As the furore rumbles on about Lizzie Armitstead’s successful CAS appeal over missed whereabouts tests, an international doping control officer has explained to CyclingTips why he believes it was right that she was cleared.
The tester, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wasn’t involved in the Armistead case but has considerable experience at carrying out whereabouts tests in sport.
He feels that CAS was justified in quashing one of her missed tests, a move which spared her a lengthy ban and has enabled her to compete in the Rio Olympics.
“I am surprised that she was in the situation in the first place, but I would be very happy that she won the appeal,” he said on Tuesday.
Armitstead is the current women’s road race champion and a major favourite for the Rio Olympics. She recently missed the La Course race, saying she wanted to keep safe for the Games, but the real reason for her absence was made public on Monday when the Daily Mail revealed that she had been provisionally suspended.
She had missed three tests between August 20 2015 and June 9 of this year, causing a case to be opened by UK Anti Doping [UKAD].
Armitstead brought the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] which, after a hearing on July 21, ruled that the first of those missed tests was invalid.
The full reasoned decision is yet to be released but it is understood that CAS felt that an out of competition tester didn’t make sufficient efforts to contact her.
The test was attempted on Thursday August 20, 2015, while she was staying at her team hotel during the UCI Women’s Road World Cup in Sweden. According to the Daily Mail, the doping control officer [DCO] didn’t explain to hotel staff why he wanted the rider’s room number.
After the staff refused to give him the information, he tried to contact her on her mobile phone, but she said that she had put it on silent while sleeping and didn’t hear it as a result.
The Mail states that it appears no other attempts were made by the official to inform her about the test.
It is this latter point that leads the DCO that CyclingTips spoke to to agree with Armitstead’s clearing.
“It seems he didn’t do all that he could have to contact her,” he explained. “That was the basis for the CAS decision.”
His main issue with the Armitstead case is that he questions how committed the tester was.
“The guy said that he wasn’t given access at the hotel. That is quite unusual, really,” he said. “If you start flashing badges that you are anti-doping anywhere on the continent, especially in a hotel that is keeping bike riders, normally the hotel will give it up.”
He did say that on one occasion at a race in Spain, hotel staff refused to accept his anti-doping accreditation as sufficient proof of his need to test athletes. He was asked to produce a passport, but was able to carry out the doping control after returning to his hotel to get the identification in question.
“I was able to shoot back to the hotel and get my passport, and only then did the receptionist give me the room numbers I needed.
“It is the policy of a hotel not to give out the information of a guest. But you tell hotel staff who you are and how important a test is. I have never had it that I have been refused completely.
“I have got around the person at the desk, saying, ‘look, this is really important for this person. If I don’t get to test them today within this hour, it could be considered a missed test and they might be up for an anti-doping rule violation. And you will have to come to the hearing on their behalf.’
“I frighten the life out of them, and it works. It’s because I’m committed to getting the test done.”
“Missed tests happen far more than you think”
Under WADA rules, three missed tests in a twelve month period can lead to a two year ban. Given the importance of following the rules, some on social media questioned why Armitstead didn’t appeal the first missed test before now.
She spoke to the Daily Mail on Tuesday and explained her reasons.
“I did think about it,” she said. “But the reason I didn’t was because it was my first strike and it was very close to the World Championships, so I was travelling to America. I also didn’t have the legal advice. It felt very much them against me. I was very naive. I went ahead to the World Championships and I didn’t want the distraction.”
According to the DCO who spoke to CyclingTips, it is not unusual for athletes to have some missed tests.
“She [Armitstead] didn’t argue the other two missed tests. She said the first one was an administrative error and the second was because there was a family emergency, or something like that.
“Missed tests happen way more than you think. Some people are excellent at whereabouts, and some people are not. In fact, if I was an athlete, I would not be good at it, in terms of always remembering to update it.”
He points out that athletes must fill in their whereabouts for a three month period, and then update if there are any changes to the locations where they said they would be during that time.
“Some athletes are brilliant. They send a SMS [to the whereabouts system] ‘staying in my girlfriend’s house tonight, here is the address, blah blah blah, my designated hour is the same [as before]…six to seven.’
“Others are not good. There are some who never update things during that three month period. It depends on the person.”
Even if Armitstead is now in a precarious position and can’t afford another missed test, he believes that it is correct that she has been cleared to compete in Rio.
“Again, the tester didn’t seem to do enough. Even if the reception wouldn’t give him the room number, I have often asked them to call the room. If there is no answer, I’ve asked them to call the room of the manager or the team doctor.”
But what about the fact that Armitstead’s phone was on silent at a time when she should have been available for testing?
“That’s not unusual,” he said. “99 percent of the time we don’t have to ring them. Ringing them is the last resort…we knock at the door.
“As I said, in ten years I have never not got past the receptionist.
“For me, I absolutely hate coming away after an hour not testing somebody. I feel like I haven’t done my job, and I will do everything that is physically possible to do it.”
By way of explaining, he said that he will make repeated attempts to get the test done.
“Say I call to an athlete’s home and don’t get an answer. If I have an idea that the guy is there, our procedure is that you have to stay for one hour. The DCO can’t walk away, they must stay for one hour.
“I will go back to the front door of the house and I will knock every 15 minutes. I will stay parked outside the house, watching. You must wait for one hour, and you have to keep trying.”
His account gives an indication of the mindset of a committed tester. He gave another, even clearer, example from a past major event.
“I will go to the nth degree to get the athlete. Especially if I know they are there. I remember testing one nation and they were in the middle of nowhere up the mountains. No 24 hour receptionist. I called at 6 o’clock, couldn’t get anyone up from the hotel. I was walking up and down the street banging on doors, banging on windows. Eventually I climbed over a wall…I could hear kitchen staff getting breakfast.
“I went around and the kitchen door was open. I frightened the life out of the chef. I gained access that way and he got a receptionist for me. It was barely more than a family-run accommodation, but I got my team.”
The full story of the Armitstead case will emerge when CAS releases the Reasoned Decision. Asked when that would happen, the court declined to give any specifics on Tuesday.
However the tester who spoke to CyclingTips is satisfied with the verdict, and Armitstead’s green light for Rio.
For him, enough wasn’t done by the tester in her August 2015 whereabouts case.
“I read the Lizzie Armitstead story today and I was just thinking, ‘that guy obviously didn’t do enough. It seems he just went into the hotel, asked the receptionist. The receptionist wouldn’t give it to him and it seems he just walked away. But we will have to wait for the reasoned decision to know more.”