Dop­ing drug gives no edge to se­ri­ous cy­clists in study

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The blood booster at the heart of the Lance Arm­strong dop­ing scan­dal does not im­prove real-world cycling per­for­mance, ac­cord­ing to the most rig­or­ous study yet of how the protein EPO af­fects ath­letes. The re­sults, pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Lancet Hae­ma­tol­ogy , may con­vince some to pay more at­ten­tion to the harms of sup­posed per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs by punch­ing holes in the myths sur­round­ing them, re­searchers said.

Dutch sci­en­tists staged a bike race up a moun­tain to study whether ery­thro­poi­etin (EPO) lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion, trans­port­ing a large group of avid cy­clists to south­ern France in a tour bus and putting on a gru­el­ing day of cycling for them.

“It was hec­tic and stress­ful, but also a lot of fun and ex­hil­a­rat­ing,” said Jules Heu­berger of the Cen­tre for Hu­man Drug Re­search in Lei­den, Nether­lands, who led the ef­fort and de­scribes him­self as “an ac­tive, fa­natic cy­clist.”

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies of EPO in sports have been flawed, Heu­berger said. Par­tic­i­pants weren’t trained ath­letes, knew they were get­ting EPO, or test­ing was lim­ited to short bursts of strength and en­durance.

EPO is among more than 300 sub­stances banned by the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency. Cycling’s anti-dop­ing unit is again gear­ing up for com­pre­hen­sive test­ing at this year’s Tour de France, plan­ning an av­er­age of eight tests per day, al­ways in­clud­ing the race leader and win­ner of each stage, plus six oth­ers. The race starts Satur­day in Duesseldorf, Ger­many.

One sup­port rider al­ready has been dropped from his team af­ter an out-of­com­pe­ti­tion test was pos­i­tive for EPO. In 2012, Arm­strong was stripped of his seven Tour de France ti­tles for dop­ing and he later ad­mit­ted to us­ing EPO and other banned sub­stances.

The anti-dop­ing agency’s sci­ence di­rec­tor, Olivier Rabin, said he would read the study with in­ter­est, but doubted it would change the group’s ban on EPO.

“We would need much more than this,” Rabin said. “The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity will re­ceive this with a lot of skep­ti­cism.”

EPO, pro­duced nat­u­rally in the body, en­hances the abil­ity to carry oxy­gen to the mus­cles and is thought to in­crease en­durance. Doc­tors use a man­u­fac­tured ver­sion to treat ane­mia re­lated to can­cer or kid­ney dis­ease. It thick­ens blood, too, which can raise the risk for heart dis­ease and stroke.

For the test, the Dutch sci­en­tists used gold-stan­dard meth­ods as if they were study­ing a new drug for a med­i­cal con­di­tion. “The medicine is EPO and the dis­ease is slow cycling,” Heu­berger said. “Can you re­ally im­prove cycling per­for­mance with EPO?” Pro­fes­sional ath­letes were im­pos­si­ble to study be­cause they’re barred from tak­ing EPO. In­stead, the sci­en­tists re­cruited 48 ama­teur, but well-trained male cy­clists will­ing to take shots for eight weeks then race up a moun­tain in south­ern France.

None knew whether he was get­ting the real stuff or dummy in­jec­tions. Re­searchers gave the EPO group enough to in­crease their lev­els of he­mo­glo­bin, the part of blood that car­ries oxy­gen.

To no­body’s sur­prise, the EPO group did bet­ter on a short, high-in­ten­sity test in the lab where they ped­aled on an in­cline un­til they were ex­hausted. But the two groups per­formed equally on a 45-minute en­durance test in­side.

Re­searchers and cy­clists trav­eled from the Nether­lands to France for the main event. On race day, the cy­clists rode for 110 kilo­me­ters (68 miles) to­gether, then raced for 21.5 kilo­me­ters (13 miles) up Mont Ven­toux, a peak that’s of­ten part of the Tour de France.

Those who’d had EPO in­jec­tions were 17 sec­onds slower on av­er­age com­pared to cy­clists who got dummy in­jec­tions. Most of them guessed wrongly that they got the fake shots. “They couldn’t feel the ef­fect and we couldn’t mea­sure it ei­ther,” Heu­berger said.—AP

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