Doping news and insights  //  "Steroids are an illusion" and how to avoid detection in cycling

13 Jan 2010 Posted by

Tomorrow I will begin the first major series of 2010 – Exercise and Weight loss, which is mainly in response to Time Magazine’s article last year, which explained “Why Exercise won’t make you thin”.

Exercise and weight loss is a topic that we absolutely had to cover, because for all the focus we’ve had on high performance, elite athletes and science in sport, the aspect of exercise, weight loss and the science behind it is probably bigger.  I would be very surprised if anyone who has ever trained has not done so with a view to losing weight at some stage.  Whether they’re elite athletes who need to lose weight to get down to optimal racing weight for performance, or whether they are exercising on doctor’s ‘orders’ to lose weight to become healthy, weight loss is a concern for everyone, and so it’s a huge topic, and I’m sure this series will not be the only one we ever do on this subject..

So Time magazine helped inspire the series that I’ll begin tomorrow, but I don’t want to limit myself to that only.  So we’ll look at some practical applications, some of the science of weight loss, and we’ll get some expert opinion that will hopefully help you, regardless of your motive!  That’s to look forward to tomorrow!

Doping – the illusion of steroids

For today, just as a ‘filler’ post, I want to link to two articles that really provide a great deal of food for thought on doping.

The first, written by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, features an interview with an expert on doping in the USA, Professor Charles Yesalis.  The interview was in response to Mark McGwire (he of steroid induced home-run hitting in baseball) saying that in his new position as hitting coach for the Cardinals, he would tell young players that steroids “are an illusion” if they wanted to know the impact of the drugs on their play.

The article is short, featuring a few questions to Prof Yesalis, in which he spells out his criticism of that position.  It is a position that says that the denial of the effectiveness of drugs undermines the credibility of the scientific and medical fields, and I agree.  We’ve seen this a great deal in cycling too, where people are saying that the doping practices in the sport don’t have a significant impact on performance.  It’s part condoning the practice of doping, part denial that the problem exists, but the end result is that those opposed to doping lose credibility with the athletes. If you have more time, you may also be interested in this article, also by Epstein, from 2008, looking at steroids in much more detail.

Cycling – how to defeat anti-doping control

Then the second article is this fascinating piece from a really great cycling site, Cozy Beehive, which has a guest post from a former pro cyclist, Joe Papp.  Papp looks at some of the methods (not all) used by pro-cyclists to evade detection.

This is a commonly asked question – “if they are doping, then how do they get away with it?” and the link provides some of the answers.  Remember also the much more basic method used by Dwain Chambers, where he would fill up his mobile phone’s message service so that testers who called him could not leave a message, and then when he knew he would test negative, he deleted those messages and allowed the testers to contact him.  That was the “duck and dive” method (his words), a little less sophisticated than what Papp describes in his article, but apparently quite effective – Chambers was only caught thanks to the THG tip-off, and had been using everything for a long time without detection.

There are other methods too.  Micro-dosing, urine substitution, enzyme treatments – all described briefly in the article.  Scroll down to the comments section to read more interesting discussion.  There is this one, which I’ll paste here:

Prentice Steffen, ex-doctor at US Postal said the following to L’Equipe in an interview on October 6, 2005. I quote Steffen :

“Before going to the start of the Tour, the riders of certain teams, during their training camps, took EPO (which disappears from the urine within three days, even 12 hours when small doses are used) and took their hematocrits up to around 60. Then a doctor withdraws their blood, saving it in special containers, to lower their blood parameters into the accepted range (50) so that they pass without difficulty the medical controls before the Tour. Then, as the teams well know, during the race the vampires (2) can arrive any day but always between 7 and 8 in the morning. After that time, there is no more testing and the riders were able to re-inject their own blood. They were racing the stage with an enormous advantage- their hematrocrit in the 55 to 58 range during the race- then in the evening at the hotel, someone again withdraws their blood so that they sleep without risk (3) and, especially, they escape the possible tests the next morning.


This practice was used every evening during the three weeks of the Tour?


No, just for important stages in the mountains or maybe for a time trial. It’s so simple to do and there’s no risk of being caught unless the police intervene. The blood was shuttled by motorcycle in a refrigerated compartment… “

Transparency and urgency

Whether this should be described in public is debatable.  I think the more transparent things are the better.  Cycling’s biggest failure, in my opinion, has been its concerted effort at burying the problem, either pretending it doesn’t exist or downplaying its impact, as we said above.

The only way the problem of doping will ever be controlled is to expose everything, the good and the bad.  Everyone should be invited to contribute to this ‘cleansing’ – I believe that a big part of the reason that cycling today is becoming cleaner (which I believe – see our interview with Yorck Schumacher for his views) is because the media and sponsors drew a line and started to attack doping.  When the media decided that they would cover only doping and not the racing action, cycling had to respond.

Being transparent is the solution, and I find it positive when people talk, breaking the code of silence that exists in the sport.  Unfortunately, not everyone agrees, and its for this reason that pro-cycling is where it is.  A cyclist who exposes even a tiny part of the truth can expect to be bullied into retreat within the peloton, their credibility and integrity attacked with alarming aggression, ala Simeone and Bassons (and others, I am sure).

Let’s hope everyone is listening.  I’m sure they are, and I have no doubt that the net will close on all these methods as much as it can.

Join us tomorrow for the start of the the Weight loss investigated series.  And thank you to Norman and Ron for providing links to those stories!


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