Fuck me! It's a disgrace! The single-day races are three times as dirty as the Grand Tours! There's a cancer in the classics!
Thirty-two offences for Gen-EPO alone?!? Christ on a bike! That's twice as bad as in the Grand Tours! I blame the UCI!
But ... the glass is half full, not yet nearing the time you need to nod at the barman for a refill. Look at Het Volk. Totally clean in the Gen-EPO years! Go Oomloop! And go the King of the classics too, the Giro di Lombardia. If Gilles Delion can win it, it proves it's a clean race. And isn't the symmetry of the season opening and closing with clean races just so wonderful?
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Take what you will from the above numbers. But just remember all the caveats they come with. And remember: you can prove anything with statistics. I can even prove that the single day races are cleaner than the Grand Tours. All you need to do is massage the numbers to make them work for you.
For instance: per race, the expected positives are in the range of three to four for all the races since 1960 (ex the ITT), or one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half for the Gen-EPO years (ditto the ITT). So if you excluded the worst offenders - the Flèche (too Belgian), the Amstel (a Johnny-come-lately) and the Worlds (all those foreigners who can't even ride in a straight line without falling off) - the one day races could be declared cleaner than the Grand Tours. For the Gen-EPO years anyway. Too make it work for all of the last fifty-one years we'd need to kick out the Ronde as well. And that is so not going to happen.