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Scientific Evidence of Systemic Doping? Journal of Sports Sciences Points Finger at Pro Cycling

by John Symon

May 28, 2010 – A recent scientific article in the Journal of Sports Sciences is strongly suggestive of systemic doping among top level professional cyclists since the early 1990s as reported by AFP. That article entitled; “Tour de France, Giro, Vuelta, and classic European races show a unique progression of road cycling speed in the last 20 years,” examines the average speeds cycled by the peloton and altitudes climbed over recent decades.

While average speeds increased from 23kmh in 1892 to 41kmh in 2008, much of the increases in earlier decades can be attributed to better training and to technological improvements with bicycles. But a six percent increase in cycling speeds noted since about 1990 does not match any significant training or technological change and instead corresponds very closely with introduction of EPO in the peloton.

“In 1993, something happened,” notes Nour El Helou, of the sports biomedical and epidemiological research centre in Irmes, France. Starting about then, a six percent increase in cycling speeds was noted despite much greater elevation gains being encountered on major bike races like the Tour de France. Scientific literature suggests that EPO use confers about a six percent advantage in endurance events (such as ProTour races). Jean-François Toussaint, the director of the Irmes Centre points out that this study is not formal proof of systemic doping, but a body of other evidence corroborates this hypothesis.

Meanwhile, Floyd Landis told ESPN that, “the biological passport is a joke, and I’m fairly certain the UCI knows about it.” Landis further claimed that he and his U.S. Postal Service teammates routinely had advance notice of when ‘unannounced anti-doping controls’ would take place This advance knowledge allowed them to dilute their blood with saline solution to avoid testing positive. Landis says he didn’t know how the team knew when there would be an ‘unannounced’ test, but that “It was just nice that they did.”

Some researchers, such as Michael Ashenden, an Australian exercise physiologist and blood doping researcher who reviews biological passport data for UCI, and Dr. Don Catlin, an anti-doping researcher who pioneered methods for steroid detection, both told ESPN that Landis’ revelations were very useful in understanding how cyclists avoid testing positive.

Journal of Sports Sciences report here.
ESPN article here.
AFP article (in French) here.

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