Louie Amelburu and his letter from USADA

December 12, 2014 § 48 Comments

I came across this Dec. 10, 2014, Facebook post by Louie Amelburu: “I know that many of you are aware I was targeted by usada and tested—for the fourth time in one year—at the Mt. Charleston Hill Climb this year. I am sorry to report that unfortunately my test results were such that you will have to race the Hispanic that creates panic for yet another year. For all my supporters, teammates and family, thank you. I would never let you down. As I always say, there is no substitute for hard work. If you ever have a doubt as to what my results are attributable to, you have an open invitation to train with me. Just turn the cookie and make it crumble.”

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I thought it was a strange post. First, there’s some pretty obvious anger at having been “targeted” four times this year. According to Louie, he was tested twice at nationals in 2013, once at the Pan-Am Games, and once at the Mt. Charleston hill climb where he beat former elite men’s champion Chris Walker. Why the indignation at being tested? At the 2013 masters nationals Louie got a bronze medal in the mixed-tandem road race, fourth in the time trial, 11th in the road race, and 12th in the crit. At the Pan-Am masters cycling road race in Guadalajara in 2013, Louie won the road race. The top three finishers at nationals and at major international events are always highly likely targets for testing. Instead of scorn at being targeted for a test, anyone who’s been around the block knows that being tested is how results are validated. It’s not that the organizers think you are a cheat, it’s that they know cheating occurs, and this is one way of trying to root it out.

Even stranger is the proud publication of his USADA letter. Dude, newsflash: A certain former professional now banned for life claimed to have been tested more than 500 times and never turned a positive result. He’s got a library of letters like that. The absence of a doping violation doesn’t prove you aren’t doping, it just means that your test was negative and you get to keep your plastic medal and box of Clif bars. Cycling is a sport where some people dope, and if you win there are people who will suspect that you cheat. Get used to it. I’ve heard so many whispers about so many people that if all the rumors were true everyone would be a doper, including the refs, spectators, and their dogs. Self-righteous publication of your non-positive letter will never convince those who think you’re a cheater, but it will make people who’ve never thought about it one way or another start to consider the matter. It’s like screaming from the rooftops, “I don’t beat my wife!”

Really? I didn’t know people said that you did. Hmmmmmm.

Strangest of all is the proud declaration that your results are attributable to your incredible work ethic. Do you really want to say that? Because if your results are solely attributable to how hard you train, it means that no one trains as hard as you, and we’ve heard that somewhere before. How do you know you train harder than all of your competitors? And since when does the hardest trainer in bike racing win the race? The real message about “how hard I train” is that you are simply better than everyone else, not just because you train harder, but because you’re smarter, quicker, more tactical, and genetically superior. The problem with that explanation is that in your SoCal category, the leaky prostate division of 50+ riders, you’re racing against former Olympians, Tour riders, classics campaigners, and elite national champions. You’re smarter and more genetically gifted than they are AND you train harder? Really?

In truth, your results are suspect for two simple reasons.

First, everyone who wins a big bike race, a whole bunch of races, or often even a small one, is suspect. That’s what the sport has become. Get secure in your skin, man, because if you want to stand on the top step people are going to accuse you of cheating, and it’s not because you’re Hispanic. It’s because doping is still a big part of the sport today, cf. Pro Team Astana.

Second, you have a resume that some find incredible. Ten top-five places, and an astounding twenty-one first places in 2014 including a national championship, according to the USA Cycling web site. 2013 wasn’t a bad year either, with 25 victories and a slew of podiums.

In 2012 you “only” had 19 victories, but you kind of made up for it with 15 top-five finishes. Then there were 14 wins in 2011, 10 wins in 2010, 17 wins in 2009, 9 wins in 2008, and 6 wins in 2007. Before that, things weren’t quite so stellar, at least by your standards, with 3 wins in 2006, 1 win in 2005, 1 win in 2004, 1 ‘cross win in 2003, one win in 2002, and no wins at all in 2001.

I’m no statistician or sports physiologist, but you have gone from being a pretty solid bike racer to the dude who, as you say, creates panic. I remember one year at Devil’s Punchbowl when you had a mechanical on the first climb. I’d already been shelled, and I passed you as you fumbled with your chain or tire or whatever it was. You caught me on the backstretch and I sat on your wheel for about three miles until you just rode me off it, and then chased down the pack which was in a different time zone, and then you attacked and caught the break. I think you won that year.

Some people might point to the fact that you almost doubled your wins between 2006 and 2007 in what is one of the most competitive racing categories among masters as evidence that you’d started putting something special in your Wheaties. However, although I’ve wondered about it in the past, after thinking about it and looking critically at your results I’d argue that your trajectory fits pretty well with a talented athlete who starts cycling as a masters racer, begins as pack fodder (2001), and over the course of thirteen years develops into a skilled and elite competitor. It’s not as if you went from fodder to unbeatable in a season, to the contrary — you’ve been working doggedly at this for years and years and years, racing against the best, learning, improving, and above all, racing. You’re a middle school health teacher and seem to have plenty of time to train.

Moreover, your wins tend to come in hilly road races or stage races. The champion masters doper profile of “wins TT’s, crits, stage races, hill climbs, road races, and everything else” doesn’t fit your resume. Also, your supposed dominance isn’t really all that dominating because much of your racing is in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona where fields aren’t as deep or as fast as they are in California. And although you put the wood to plenty of the best SoCal roadies, you’re by no means a shoo-in. In fact, the deeper the field the more normal (for an excellent bike racer) your results become. Tour of the Gila, 18th in the road race. In the SCNCA district championships this year you didn’t win the 50+ and you got 13th in the 40+. You got 3rd at the hilly Vlees Huis RR and could “only” manage 9th in the nationals road race and 10th in the crit. Your big wins were stage races, which makes sense because you excel at road racing and time trialing. Although the sheer number of wins is impressive, when you break them down they really do fit a narrative about ability, dedication, and focus on one or two disciplines.

But since it’s masters bike racing we’re talking about, there should always be a degree of skepticism. Check the USADA list of sanctioned athletes and you’ll find plenty of old cycling farts who thought they could dope their way to victory and never get caught. Welcome to 2014, where if you aren’t somewhat skeptical, you’re a fool.

With results and performances like yours, not to mention the personal humiliation of having you crush and destroy countless fragile egos, some people will always suspect that you cheat. This is where, instead of being offended, you need to shrug and say, “I understand where you’re coming from.”

People also suspect that LBJ killed JFK, that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and that Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was done in a Hollywood movie studio. Get comfortable with your results if they’re legitimate, and don’t lash out at the testers who are not only doing their job but who are also validating everyone’s results, including yours. If possible, don’t hold it too much against the “haters” who’ve been around the block a few times and view your performances as suspect. It’s hard to have stars in your eyes when they’ve been previously poked with a stick.

I’ve seen you race plenty, and as near as I can tell you’re flat out better than the people you beat on that particular day. You don’t win every race, you don’t dominate every discipline, and people I know and respect vouch for the intensity of your training and the depth of your commitment. And if you ever do test positive, it won’t have ever affected me. I was fighting for 45th place.

END

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§ 48 Responses to Louie Amelburu and his letter from USADA

  • Winemaker says:

    “I’ve heard so many whispers about so many people that if all the rumors were true everyone would be a doper, including the refs, spectators, and their dogs.” — Before I even finished the post, I ran out to the back yard and, in the rain, did a drug test of Honey, the yellow dog (of Yellow Dog Red Wine fame). She was downright pissed as i poked and prodded and got the samples I needed…and went into the lab (that is really my man-cave sanctuary for having a glass or two), in private) ….and you know what? She’s clean….but I still suspect that the vigor with which she chases rabbits at the ripe age of 13 is chemically induced. Holy shit, Wanky! A juiced mutt!

    • fsethd says:

      Honey is henceforth banned from all oenological activities. Life ban.

      • Winemaker says:

        She knows where all the skeletons are buried, and she waits at the top of very climb for me…I don’t dare ban her, it would be at great peril!
        as W.R. Koehler once said…
        Intelligent dogs rarely want to please people whom they do not respect.

      • fsethd says:

        Intelligent dogs rarely want to please.

  • Peter says:

    Excellent. Still reeling from UCI/Astana decision. I guess it is ok to dope even if you do get caught. There is no moral to the story.

  • David Holland says:

    It is easy to test negative for drugs if you are doing a drug that is untestable:

    http://www.amazon.com/Game-Shadows-Steroids-Scandal-Professional/dp/1592402682

    This is a good read that will turn you into a cynic if, for some reason, you are not already one.

  • Les.B. says:

    Cycling of course does not have exclusive rights to doping. Like, ALL sports, down to high school and who knows maybe even middle school. And there are in all venues a few truly great athletes whose stats are legitimately significantly above what one would consider human capabilities.

    It’s a sad state of affairs in the world that the great achievers have to be considered suspect.

  • skinewmexico says:

    Getting tested for making a podium would probably be the highlight of my cycling career.

  • spinner says:

    Another doping masters class rider? WOW, I am shocked…..

  • roger crawford says:

    Nobody ever tests me. Except for that DUI checkpoint.

    • fsethd says:

      Don’t keep us hanging. Positive?

      • Winemaker says:

        Having a MADD member peer into your eyes through the driver’s window while Smokey asks if you have been drinking is hardly a test.
        All sorts of lawyers get regular work beating those traps.

      • fsethd says:

        One of my friends wore a t-shirt that said DAMM, and it got him in trouble. You know, Drunks Against Mad Mothers.

  • deanabt says:

    Thanks for the detail. Dunno. After a two-decade absence from start lines and a return to “masters” racing since ’12, there are more than a few things that seem terribly strange. I’ve not as much experience close to Mr. Amelburu, so my perspective is different, and here it is after I put my ego over in the Russian tundra, far away from me: If you are squarely on Tygart’s radar and doing this much universal ass-kicking, I wish you were inspiringly clean, I really do. You are probably a nice guy. But I’m thinking you’re a junkie, straight-up. And that’s before you post the letter. Bums me out to write this.

  • Wily says:

    Some of the people in the link you posted got up to 2 years ban for smoking weed. What!? That means that surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, professional video gaming… wouldn’t be a sport because technically nobody could legally participate.

  • channel_zero says:

    you get to keep your plastic medal and box of Clif bars.

    Exactly. Oh, but he’s on a team… and stuff.

    Speaking of doping, the Canadian federation rushed right by the discovery that someone on the administration side was selling PED’s.

    http://www.canadiancyclist.com/dailynews.php?id=28643&title=cycling-canada-doping-consultation-report-key-findings

    Two interviewees independently provided information that a former Canadian sports administrator had assisted Canadian riders in obtaining PEDs.

  • He_Got_Away_with_It says:

    What’s amazing is that Louie dodged the USADA official when he crossed the finish line. The USADA official introduced himself to Louie and asked for him to stop and that he’d have to take a sample — Louie looked at him, said a words and then rode right past the official who was blocking his way. Louie left the scene immediately and didn’t wait for the award ceremonies. This is very uncharacteristic of Louie, he’s not want to shy away from the post-race festivities, especially when he wins. Louie rode 17 miles back down the mountain and locked himself up in his RV. He came back to the start/finish 2 hours later and only then did he offer up a sample to USADA. What was he doing during those hours? Why was he so against taking the test initially? Why didn’t USADA ban him for refusing to take the test initially? Is USADA now allowing riders to give samples whenever they feel like it? At that point, why not just have him mail in the sample?

    This case is an example of USADA’s failure to protect clean cyclist by failing to follow the rules that they have in place. If a rider refuses to give a sample and then, un-escorted, returns hours later, he should be banned for refusing to take the test. Total fail.

    • Joey says:

      If I was him I would have just gone home and mailed it in.

    • devin says:

      Wow. That would explain his touchdown dance facebook post about nothing more than peeing in a cup.

      • fsethd says:

        Kind of weird when people celebrate not testing positive.

        “Yippee! Not convicted for killing and eating my neighbor!”

    • channel_zero says:

      He either drank a **TON** of water, or has ‘gone pro’ and did a bag of saline to change his blood parameters.

      I have to look at the rules again, but the person collecting the sample does not have the authority to declare a missed test.

      The collector notifies the anti-doping authority who is the one who can declare a missed test. They have the power to just ignore the missed test. For example, it was either Big George or Levi who had an unannouced test arrive at his Euro home only to flee out the back door and quickly update his whereabouts in ADAMS to “gone on vacation.” No missed test sanction. UCI didn’t open a case.

      As the Russian IAAF scandal grows, the anti-doping system abuse by the sports federations (designed by the sports federations for abuse) will finally reach a larger audience.

      To be clear, technically, WADA’s process a good system. It’s the sports federations and national federations cheating the system. WADA has no authority over either.

    • David Holland says:

      Urine substitution by catheterization? Only a method used by the most committed and desperate.

  • Tamar T. says:

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  • Bearclaw says:

    I’d happily pay an extra, per-race fee that pays for testing all podium placers at all weekend races. Would also argue that all members of a violator’s team should be DQ’d from racing for a period of time. Draconian + peer pressure = help get rid of this crap once and for all.

  • sba says:

    Fourth time tested? Looks like he was tested once in Q3 2013 and once in Q4 2014 (Q4 data are not updated yet). Must have been a testing agency other than USADA or he uses the Lance test multiplier.

    http://www.usada.org/testing/results/athlete-test-history/

  • Dogg says:

    Dear Dr. Wank-n-stein,
    Anyone have Louie’s number? In desperate need of his training regimen as FTR 2015 is near! The horror…
    Thanks
    Dee-Oh-Double-Gee

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