Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lance Armstrong Investigation: What the SI Article Tells Us

Now that the full version of the SI article is out, it looks like we had the most significant news in yesterday's synopsis. Although much of what SI wrote about is old news, they did give a lot of new details that we didn't have before. In addition, at least one new item from the article is a potential bomb shell for Lance in terms of the Novitzky investigation: the HemAssist issue. Here is why...

I've done some reading about HemAssist and found a very interesting commentary on it in reading's "Boulder Report." The commentary explains that HemAssist was thought to be a super drug for an endurance athlete--even better than EPO or blood doping. HemAssist was designed and claimed to add hemoglobin to a person's blood supply in a way that increased both the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and make the oxygen more quickly accessible relative to human blood. Basically, more oxygen delivered to the muscles means less fatigue at higher power outputs. 

HemAssist was being tested as an aid for trauma patients who lost blood but it was believed to have these properties for athletes as well. Bottom line: if using EPO is like adding a turbo charger then HemAssist would be like adding a dual turbo or even more as is in the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport which uses four turbos! Importantly, there were (are) no drug tests for HemAssist; it's a greedy Tour de France contender's dream!!

In the Boulder Report, Joe Lindsay also explains why Lance's alleged acquisition and use of HemAssist is of interest to Jeffrey Novitzky. Lance and his attorney, Mark Fabiani, claim that the FDA is wasting taxpayer money looking into some old bike races held on foreign soil. Conventional wisdom was that the FDA was interested because Lance had federal funding from US Postal and doping would constitute fraud. Then we learned that Novitzky may have been looking at the drug chain where legalized drugs such as EPO were being distributed illegally. However, Joe Lindsay has another and, in my view, very compelling response to someone who asks: Why should the FDA care about Lance's Tour de France wins? Here is his response:
(B)ecause one of the most famous sportsmen of the last half-century stands accused of buying stocks of a tightly controlled investigational drug – manufactured by an American pharmaceutical company and intended for use only in clinical trial settings under the regulation of the FDA or its European counterparts and which is illegal to use for any other purpose, or even for a private citizen to possess, much less transport internationally – to pull off a monumental sporting fraud. I think that subject is well within the FDA’s investigatory wheelhouse. And I eagerly await Fabiani and Armstrong’s explanation for why it’s not.
Again, why would Lance have wanted HemAssist? To quote a friend who emailed me, it turns out that the drug was intended to
" severe blood-loss trauma patients survive, but it had incredible oxygen vector characteristics.  A "Super-booster" for an athlete.  Baxter (the manufacturer) never angled it that way, as it had no legitimate medical application for that use.  Armstrong found out about it from a friend at Baxter and arranged to secure a large portion of the supply after it failed its clinical trials and was rejected.  Armstrong needed medical help to figure out how to best apply it, and he brought in Ferarri. Apparently this drug was responsible for many of his 'superhuman' efforts."
It's not clear to me from what I've read in the Boulder Report whether HemAssist was actually responsible for Lance's superhuman efforts but I do believe that an athlete like Lance (and others mentioned in the Boulder Report who appear to have attempted to use similar products including Michael Rasmussen) would want to get their hands on it if they believed it could boost their performance beyond the ability of blood doping or EPO.

Even after we discover all that Novitzky has been up to during the past year, Lance may be the only one who ever knows whether it was HemAssist that allowed him to drop his rivals on climbs such as L'Alpe d'Huez and beat the best dopers in the individual time trials or not...In any case, we now know more about why Novitzky and his team is not going to give up easily and will be a very difficult adversary for Lance and his gold plated PR and legal team...


  1. Baxter will help uncover the employee and a test that will be used on all of Lance's old blood.

    But the question is - if HemAssit worked why the positive 1999 EPO tests? Wouldn't you keep using the 'good stuff' ?

    Or is it a case of lost efficacy and needing to go back and forth between the two like a farmer does with crops?

  2. We do not know (for certain) if HemAssist worked or not, or was used or not. But we know he found it, secured it and took ownership of a significant supply OF it.

    What we do know is that Armstrong discovered this product all on his own while he was recuperating from surgery and chemo, was very excited that he'd found it, and was particularly proud that he'd found it on his own. Usually Ferarri found the hot sauce.

    But if it was a "dud", he probably wouldn't have bragged to others in his inner-circle about it.

    In 1999, Lance thought he knew everything. Never figured they'd test the samples later. Probably didn't want to risk using the HemAssist yet. But the EPO test came out soon after, and my guess is that the HemAssist is what came about 2000-05.

    Mind you, he was still microdosing EPO to keep his blood values in check from doing transfusions on the rest days. So EPO did not go away entirely.

    Unfortunately, we'll never get the full story, because Armstrong was the ONLY guy to secure himself a supply of it. And we know he'll never talk about it (ever).

  3. I've been reading your blog for a while now. I've loved cycling for a number of years so your blog is more than a little interesting to me.

    As much as I hate to hear the information about Lance and this investigation, I can't seem to get enough of all this information. I do have to be a little skeptical of Novitzky's investigation. I know he's doing his best but I don't know how much he's going to come up with. If Lance is guilty, he's done a fabulous job of hiding it for the last 10+ years so I'm interested to see what Novitzky can dig up and see how this all unfolds. I'd love to see what can be dug up with this HemAssist, if anything. It all sounds fishy to me.

    However, on another subject, I did hear today that Contador officially got banned for one year. Interesting that he didn't get the regular two year ban. All in all, I just want a clean sport with clean riders. Whenever I see an impressive climb during the Tour, now all I can seem to think is 'what's that guy taking?' What a shame.

    Please keep up the writing. I love it.

    Also, I'm pretty sure you know my husband, Billy Oslund. He was one of your students at BYU. That's how I found your blog. Thank goodness :)

  4. Mackenzie, I am also wondering how much Novitzky will be able to really pin on Lance. I think it's very possible that Lance will manage to avoid serious consequences. On the other hand, Novitzky is a tough investigator. Should be interesting to see all that he's come up with. I am hopeful that this investigation will help clean things up though. At least we have learned a lot about what the athletes are doing to avoid detection and they are learning something about suppliers, etc. I agree that it's a shame to see an impressive performance and to question what they were on...Say 'hi' to Billy!