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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cycling Blood Doping: An Evolution

Blood doping in cycling evolved from blood boosting to recombinant EPO then back to blood boosting again.  There was known benefits of blood boosting known in cycling in the eighties, the USA Olympic cycling team, in order to put on a good show after the Russian boycott, decided to use blood transfusions from compatible family member donors to increase the medal count, a method that was neither encouraged or forbidden by Olympic rules.  The thought of a mother giving her child a blood transfusion shortly before a race seems to be the apex of morbidity, ghoulishness, and sickness*: but America had to put on a good show of dominance to demonstrate the superiority of the capitalistic Western system over the heathen inferiority of the communists.  Not surprising, as cheating to achieve success in competitive systems is an accepted practice, especially in America.  One fine day a visiting East German cycling coach was amazed that the Americans' were training at altitude; "We can achieve the same results in fifteen minutes" blood boosting, so there was no need to waste time raising hematocrit levels from "train high, live low" methods, or from sleeping or training in altitude tents.  Nope. A simple blood transfusion would achieve the same results in fifteen minutes with no effort at all.  Amazing, the 1984 U.S. Olympic team knew of the benefits of blood boosting on performance, the East Germans used the practice and had phenomenal Olympic success: and produced Jan Ullrich, the legendary diesel; a man who could power up twenty percent grades at six watts per kilogram, never leaving the saddle, braking a sweat, or breathing hard.  But according to Greg LeMond, the professional peloton never heard of blood boosting, the riders never cheated, he, along with Bernard Hinault, and Laurent Fignon, were the only three winners of any grand tour who rode clean, and other fairy tales.

These assertions by Greg LeMond are hilarious and make you laugh; but I swear there are still fools around who believe Greg LeMond: and who comment that such stellar performances such as his monumental climb up L'AlpeD'Huez in the 1986 Tour de France; where Bernard Hinault looks ready to drop dead from exhaustion, while Greg LeMond is dancing out of the saddle with an inexhaustible supply of energy, laughing and smiling and hugging his fallen leader Bernard Hinault, who earlier in the race, in a fit of madness, launched a suicide attack with an insurmountable lead, throwing away his certain Tour de France win after he bonked! and who could never recover afterwards.  An impartial observer watching Greg LeMond's body language and his personal deportment during the climb could come up with the conclusion: "it's juice."**

There were no vampires stalking around the riders waiting to extract blood in 1984 and Greg LeMond did not win his first tour until 1986, which suggests foul play, certainly.  Indeed, by 1989 and 1990 a newer form of blood doping was available: rEPO: a synthetic form of erythropoietin, a much more efficient method of raising hematocrit levels without the infectious complications of heterologous blood transfusions, or the necessity of finding an acceptable blood donor.  It is a certainty that rEPO was being used to some extent along with heterlogous blood transfusions during this period, on an experimental basis, in order to lower lactic acid levels in the muscles- as was done by Francesco Conconi and Michele Ferrari to prepare Francesco Moser for his world one hour record ride attempt in 1984.***  rEPO use could not be detected until 2000 and until then the use of this performance enhancing substance was rampant.  When Francesco Conconi developed a test to distinguish the difference between endogenous and synthetic EPO; **** then and only then did the peloton switch back to homologous blood transfusions.  Blood was taken out of riders in small increments, refrigerated, then reintroduced into the riders shortly before and during races.  The increase in hematocrit levels could be diluted with simple methods such as injections with saline solutions when the vampires were scheduled to arrive, a fact that was known among riders through various tips from persons associated with the various regulatory agencies.  There were many occasions, in the lax days, where the riders would run out the back door as the vampire was knocking on the front door: but there was no penalty unless three anti-doping out-of-competition tests were missed.  There were other devious methods to defeat a anti-doping urine test, such as using a "whizzinator" or reservoir filled with substitute urine attached to a rubber penis.  After numerous athletes were caught using this method, the chaperons used more stringent methods when obtaining urine samples.  Other methods of defeating the tests included soaking the hands with soap.  Once this malady was discovered the vampires took more stringent measures to defeat this chicanery too.

The dimwits who were in charge of the sample collections grew wiser; and the tests got wiser, so the riders got wiser and switched from rEPO back to blood infusions.  Lance Armstrong got away with taking rEPO in 1999 because there were no tests, and for the same reason Greg LeMond and his La Vie Claire team probably used advanced blood boosting techniques until the peloton switched to the more efficient rEPO. Then Greg LeMond faded and only then accused others of using performance enhancing drugs.  Greg LeMond had an incredibly high volume oxygen+oxygen (VO2 max) ratio of 95, or the efficiency of oxygen converted to energy and performance withing the muscles during athletic work; (compare to Lance Armstrong who had a VO2 max ratio of 82; most common males have a VO2 max of about 30), which could be enhanced with an increase in hematocrit, due to the increased oxygen carrying capacity, the lowering of lactic acid, and by the ability of the mitochondria to more efficiently produce power aerobically.  So, obviously, a rider like Lance Armstrong had more to gain from an increase in red blood cell production than a person like Greg LeMond; who had a superior baseline score.  LeMond had a natural advantage, which might explain why he accumulated three Tour de France titles, embarrassing Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, riders who had probably more tactical talent than Greg LeMond: even though Hinault and Fignon were inferior to LeMond in practical talent.  Miguel Indurian and the boys had incredible VO2 max scores too; most of the increase in these scores were probably acquired through questionable blood work; although there is very little, if any interest in discovering the truth of this assertion, at least among the worthies at the UCI or WADA.

Why not invest time and money to chase phantoms.  Old events will do nothing to stop doping today, a concept that Travis T. Tygart will never understand.  Events that happened fourteen years ago with riders who are either retired from the sport or dead, mean nothing to anyone except nostalgic people who spend their retirement years watching Tour de France films of the good old days.  Most of the generation X's, generation Y's, millennials, never heard of Tyler Hamilton and could care less.  Lance Armstrong's name will soon disappear from memory, the old techniques of doping have all been detected, they are worn out like an old shoe, people need to be forward looking and innovative, not retrospectively focused on obsolescence.

So there we have it, first it was donor blood, then rEPO, then autologous blood transfusions, the dopers were always one step ahead of the regulatory agencies, when the tests improved, the cheating techniques were modified.  What WADA and the UCI need to do is to employ someone like Michele Ferrari on a contractual basis to catch the cheaters, like when the International Olympic Committee hired Francesco Conconi to develop a test to catch the cheaters.  But to invite Michele Ferrari to help the geniuses at WADA, after thirty four years of thumbing the "golden standard" of testing in the eye, would be an unacceptable outrage. Anticipate another thirty four years of moping around in the dark wondering why the riders are generating "superhuman" power up the climbs, or seventy kilometer per hour sprints.  Complain and see what happens!  The blinders will be fully attached, first there will be denials then pleas that "we are doing our best under the circumstances," then will come the denials, then the mea culpas.  But to anticipate anything sensible; forget about it!

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that autologous blood transfusions can be combined with micro-dosing EPO with intravenous injections, a fact that Michael Ashenden, "never considered."

*Source: Wheelmen, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O' Connell, Gotham Books, 2013

The U.S. [Olympic] team, however, went ahead with the blood boosting effort.  Participation in the program was voluntary.  If they were interested, they were to arrange for family members with compatible blood types to provide blood donations.  A few days before the Olympic track cycling events, the cyclists and their blood donors lined up in a room at the Ramada hotel in Carson City, and a doctor connected tubes between them, allowing the blood to flow directly from the one to the other.  There were no screening of the blood for hepatitis or other diseases.  Brent Emery opted to participate, and his mother showed up at the hotel to provide the transfusion.  Having her blood flow into his body through a plastic tube was a weird experience. PP.30-31; italics added.
 Yes.  Eddie Borysewicz was the 1984 Olympic Team cycling coach: and from this account he knew of and encouraged blood doping among the team to enhance performance.  The blood transfusions were not autologous they were heterologous, at least for the men.  What is misleading in that?

 **A critic wrote me an e-mail complaining that Hinault and LeMond went at a snail's pace compared to Marco Pantani's record ride up L'AlpeD'Huez.  Before the stage Hinault and LeMond made an agreement: Hinault would set the tempo up the climb and win the stage.  In return for the stage win Hinault agreed not to attack LeMond in any of the future stages, including the time trial, all the way to Paris; thus ensuring a LeMond victory.  LeMond did not set the tempo up L'AlpeD'Huez even though he boasted after the stage that he could have put five minutes on Hinault.  If I remember correctly Marco Pantani did not ride in the 1986 Tour de France, so how he would have performed that day, on that stage, cannot be determined.  Pantani's record ride is therefore superfluous, although I am convinced that Marco Pantani was using rEPO, or blood transfusions, or a combination of the two.  After all Marco Pantani was booted from the 1999 Giro d' Italia for hematocrit over 50%.  Let us just say that with the ride up L'AlpeD'Huez, even at the snail's pace, Hinault and LeMond dropped the entire peloton, and Hinault passed Urs Zimmermann for second place in the general classification.  What is misleading in that?

***Source: Wheelmen, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O' Connell, Gotham Books, 2013
Before the 2000 Tour de France began, there were rumors in the peloton that a new prototype test for EPO had been discovered and would be used during the race.  This was the test that the International Olympic Committee had commissioned Francesco Conconi, the so-called fox in the hen house to develop. PP.135-136; italics added.
 Of course, Albergotti and O' Connell did not source this statement, but it directly opposes the contention that Conconi "never had anything to do with a test for EPO!"  What is misleading in that?

****Francesco  Moser was an Italian time trialist.  Eddy Merckx complained that it was a combination of medical treatments from Conconi, plus the aerodynamic design of Moser's bicycle, and the fact that the Mexico City velodrome floor was resurfaced with a special preparation that would reduce friction, as the deciding factors for his world record being smashed by Moser in Mexico City.   Eddy Merckx stated that he trained with oxygen tanks that mimicked the atmosphere of Mexico City; the old "live low, train high" method.  Eddy Merckx also stated that after the ride he could not walk for eight days, while Moser was back on the bike two days later.  Moser admitted that he used blood transfusions.  Ah!  The miracles of modern medicine!  So, your point that Conconi did not work with anyone but Italians until 1991 is superfluous.

Here is some additional evidence concerning Francesco Conconi: quoting: Seven Deadly Sins, David Walsh, Atria Books, 2012.

So in the surreal world of Italian sports politics it came about that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself asked a German pharmaceutical company to supply Conconi with EPO, so that he could carry out the research which might lead to an EPO test.  This generosity would see the creation of Conconi's infamous 'EPO file,' his 'study group of 23 amateurs' who were in fact 22 professional athletes and himself, that EPO, courtesy of the IOC was used to cheat.  Welcome to the brave new world and its Orwellian dialect of doublespeak. P. 121.

Then there is the great Irish champion Stephen Roche.

Stephen Roche's career had been highly successful and in 1987 he won the Giro d' Italia, Tour de France, and World Championships, a treble previously achieved only by the legendary Eddy Merckx. P.95.

But unfortunately Stephen Roche was linked to Francesco Conconi:

In an inquiry into the Ferrara based doctor, Professor Francesco Conconi, Ireland's Tour de France winner Stephen Roche was listed among twenty-three riders in what would be called the EPO file.   Stephen Roche was in the EPO file under his own name but also under aliases, two of which were Roechi and Roncati. P.95.

As David Walsh states in his book the Francesco Conconi notations concerning Stephen Roche probably occurred in 1993 and 1994, which does not imply that Stephen Roche blood doped in 1987.

It helps to read the books before you make unsupported statements and send out unsolicited e-mails!

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