Would You Ban Lance Armstrong if He Was A Trainer?


Armstrong was banned for life recently from competitive cycling (and triathlons), even before his public admission of guilt, but the fact remains that he passed hundreds of drug tests in his lengthy career, hundreds of them. Possibly, he failed 1-2 such tests that he was able to cover up with his money, power, and influence – but that hasn’t been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, yet. Any ‘proof’ of such violations would be in the form of yet more circumstantial evidence – mounds of which have led to his current suspension.

So, if he was a US thoroughbred trainer – you would have hundreds of horses that had run under his name and been drug tested in multiple jurisdictions, passing in every incidence, but he would currently be serving a lengthy suspension based primarily on the testimony of his fellow trainers, grooms, assistants, etc. It’s also important to note here, some of his more well-known accusers – men such as Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, are fellow drug users who FAILED the same types of drug tests that Armstrong passed, then lied under questioning about the results. Landis even wrote a book called ‘Positively False’, while Hamilton posited his failed test was due to the infamous ‘vanishing twin’ theory: where unbeknownst to him he was conceived as a twin, but his sibling perished quite early, leaving some different blood behind.

And these guys are your expert witnesses. They’re no choirboys.

Of course there are many others willing to testify to Armstrong’s abuses, and they cannot all be lying, and Armstrong was a famous jerk: a bully bent on vengeance to all those who opposed him. Similarly, Rick Dutrow is quite mouthy with the press, and fellow trainers surely can’t be happy when he says things like this about fellow Belmont competitor Casino Drive:

“I saw him coming off the track when somebody pointed him out to me. There’s no way in the world he can beat Big Brown. He’s just another horse in the race. Big Brown will have to school him just like he’s done to every other horse.”

Imagine banning Rick Dutrow for life based on the eyewitness testimony of other trainers themselves possessing a laundry list of violations (yet always steadfastly maintaining their innocence) and a handful of ex-employees who had been dismissed over the years – yet Dutrow never failed such a test. (In real life he did, of course, dozens upon dozens of them.)

Just what is the purpose of drug tests in cycling, then?

I’ve heard cyclists, and probably Lance himself, refer to these drug screenings as pesudo IQ tests: meaning you have to be a dummy to get caught. Many are not aware that cycling drug tests are not necessarily geared (pun intended) to expose a foreign substance, but to determine if blood values are within pre-defined naturally-occurring ranges. Let’s examine one such test: the T:E Ratio – or the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in the blood. The approved range used to be 6:1, but was lowered to 4:1 several years ago. Allegedly, 3 times in the 1990s Armstrong tested up to 9:1, but when the ‘B’ sample was tested (a more extensive screening involving carbon isotopes), the result was within the approved range.

Again, imagine a trainer testing above the level of TCO2 allowed on 3 instances out of hundreds of runners – those findings being dis-proven by B sample testing, but then punishing him anyway based on the eyewitness accounts of rival trainers who had failed the same tests but ‘saw’ him with the box of baking soda and the gastric tube in hand. That is what happened to Armstrong.

Today the question is moot because he admitted to cheating for the past 2 decades, but let me take this chance to enlighten a few on the scientific advances Armstrong brought to cycling. First off, conditioning for cycling throughout Europe was typically ‘racing oneself into shape’. Legions of top level cyclists would sit around the months before the big races literally eating cheese and drinking wine. Similarly, in the US golfers used to be quite a lethargic beer-swilling bunch until Tiger Woods came along and changed the way many prepared for such events.

Armstrong, during his rise to prominence, spent hundreds of more miles on his bike than did his competition, quite often in the hills of Spain many months before the Tour de France. Likewise, Rick Dutrow isn’t afraid to buck (pun again intended) tradition by running his horses back on short rest to great success:


Perhaps my favorite nugget gleaned from reading several books on cycling science was the concept that Lance rode with a much different RPM value than had previously been utilized in the European cycling classics. Typically men would choose a bicycle gear that would allow them to turn their legs at a pace of 90 revolutions per minute. Most famously, German star Jan Ullrich would turn his pedals at a snail-like 70rpm, putting massive stresses on the muscles of his legs – and he won the Tour in 1997 with such a method. Lance also pedaled similarly before his bout with testicular cancer, but when he came back he, along with physiologist Chris Carmichael, eschewed conventional ‘wisdom’ and found that Lance generated more sustainable power at 110bpm – while simultaneously lessening the stress on his legs and passing it onto his titanic cardiovascular system. Now, many follow that lead – but he was the first.

Back to Dutrow, who I’ve noted in the past is still a huge proponent of the pre-race blowout made famous by old school conditioners like Carl Nafzger:


Please don’t take this post as an homage to either Armstrong or Dutrow; these two pathological cheaters deserve their punishments. But don’t overlook how Armstrong was ‘convicted’, nor the fact that both men also used physiological edges, frowned upon by many at the top of their respective sports, to achieve greatness – as sullied as these achievements now appear. They won not only because they cheated better than other cheaters, but also because they were practicing their craft differently than the others who followed carbon-copy methods.

Lastly, I owe Armstrong, actually his coach Chris Carmichael, a debt of gratitude for showing me how physiological testing and analysis in training can help one become a better competitor – but of course I adapt that to horses.

Before entering a young horse in a big race, like these Derby preps, I like to see them 2 min lick for one mile with their heart rates staying below 85% of maximum – that tells me they possess the aerobic stamina to run 9F at race pace. Likewise, I’d like to see the same youngster breeze 5F in 1:00 or better displaying a maximum value over 220bpm and showing half that number, 110bpm, as a heart rate recovery number within 2min after passing under the wire, during the gallop out. To enter a 3yo in a big race without those metabolic numbers is sure to be a bad idea – because that’s what the winners of those races possess under the hood.

Here is a brief blog entry I authored regarding this topic on my 40th birthday a while back:



About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on January 28, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. You realize that Lance confessed the other day in his interview with Oprah, Also a frozen sample that was kept for years, was tested with new technology and found to be positive for EPO.

  2. My first paragraph includes the phrase: ‘even before his public admission of guilt’, so yes I am very aware of his confession to that pseudo network of hers.

    EPO or no EPO, the point is his blood values passed repeated in and out of competition testing – while those of other infamous drug cheats turned star witnesses did not do so.

    Also, the allegation is that the positive EPO test was covered up by UCI, at least that is the 2001 incident I am referring to – he tested positive for it in real time in that instance, not 10 years later.

  3. Phillip Haycock

    Good read Bill.
    My major concern with Armstrong other than the Cheating is the claim that he sued people for trying to expose him.
    This may well have caused pain and suffering to reasonably decent individuals.
    Hes brobably lucky to be alive, and maybe the confession was indeed a way of saving his own hide, just an idea.
    I have a question with regard to V200 and the likes.
    Weight? Im pretraining a tough little stayer and shes just started on the straight track galloping 2x 2700m heats with 110 bpm recovery between.
    Shes done this twice in the last 3 days,but will do it every third day in future.
    One heat yesterday was at 2:00 pace (48kmh).
    Tacked up shes carrying 210lb and I wont take her past 32mph (50kmh) at this weight. (50kmh)
    Do you have any knowledge of the effects of these higher wieghts on HR figures.
    The track has a 4m elevation change and she gallops both ways.
    Shes barefoot and the track is drying out to “fast.”

    An interesting foot note. This horse has spent a great deal of time on an inclined treadmill and doing a lot of short burst high HR incline intervals under saddle so until now hasnt really done any work on the level track.
    The result is she flattens hills but cant gallop properly down a slight incline.
    Of course she will learn too, I hope.

    • I hear you Phillip, but if Lance was the best cyclist, with the best team, the best strategy, the best drugs – it stands to reason he would be the best villain all around, I’m just not surprised at that. His real mistake was winning TOO much and putting his face/name out there for the cancer cause – how can anyone do that knowing it’s all built on cheating? You win enough, get enough adulation, you think you are above the law, apparently.

      I don’t have any HR vs weight carried data, but that would be interesting to note. Moreso, I would love to calculate an ideal ‘racing weight’ for each horse, sort of the weight that gives him the best V200 and/or HR recovery data. As he gets heavier with muscle, you would think these numbers would improve – but certainly peak and begin to regress at some point. Conversely, how light can you get him without sacrificing the physiological benchmarks?

      I’d be afraid to do too much incline treadmill work without an equal number of sessions on the flat track in the same week – I don’t like the idea of teaching him that alternate stride for weeks on end.

  4. Phillip Haycock

    One more foot note Bill,
    Ive recently discovered that I can upload my workouts from my Garmin GPS to Google Earth and get a track with a graph of speed and incline for the entire workout.

    • Yes, the Google Earth feature is fascinating, especially if you are on some wooded trails. Polar does that as well know, and the Etrakka has for a few years. Perhaps not really useful, but pretty cool to look at!

  5. I am interested I. Your V200 data. I train both flat horses and steeplechasers, most of my gallops and work strip are up hill on turf. One particular horse who last year before his first race at 2yr he was breezing 5f under 1 min heart rate in the 230’s recovering under 100 bpm in about 1 min. now that he is fitter and stronger he does the same work out but max hr is in the 140’s. I have even added hills and don’t get it above 152 bpm. Is it just fitness? Thoughts?

    • Hi Jazz, what equipment are you using to gather in-work HR?

      If it is the Polar gear you may be having a malfunction. I don’t think it’s possible to breeze at race speeds and show heart rates so low as 140.

      • Garmin. The monitors are showing higher heart rates on other less fit horses. In addition, I have a very nervous filly, when jogging ( dancing around and tossing her head) her hr will go to the high 190’s but as soon as she is allowed to gallop, she relaxes and will 2 min lick a mile with a hr in the 150’s. I was thinking this was showing a high level of fitness. I am getting theses values when breezing at the track after training at the farm

  6. Hmm, I have talked with trainers around the world using this technology, and never seen numbers that low at significant speeds/paces – but then again I’ve never done much work with those racing point-to-point.

    Sometimes I wonder if these human monitors don’t do well with the very high horse numbers, especially over 200bpm. I know the issue with Polar often kicked in over 200bpm, where the software (designed for humans) would essentially think the high numbers were in error – and therefore cut them in half before showing them on the watch and/or software. There aren’t too many humans regularly knocking off HR numbers over 200bpm. Polar has since fixed this problem.

    Ergo, a valid number of 220bpm, became 110bpm, etc. I’ve not worked with the Garmin, however. Also, at high speeds the splenic contraction kicks in, thickening the blood as much as 30%, perhaps that also slows the bpm, albeit briefly. Portable EKG monitors are sensitive enough to record and display such changes, but I doubt the Garmin and Polar can do so, consistently.

    Certainly as a horse becomes fitter, HR drops at any given pace – but I’m used to seeing drops (at the 2min lick over a flat dirt track for instance) go from 225 to 190bpm over several weeks of training and racing, and that is a very large improvement itself.

    One thing to remember is that HR isn’t indicative of total effort, just AEROBIC (with oxygen) effort. Therefore reaching max HR isn’t a true max effort, because you still have substantial anaerobic mechanisms to rely on – for a short time.

    Please email your Garmin data/chart to me at bill@thoroedge.com and I would gladly take a look, Jazz.

    Just a thought, are you perhaps only looking at HR from the watch while riding – instead of downloading later for analysis?

  7. Phillip Haycock

    Heres some things to be aware of.
    Chinese 2032 batteries can be rubbish, Polarity of electrodes, quality of gel. You need to look at the specs of the HRM and make sure it is designed to go to 240bpm. Mine is a human one but goes from 30 to 240. No good for doing absolute resting HR..Ive found a way to make good gel. I use those polymer water crystals in a saline solution. Wet the horse first then put the gel on the electrodes. I leave my electrode in fresh water between uses and clean them with white vinegar. I use tinned 125 strand cables and stainless wool electrodes and get graphs around 75% as good as Polar ones.
    In my last workout on the 31-1-13 I rode at around 200bpm for 4 miles while watching my wrist watch but downloaded the graph to see a flatline of zero for most of the workout.
    Without looking into it yet Im guessing, damned Chinese batteries.
    I no longer get energizer batteries as they are some of the worst Ive used.
    Maxwell have been good but I see Ive replaced the watch battery recently with a Hui Feng CR2430???? That was probably a mistake.

  8. Of course I would. We work hard training our horses to be conditioned naturally and we are all tired of running second and thirds to known cheaters in the business! It’s hard to believe that entries are not refused from these trainers.

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