Horner has also released his biological passport data on his personal website this past week. I've compiled that data in a spreadsheet here.
The data includes 39 tests from 2008 - 2013. Most of the tests are out-of-competition, but there are concentrations of in-competition tests, especially during Grand Tours--particularly the 2013 Vuelta.
I'm no expert in reading blood values (there are probably less than 50 true experts in the field), but using the rules laid down by the experts, I'll take the side of the prosecution on this one.
Reasons to be suspicious
1. Rapid increases in hematocrit.
According to an article in the British Journal of Pharmacology, a 10% increase in hematocrit "would be evidence of unapproved activity." Horner's data shows two relevant increases:
- April 27-30, 2009: Horner's hematocrit increases 9.2% in 3 days.
- February 11 - March 7, 2010: Horner's hematocrit increases 10% in 25 days
The 2010 increase was not so sudden, but it was larger and occurred at the same time as other suspicious factors (discussed below).
According to a group of Australian researchers who conducted a large study on the effects of endurance sports on blood values of athletes, any movement upward in "values of hemoglobin and hematocrit in endurance athletes during the competitive season should be considered abnormal." (Haematologica 88/5/570, 2003)
This leads to our next marker...
2. Hemoglobin (Hg) does not decline by 10% from start to finish of stage race.
There are several instances of this in Horner's data:
- 2013 Vuelta: Horner's Hg declines 3.9%, from 15.2 (8/22) to 14.6 (9/14).
- 2010 Tour de France (9th): Hg declines 1.3% in first ten days (7/1 - 7/11)
- 2009 Tour of the Gila: Hg rises 10% over 3 days
That doesn't mean he's off the hook; other data are more worrisome.
3. Low % of new red blood cells (reticulocytes).
Scientists measure the ratio of new blood cells to old ones, a measurement that can detect both the infusion of blood and the use of EPO.
A low % of new red blood cells (ret) may indicate an infusion, the dumping of a bag of entirely old blood (i.e., it was withdrawn a month or more prior). Horner's ret values twice fall below the normal levels (.5 - 1.5% of total red blood cells).
- .39%: 8/29/2013
- .45%: 2/11/2010
Rapid changes in ret, however, suggest infusion.
4. High rate of change in new red blood cell (ret) %.
Horner's data reveals three instances or unusual ret rate of change:
- 2/11/2010 rate of change - 31% decrease over 6 days.
- Vuelta (8/22 - 8/29/2013) - 54% decrease in 7 days (from .85% to .39% in 7 days).
- 2010 Tour (7/1): 33% decrease in 14 days.
To maintain high ret levels following a transfusion, some athletes micro-dose EPO intravenously. EPO pushes up ret, preventing levels from falling. The athlete introduces both new (through EPO) and old (through transfusion) blood at a natural ratio.
Closer scrutiny of that ratio is the purpose of the next variable of interest: OFF-score. OFF-score is the ratio of Hg to ret. OFF-score brings together all the data we've looked at so far--HG and ret--and puts it in context. As with Hg and ret, there is a normal range for OFF-scores: 80-100.
5. High OFF-score.
OFF-scores above 100 are irregular, but OFF-scores over 110, according to a team of Italian researchers, indicates a "99.9% probability that blood doping has occurred," even weeks prior to the test.
Horner has 15 OFF-scores over 100 and 2 scores over 110:
- 5/19/2008: 114
- 3/7/2010: 112.3
Keep in mind that Horner's values, although suspicious, are well below 133--the Off-score level experts consider to be "irrefutable" evidence of doping. This possibly says more about the weakness of the UCI's passport than it says about the likelihood of Horner's having doped.
ConclusionWhen Dr. Christopher Gore put the odds of Lance Armstrong's blood values occurring naturally at "less than one in a million," those odds weren't good enough to persuade anyone at the time. We thought Lance was special; if anyone had blood that would do the miraculous, it was Lance.
Or so we thought.
That doesn't mean cyclists, including Lance, are not one-in-a-million. What they do and how their bodies respond to training load--that's probably rarer than one-in-a-million. And winners of Grand Tours are even rarer than that.
There are three possibilities here:
(1) I've applied expert theory correctly, and they are right and the odds of Horner being clean are somewhere around one in a million;
(2) I've applied expert theory incorrectly and I'm wrong about the odds;
(3) I've applied expert theory correctly...and they are wrong.
I welcome corrections to my own work here, or to the work of the experts.
*Two events of 1/1000 likelihood: 1/1,000 * 1/1,000 = 1/1,000,000