This post is about How professional cyclist use drugs and get away with it.
How professional cyclist use drugs and get away with it
I’m a cyclist – not a professional cyclist, but that is beside the point. I just watched the 60 Minutes special with Tyler Hamilton (a former professional cyclist) about the so-called “cheat”, and probably the greatest cyclist in history, Lance Armstrong. Tyler Hamilton told a story about how he and other members of the former United States Postal Service Cycling Team used “Performance Enhancing Drugs” such as EPO (Erythropoietin ), testosterone, blood transfusions and other means of increasing performance.
First, let’s not mince words – we are talking about the greatest cycling event in the world here – Le Tour de France. This is what us Americans and most of the rest of the world consider the “Superbowl” of cycling. In America’s eyes, it’s the most important and the ONLY race worth caring about. Sure there are other races that are very popular such as the Giro d’ Italia or the Vuelta a Espana. But here in the US those are after thoughts and do not really matter.
Do I think that Lance Armstrong used drugs?
NO. Well at least not during the Tour de France race. That would be straight up stupid, and Lance is far from stupid, because he WOULD get caught. During his heyday he was THE most tested athlete on the planet for performance enhancing drugs. It would almost be impossible for him to NOT get caught. Also, there would be no way for him to pay off the entire World Doping Agency, the very people who actually WANT him to get caught, the very people that would use even the slightest bit of information or test to nail his ass to the wall. In addition he would have to pay off the entire UCI (International Cycling Union), the governing body of all major cycling events.
So how did he win 7 Tour de Frances?
He worked his ass off, and “possibly” used drugs…during the off season! To anybody who really knows about drugs and how to use them, they know that you absolutely MUST NOT BREAK ANY DRUG RULE, because you WILL get tested and you WILL get caught.
So how do they use them in the off season?
As with any athlete, whether it is a cyclist, an Olympic sprinter, or a power lifter, it is just not possible for any doping agency to test athletes year round, and that is where the magic happens. During the off season an athlete, at least the smart ones, at the peak of their periodization, will train and use as many performance enhancing drugs as possible (or not), usually when they are at their peak of maximum red blood cell count. At that time they will do a blood draw from their own bodies with (or without) any foreign substance or “performance enhancing drugs” in their bodies. During that time the blood will be tested for the absolute maximum red blood cell count.
To make this easy to understand let’s look at an example:
Let’s say that the average athlete has a range of a “red blood cell count blood sample” that ranges from 1 – 10. This range represents “normal” blood levels without “performance enhancing drugs.” This is what the World Doping Agency (“WADA”) and other testing bodies uses as a standard. You as an average person would fall somewhere within that range of 1-10. A professional athlete would also fall somewhere within that range of 1-10. WADA , or another drug testing agency that tests professional athletes, takes blood samples to be sure that they fall into that range of 1-10. Lance Armstrong never fell outside the range of 1-10. He passed every test known for years, his levels were always within range, and that my friend is where the magic happens!
Yes, as long as an athlete falls within that range of 1-10, he or she is safe from charges of being a “dope” or “cheat”. By means of a simple blood transfusion with or without any “performance enhancing drugs,” an athlete can increase or decrease the amount of red blood cells in his or her body. However, there is an “amount” of blood sample that IS regulated (cc’s of blood drawn) and required by the testing lab. Therefore, as long as that test falls within the range of 1-10 an athlete is free and clear.
I still don’t get it.
OK, now you have to look at the size of the athlete’s heart or his/her VO2 Max. Most if not all pro athletes have a VERY high VO2 Max. Meaning their heart can pump an extreme amount of blood through their system and also take in an extreme amount of oxygen to transport throughout the blood system. It also means that that same athlete can “hold” a lot more blood than a normal person with a normal VO2Max can. Therefore, if the heart can hold *more blood* AND if an athlete can maximize the 1-10 ratio (during the test) “through all the blood,” the athlete just packed more red-blood-cell-containing blood in his or her system and WILL fall within the range of the “blood sample” of 1-10 that is required by WADA.
How professional cyclist use drugs and get away with it
WADA CANNOT drain all the athletes’ blood, so there is no way of actually knowing how much blood an athlete is carrying in his or her body. Therefore it’s impossible to know if an athlete is carrying around more blood; besides, it is not illegal for them to have “extra” blood in their bodies. Especially when that athlete is known for having a very high VO2 Max, it is a natural occurrence that the athlete will also have more blood in their body.
This is the reason why Elite Athletes train in high locations such as the French Alps or Denver Colorado. At these high altitudes, their bodies will produce more oxygen containing red blood cells needed to adapt to and deal with the higher altitude. However, there are only so many red blood cells that an athlete’s body can produce:
- In a Mg / CC (milligram/cubic centimeters) of blood
- That maximum is considered a “10” on the WADA scale of 1-10
So all the athlete has to do is fall within that range and if they pass the test they are free and clear.
Also depending on when the test is conducted, there are ways to “use” those extra red blood cells (say that before a race they have a red blood cell count of 12 or 13) during a race or event, so that when the test is conducted an athlete will still fall with that 1-10 range.
This is an over simplification of how things are done, and there are other tests, but this is basically how the game is played.
So I think that some athletes do use drugs; however, I also think that if done correctly, it is next to impossible to “get caught” because the smart athlete WILL ALWAYS play within the rules.
This concludes my post on how professional cyclist use drugs and get away with it.