Cycling and Doping: A Solution

07.27.2007 | 9:22 am

A Note from Fatty: Dr. BotchedExperiment and I ride together fairly frequently. When we do, I always try to get him to talk about doping in cycling. I do this for two reasons:

  • He knows what he’s talking about. Botched is an actual doctor and scientist. He understands the science and where it’s going.
  • It’s entertaining. Botched gets really worked up. He doesn’t just think about this kind of thing. He cares about it.

So I’ve asked Botched to write up his treatise on doping and what cycling should do about it. To my surprise and delight, he has complied. I think you’ll find it as interesting as I do.

Some careless and unlucky cyclists are getting busted for doping, and they’re really screwing up this year’s TDF. What I really worry about is the future. I don’t see the current anti-doping program working. Oh, I see it catching a few people, but there are enough data out there to suggest current anti-doping practices are only catching a small percent of the cheaters—and more importantly, I don’t feel assured that those who are not getting caught aren’t cheating.

Tearing cycling apart might be worth it if the sport was really going to be clean at the end. But it won’t be.

The future of doping lies in two places. One is the development of new drugs/methods/masking agents. The other is manipulation of athletes’ DNA such that they “naturally” produce more testosterone, human growth hormone, erythropoietin, etc. This is already technically possible and is done to mice all the time. In fact, it’s already been done in humans too. “Gene therapy” is a highly active field of research to treat human diseases by altering the DNA of patients such that those patients produce more of some gene than they normally do.

Any way you slice it, the anti-doping folks will always be playing catch-up to the dopers and we’ll never be assured of a peleton of clean cyclists or a “fair” winner of races. Instead what we’re going to be assured of is more of the same of what we’ve experienced this year.

The Solution(s)
The solution is to get rid of WADA, UCI, ASO, etc. and re-organize cycling with privately owned teams and a league collectively owned by those teams (as in the NFL). This provides a single body with authority regulate the sport, and a group of people who are financially invested in the integrity AND popularity of the sport. Since that’s never going to happen, an alternative is needed.

A paradigm shift is needed. I suggest cycling stop worrying about dopers and doping and start worrying about an even playing field and the popularity of the sport. I don’t really care that some riders are using chemicals or transfusions to ride faster; I only care that maybe some are and maybe some aren’t and that my favorite riders are being excluded from racing.

You can try to eliminate doping at all costs, or you can try to save cycling. I’m not sure you can do both. I suggest the following changes to current practices and thinking.

1. Switch the focus of doping tests from specific drugs to physiological parameters.
I suggested something similar in a previous post. The top juniors all over the world should have blood work and physiological testing performed a couple times a year. This gives a history hormone levels and performance values against which future deviations can be compared. Using this method, doping isn’t only defined by finding exogenous chemicals in the athlete or extra copies of genes; it’s defined by an improvement of performance values/hormone levels greater than two standard deviations above “normal” for that athlete.

Given that this is expensive and is too late for current riders (although CSC has recently started doing exactly this for its own riders) another version of this idea is to to use average values derived from the rest of the peleton, instead of individual values. For each hormone/physiological parameter set a cut-off value, and enforce that value.

This is already being done with hematocrit (percentage of red blood cells in blood). WADA and others established that a ‘crit over 50 might be dangerous, therefore any cyclist with a ‘crit above 50 is held out of competition for two weeks. The testers don’t have to demonstrate that the 50 was produced artificially (for instance by detecting the presence of artificial EPO) it’s an automatic bar.

There are several ways of increasing your hematocrit, some are considered doping, some are not. Most of the peleton rides major races with a hematocrit very near the 50 cutoff. Why then, does it matter if one rider gets to 49 hematocrit by using an altitude tent, another goes and lives at 12,000 feet of elevation, another uses EPO, and another uses a blood transfusion? The result is an equal playing field with all the riders at a crit value of about 50.

Similar cutoff values could be established for many hormones and physiological parameters, such as testosterone, human growth hormone, hemoglobin content in blood, and glucocorticoid hormones, to name a few off the top of my head. I suggest that the cut-off values to be considered doping be quite stringent. I’m not suggesting dropping all testing for exogenous chemicals, since some are very easily detected and obviously go beyond the bounds of an even playing field (such as anabolic steroids).

2. Eliminate medical exemptions for high physiological parameters.
Since the future of fighting doping lies in tracking the physiology of individual riders and/or establishing cutoff values for physiological parameters, this is an essential aspect of leveling the playing field. Right now you can race with a hematocrit over 50—if you have a note from a doctor stating that your 60 hematocrit is a naturally occurring value. Depending on the drug/parameter in question, getting an exemption can be as easy as having your hometown doctor fill out a form.

As new, undetectable drugs are developed and as gene doping becomes a reality, it will be impossible to sort out who has a naturally occurring “naturally high” value and who does not.

As for exemptions to use certain (potentially) performance enhancing drugs to treat medical conditions, I think some official agency (I can’t believe I’m really about to suggest WADA be in charge of something) should be in charge of this, and riders should actually have to demonstrate the medical condition for which they seek treatment.

Racing bikes for a living is not an inherent right of human kind. If your natural hematocrit is 55, then if you want to race bikes, you’d better do something to keep it under 50 during competition.

3. Reduce the punishment for positive tests to a two week suspension.
This accomplishes 4 things.

  •  It allows cycling to try to clean itself up and level the playing field, AND still have a sport people care about at the end of the process. Under the plan I suggest, more cyclists will test positive, so kicking them all out isn’t a reasonable solution.
  • It reduces the pressure on the anti-doping system. Riders will stop fighting for their lives when they are accused of doping; financially and emotionally, it won’t be worth it any more. Currently guys (rightly so) try to tear down the system trying to save themselves, and frankly the system isn’t robust enough to handle it.
  • It reduces the focus on punishing dopers and dopers defending themselves, which are both very negative for the sport.
  • It will allow cycling to more fairly implement new testing procedures and make the cut-off values for being considered “positive” more stringent. If someone is actually innocent, then you didn’t ruin their lives.


  1. Comment by Lisa B | 07.27.2007 | 9:50 am

    All well and good, but is Botched going to use his superior knowledge to “help” you race Leadville?

  2. Comment by Brewinman | 07.27.2007 | 9:56 am

    Excellent treatise Dr. Botched! I agree that the current state of testing for dopers in cycling is in total disarray. I also agree that major changes must be made in order to save the sport. There are always going to be unscrupulous participants who try to beat the system and gain an advantage over their competitors. Catching those individuals is going to become increasingly difficult as technology advances, making doping that much more attractive for racers. I think the level playing field, doped or not, is much more realistic than wasting time and resources trying to catch athletes cheating. Level the field and let ‘em race!

  3. Comment by bikemike | 07.27.2007 | 9:57 am

    i read globin in there somewhere and thought you
    said goblin. i got scared and couldn’t read the rest.
    i’m sure you were right about everything, it was very
    interesting up to that point.

  4. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 07.27.2007 | 9:58 am

    “Tearing cycling apart might be worth it if the sport was really going to be clean at the end. But it won’t be.”

    Very true. I love this sport, and it just isn’t worth it right now. I’d like to know who wins the tour this year, but I don’t think I care anymore.

    I would like to see punishments snowball a little if you’re a repeat offender and I love your idea of just having benchmarks and not worrying how the rider got there.

    Well done botched. Now who has Dick Pound’s email?

  5. Comment by Al Maviva | 07.27.2007 | 10:05 am

    Botched, I love ya man, but that’s the worst bunch of socialist horse puckey I’ve ever seen. It’s similar to NASCAR super speedway races, which require restrictor plates. Yep, it’s a level playing field alright – nobody is slow, nobody is fast. The racing is okay only insofar as the winner is more often random, but the racers hate it because it takes the element of superior tuning ability and team out of it, and there’s no way to really win a race – it leads to conservative, defensive racing.

    Same thing in a bike race. Want to know the worst kind of race? In a lower category road race, where everybody is really evenly matched and the terrain isn’t too demanding. It sounds like it would be real exciting, lots of close racing, nip and tuck, lead changes, real fairness and equality… but the truth is nobody can get away, there’s no separation, nobody gets dropped, thus nobody makes a comeback, and in the end, it’s 75 or a hundred fools all trying to dive into the last corner to get good position for the field sprint. Y’know those field sprints where there’s a 30 rider pileup, and the winner randomly squirts through to win? You’d see a lot more of that. Yuck. That’s not racing, that’s a lottery. Nobody watches racing to see equality of outcome, they watch to see a good fight, and to see a champion emerge based on some unique combination of abilities and skills.

    Nice idea, but doomed. Might as well treat the riders like jockeys or wrestlers, put ‘em in weight classes, issue standard equipment (they freeze the frames with water inside, you know that? Yeah, they cheat on equipment too) You wouldn’t be cleaning up racing, you’d be starting a whole new sport. It’d involve bicycles, but it wouldn’t be racing, at least not what we’d recognize as such.

    Now, longitudinal testing of physiological attributes, along the lines of what Slipstream is doing, except maybe monitored by a reformed UCI…

  6. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 07.27.2007 | 10:16 am

    Al–just becuase two racers have similar testosterone hematocrit levels doesn’t mean they’ll go the same speed. Using pharmaceuticals a person could get their testosterone and hematocrit sky high but they still wouldn’t be able to ride thier bike with the pro’s for one mile.

    I suggest that the top guys have been doing some serious doping for the last 10 years, and there still have been great champions and competitive racing, that is when those riders were actually allowed to ride.

  7. Comment by jank | 07.27.2007 | 10:39 am

    1 – Don’t like it one bit. Not sure why, and it’s probably just illogic, but somehow there’s a distinction in my head between pharmecuticals and living at altitude. Though the altitude tent does make a very grey area.
    2 – Right on, brother. This way there’s not some Dr. Doolittle out there doping kids from birth to be freaks.
    3 – This one is a no-brainer, IMO. 2 years for doping makes it a career-ender in a lot of cases, and increases the desire for the guys currently doping to hide. Maybe an alternative would be some sort of “Cycling Truth and Reconciliation” commission, where current or former dopers could come clean this winter, without fear of retaliation, or with a minor suspension.

    Right now, if you play it out as a game, someone doping has every incentive to continue to do it – they’ve established a low probability of getting caught with the techniques they are using, so why not maximize income when the alternative is two years on the dole? Ceasing doping, while reducing the probability they’ll get caught in the future is not really an option, because it decreases their earning potential without reducing the liability that they’ll get caught up in some sort of sting, or turned in by their former doctors. Some form of general amnesty is needed, after which a more reasonable system of enforcement should be followed.

    I would also propose one last suggestion:

    4. Continue to hammer the entire team of someone doping during competition. Of the many things I’ve learned from the Movies, The Untouchables told me that you’ve got to go after the head of an organization to get it to change its behavior. Like when Kevin Costner and Sean Connery realized they couldn’t shut down Al Capone until they actually went after him. Lieutenants are expendable. Part of the historical enforcement problem is that the cyclists were the only ones punished. A team can get another rider in a heartbeat, but having to withdraw from a marquee event is a huge blow to the sponsor. And, it makes sure that riders are keeping eyes on their teammates.

  8. Comment by Jason | 07.27.2007 | 11:28 am

    Wild out of the box thinking Botched! So far out of the box that I haven’t fully been able to digest all of it.

    One suggestion though – what about keeping the “two week” suspension thing but only for the “stringent criteria” type doping rules. For the outright/flagrant violations (positive for steroids, blood transfusions, being caught red handed with doping products, etc..) I still vote we ban the offender for life and his/her team for the entire season – not as a punishment but as a deterrent.

  9. Comment by Richard | 07.27.2007 | 11:35 am

    Al, are you saying that if nobody doped then races would be boring? Are you saying that you can determine the better athlete by their blood work?

    The real question is what is the sport all about? Is it about training, tunning and strength displayed through determination … or doing whatever it takes to win?

    The bottom line is that doping is wrong and its effects reach beyond those that do it. It reaches past the point where the current system needs to be fixed. I like the ideas that were presented because they’re different enough to possibly reduce the negative effects of doping, while preserving the spirit of the sport that makes it great.

    Sorry to be all upset and stuff, the whole thing just brings me down.

  10. Comment by ibisss | 07.27.2007 | 11:53 am

    re: Jank’s point 4: A possibility would be to ban for life the sponsors of a team where a rider was found positive. As well as the director of the team.
    Another alternative is for cyclists to generally lose interest in the spectacle of pro racing, focussing instead on local racers and races. As long as the gamble of Armstrong-like fame seems worth risking long-term health and the credibility of the sport, racers will dope. I don’t know many people competitive enough to dope in order to win some crystal statue, or a new set of tires, or whatever the prize is for a local race.
    M Burdge

  11. Comment by Scott | 07.27.2007 | 11:54 am

    Cycling has the most aggressive anti doping stance of any professional sport. Look at how successful all of their efforts have been at improving their sport. Even the die hard followers have been transformed into soap opera addicts. Who cares who wins? I just want to know who the next doper is…

    I am sure that the commissioners of all of the other major sports are watching the professional cycling melt down and just laughing their butts off. Having witnessed what happens when a sport tries to clean itself up, I am sure that all of the other sports can’t wait to join the fun. It’s not going to happen.

    Barry (big head) Bonds will be the home run king.

    The star quarterback will not be fired from the winning super bowl team late in the fourth quarter.

    Dopers suck, but watching the sport that you love perform hari-kari to maintain its honor during the signature event is even worse.

    I am not sure about Botched’s suggestions (I’m not a doctor) but it sure seems to make a hell of a lot more sense than the current debacle.

  12. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 07.27.2007 | 12:11 pm

    Scott–Exactly. EXACTLY.

  13. Comment by miles archer | 07.27.2007 | 12:23 pm

    Continuing with the car racing analogy, I’d like to see Formula 1, not Nascar. Legalize everything. Have the cyclists be gunea pigs for anything new that comes along. After they’ve proved what works, let the rest of us have it.

    Formula 1 used to be a laboratory for improving racing engines (less so now), I want the same for performance enhancing pharmaceuticals.

  14. Comment by MAJ Mike | 07.27.2007 | 1:04 pm

    In my opinion, the keys are as follows:

    1. Standard tests with standard metrics in standard labs. Tests that work reliably that are evaluated identically in any lab involved. Floyd, for example, would have had no trouble from his test in 25 of WADA’s 26 affiliated labs. That shouldn’t ever be the case. Set a standard.

    2. Punish the doper with the big time bans. A top cyclist might gamble with a little 2 week suspension…hell, there won’t be another race in two weeks. Couple that with a one year ban for the riders director sportif and a huge fine from the team…big enough that it would endanger their ability to compete in further races that year. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

    Doping has to be made so unacceptible within the peloton that it is no longer ever even considered. The only way to do that is group punishment.

  15. Comment by MTB W | 07.27.2007 | 1:04 pm

    I agree that “pro” cycling is a debacle. I don’t think any sport tests as much as cycling (except maybe track & field) and the results show, making it a freakshow. I can’t imagine what would happen if baseball tested every player who hits a home run NFL tested every pro bowler. If other sports tested as much as cycling (wasn’t Rassmussen tested at least 12 times during the race?), pro sports would probably be in ruins for some time. It takes some serious denying of reality to claim that most pro athletes in most sports are clean.

    Regardless, Botched has some good points to work around the situation. Something different must be tried since the current system is killing the sport. However, I would increase sanctions to something like 3 months (and at least one major race) for first timers (a penalty sufficient to say – You are a bad boy, now go sit in the corner and think about what you have done, but not a career killer), 6 months for 2nd violation and third time – life ban. However, I predict the powers that be will not materially change anything (if for no other reason to protect their jobs).

    On the somewhat positive side, Track & Field went thru major doping problems and it is surviving (although it certainly is not the sport it was in the 80s and early 90s).

  16. Comment by MTB W | 07.27.2007 | 1:20 pm

    Oh yeah, I agree with others re group punishment being a good deterrant. The whole team should be given a 3 month suspension (and at least one major race). Maybe even have the team pay a penalty (maybe even each team member, including directors, etc), which would encourage the whole team to watch other team members.

  17. Comment by Big Boned | 07.27.2007 | 1:50 pm

    A big fat mega “DITTO”. The current state of cycling depresses me. I don’t believe for one second that Contador is clean (or that Lance was either). I’ll be interested to see who wins the tour, but not so interested as to miss a single minute of my ride tomorrow morning.

  18. Comment by Mike Roadie | 07.27.2007 | 2:02 pm

    Dopers SUCK!

    Pain is temporary….quitting lasts forever—Lance

    Good luck at Leadville………..

    Give to the LAF……..

  19. Comment by Big Boned | 07.27.2007 | 2:02 pm

    Sorry, one other thought. Remember “Project One” or whatever it was called. US Postal (or Discovery cant remember who had it) had this major research project. They experimented with everything that Lance used to make it state of the art. Spent millions of dollars. Am I the only one who thinks some of that millions was spent on research of “chemical additives”? I think they found something that the tests don’t detect yet.
    The labs will always be playing catch up, and as such will NEVER get on top of this problem.

  20. Comment by JimB | 07.27.2007 | 2:15 pm

    The even playing field is a good idea because there looks to be no way there can be effective testing to “catch” the dopers as it is set up now. Set the standard and then anyway you get to the standard…OK, good to go! Plus,at this point, in the court of public opinion of the casual fan, (that’s me!) whoever wins the TDF….is a doper! In other sports the equipment is regulated to a standard to control the game. In cycling the “equipment”is the rider. As for the “freakshow”, come on people….in any athletic event at the highest level what you are watching is a freakshow! Guys that weigh 300 lbs and run 4.5 40’s or can snatch quarters off the tops of backboards or ride a bike over mountains for days on end are a bit outside the regular gene pool. Think of the best athlete you knew in high school…did they make it to the highest level??? These people are freaks and we enjoy watching them perform. Take away all this negative bs and let the fans enjoy the sport again.

  21. Comment by JET(not a nickname) | 07.27.2007 | 3:42 pm

    I just think it’s sad that from here on out, everytime someone blitzes up a mountain on a bike, or wins some major cycling event, everyone will now view that person with a suspicious eye. Accusations will start to fly, lies will be spread, and the whole concept of “guilty until proven innocent” will play true. There’s always gonna be those gifted people who are completely clean and are just built differently and exceed in their sport but will have to defend themselves constantly. Truly sad.

  22. Comment by KeepYerBag | 07.27.2007 | 6:09 pm

    Here’s a way to level the playing field and bring some interest back to the sport: Bag the drug testing completely. The racers can push the envelope as far as they want to push it with whatever means they see fit.

    The night before each stage, though, all of the racers have to sleep together in the same opium den. Each morning they have to have a urine test and if they don’t test positive for opiates, they’re disqualified.

  23. Pingback by » Links Of The Day: 27 July 2007 | 07.27.2007 | 6:31 pm

    [...] Cycling and Doping: A Solution [...]

  24. Comment by Al Maviva | 07.28.2007 | 6:47 am

    >>>>>Are you saying that you can determine the better athlete by their blood work?

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. While some riders can overcome deficits in some areas of their ability, the bottom line is that those with the highest hematocrit, highest VO2max and highest threshold relative to VO2Max are the best athletes. You can train a lot of performance factors that are evident from bloodwork, but the bottom line is that riders are genetically limited. Lance Armstrong may or may not have doped, but he was a genetic freak with natural ability (including a naturally high hematocrit and VO2 uptake capacity) that gives him an engine roughly twice as strong as the average human. Taylor Tolleson and Christophe Moreau (who eschews periodization training and just rides his bike) are two more examples of genetic freaks. Once you start norming the riders by the factors that are determinative of cycling ability, you will take natural variation out of racing.

    What makes racing interesting to me is not that one of ten sprint specialists can win a bunch sprint. Rather, it’s that a guy who isn’t the best at any one thing can pull out a win, like a DiLuca or an Evans or O’Grady. What makes it interesting is that a Leif Hoste or a Tom Boonen can somehow hang on in a hilly classic, use enormous power to bridge, and then dice with a true sprinter, a TT expert like Cancellara and an all arounder for the finish. It is a little like the most interesting motorcycle racing classes, that blend two and four stroke bikes, big bore twins with medium bore four cylinder bikes, and supercharged peashooters if you like. You norm that and you wind up with something like the old Formula Ford races (do they still do them?) for developmental GP drivers – identically prepared cars, a great test of tactical skills, but basically kind of boring racing, every finish is like a bunch sprint, and nothing really happens until the end of the race.

    Moreover, if you start genetically norming the riders, you will pretty much eliminate the possibility of great, dominant champions. There won’t be any more Lances, much less Hinaults, Indurains, Museew (doper, of course), Cipos (probably too much fast twitch fiber, which was probably natural but a guy taking the cream & the clear could have the same profile). Forget about Merycx, Anquetil, Coppi… As Botched points out, as science advances, we’ll be able to manipulate the genetics. As a result, these men with superior gifts would simply be prevented from racing, and we’ll get a pro peloton of clones.

    I’d rather have better, more rigorous, longitudinal testing, than to limit the upward potential of riders, and to eliminate the potential greats because they are simply too gifted naturally.

    That’s not an endorsement of doping, it’s a call for more rigorous testing.

  25. Comment by Boz | 07.28.2007 | 9:05 am

    The first thing you have to do is break the doping culture of Euro cycling. It’s been going on since the early days of cycling – TDF, 6 day, ect… The poor farm boy had to dope to stay off the farm and serve his capo. Not to mention all the shady charachters that hang around the fringes. Alos, the problem came to the forfront because of LeEquipe’s effort to sell it’s fish wrap on the shoulder’s of Lance doping allegations. And the TDF benefits from it all. Remember, any publicity, good OR bad, is money in the bank. Keeps your name in front of the public. It’s all generated by money. BTW, who sponsors the Tour Of California ?
    EPO, anyone ?

  26. Comment by jerry | 07.28.2007 | 1:56 pm

    Brilliant piece. It echos my sentiments almost exactly. In reality for many of the current tests they are not binary tests (synthetic hormones and autologous transfusions being exceptions.) Instead the tests are more like speed limits as mentioned about the hematocrit level. Same is true for the test that “caught” Landis. Because we all have testosterone, and any of a variety of other substances. Even in the current state everyone spends some period finding how far they can go and stay below the you get a ticket level. Much like the cars on the freeway aren’t going the speed limit but are all speeding to some degree but if you go 100 you will get pulled over.

    I also find it interesting that people have no issue with someone that would have say Lasik to improve their eyesight to better than 20/20 if they were a baseball player yet if a hormone could accomplish the same thing we would call the same person a cheater. Same in cycling as observed with the tents and altitude training versus epo.

  27. Comment by MAJ Mike | 07.28.2007 | 2:22 pm

    Too much sleeping in an altitude tent isn’t going to screw up your health. EPO can do just that. To let doping be legal, it says to any junior rider “if you want to go pro you MUST dope.” It demands that racers put their health at risk just to participate, and that’s wrong.

  28. Comment by jerry | 07.28.2007 | 2:34 pm

    Regarding hypoxic tents versus Epo. If you read the following it’s not health risk issue but “moral” issue that is the basis for the current rules.

  29. Comment by jerry | 07.28.2007 | 2:42 pm

    You’ll find a good discussion about the morals and ethics of the current state of the anti-doping efforts here

  30. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 07.28.2007 | 4:13 pm

    Done correctly, taking EPO will not hurt you at all. Done incorrectly, it could kill you.

  31. Comment by Willie Nelson | 07.28.2007 | 5:03 pm

    Let them dope. It makes for some addicting entertainment. I can’t keep up with the soap operas that are professional sports, Michael Vick and his dog fighting, Barry Bonds and his “record,” an NBA ref fixing games he bet on… I can work a full day job and not fill guilty I’m missing the daytime soaps, I just turn on ESPN at night.

  32. Comment by Philly Jen | 07.28.2007 | 9:48 pm

    Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, recently suggested something similar and received a detailed response from Joe Lindsey of Bicycling magazine.

    Meanwhile, Fatty’s prediction about how they will go after this year’s Maillot Jaune was, once again, scarily prescient.

  33. Comment by Amit | 07.29.2007 | 2:16 pm

    Don’t you guys find it interesting that only guys seem to have STRONG views about doping? Makes you wonder…… :)

  34. Comment by KT | 07.30.2007 | 8:46 am

    Speaking of the labs….

    Maybe the TdF would be less of a joke if a reputable lab was used, instead of the one who leaks results to L’Equipe 5 hours before the rider or team is even informed.

    Fish-wrap, indeed.

    There are WADA-accredited labs all over the world. You can’t tell me in this day and age that they HAVE to use the French one. Puh-leaze.

    I’m on the fence regarding most of what Dr. BE has said here. I’d like to think that the doping controls are working, and I applaud Slipstream’s efforts to self-regulate. I’d like to think that the times are changing, and that there’s a real stigma attached to doping. I would hope that Moreni’s admission of guilt, right there at the finish while he’s being arrested, shows that maybe when riders are caught they feel a sense of shame.

    They should, anyway.

  35. Comment by mark | 07.30.2007 | 10:58 am

    This has been a great discussion. I am a bit troubled, however, with the suggestions of punishing sponsors. While I agree that DQing a team is a great deterrent, punishing a sponsor, financially or otherwise, will only prove a disincentive to sponsor the sport. As it is, many of the companies sponsoring teams from the club level through the tour are doing it for love of the sport and not because it is a sound business decision. I can’t imagine how a company like Milram that makes products for the dairy industry could ever see a payoff for their team sponsorship. So let’s thank the sponsors for their dollars. Whether it results in a discount at the local shop, a free jersey, or your twice-monthly paycheck, sponsors are doing the sport (and us as riders) a favor.

    Al M, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree that it all comes down to bloodwork. There are so many more variables to it than that. All you have to do is look at the size variance in riders from Miguel Indurain (6′2″ 175) to Contador (maybe 5′7″ and 130?) and you know that the same blood profile would not lead to identical results in a given stage. Even Robbie McEwen defies conventional wisdom because he weighs a buck fifty or less but can’t climb hills. So we’d still have good racing even if we were limiting for chemical abnormalities in the blood.

    I see a lot of merit in Botched’s proposal. Don’t think it’s perfect (I think two weeks is a bit soft), but I do like the fact that it’s a departure from the current witch hunting, guilty until proven innocent, burn them before the evidence is collected, use OJ-esque evidence to get a conviction mentality that Dick Pound has propagated.

    Ultimately, though, I think it is going to come down to the cycling community saying enough is enough. Slipstream and CSC are going in the right direction with their internal policies. And Rabobank firing Rasmussen sent a clear signal that it’s not OK to win at any cost. So call me naive, but I think there’s some hope.

  36. Comment by mark | 07.30.2007 | 11:04 am

    BTW, how do you all feel about Rogaine, breast augmentation, morning coffee, and Viagra? These are all common mainstream performance enhancers that many people choose not to use for one reason or another, keeping the playing field from being level in the “sports” most of us went pro in. Is this doping as well?

  37. Comment by MAJ Mike | 07.30.2007 | 11:12 am

    “OJ-esque evidence”


    You mean rock-solid evidence that still didn’t result in a conviction?

  38. Comment by Scott | 07.30.2007 | 12:07 pm

    Mayo Doper and Loser!

    What in the world is the point of using performance enhancing drugs if you are going to lose 6 minutes to the stage winners in your specialty event in your home region?

    Unbelievable !

  39. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 07.30.2007 | 12:19 pm

    That Mayo was doping surprises me less than any other cyclist. He has repeatedly gone from unbeatable in the mountains to unable to stay with the peleton on highway overpasses.

  40. Comment by mark | 07.30.2007 | 12:22 pm

    “OJ-esque” evidence was in reference to his defense rather than the prosecution. Sorry for the confusion.

  41. Comment by BUCKY | 07.30.2007 | 1:59 pm

    I feel I need to put my opinion out there. Botched, with all due respect, I can see that you know a lot about the medical side of the sport and not very much about being an athlete. Your idea about leveling the playing fields for your entertainment is a bad idea. It is not in the best riders interest. I am completely against a system like that of the NFL who, pays off the USADA and suspends players for up to 2 games without pay for their second positive test. ( check the stats on the usada website). As doctor you should be ashamed; It is against the oath to do no harm when you put the value of entertainment above the health of the riders.

  42. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 07.30.2007 | 3:36 pm

    Bucky, I’m against doping, but I’m also for cycling. My suggested solution will catch and punish more riders, not fewer. Further, I believe my suggestions will reduce the total amount of doping going on in cycling, not increase it.

  43. Comment by TheLurker | 07.30.2007 | 11:57 pm

    “Why then, does it matter if one rider gets to 49 hematocrit by using an altitude tent, another goes and lives at 12,000 feet of elevation, another uses EPO, and another uses a blood transfusion? The result is an equal playing field with all the riders at a crit value of about 50.”

    Because the first two are allowing the body to respond to external stimuli at a rate the whole system can cope with and one assumes that (as with other exercise) once that stimulus is removed the body will return to its original state none the worse for wear. Using EPO (or other hormones) to disrupt the endocrine(?) system is likely to leave the body in a worse state than before. For example. In addition to the widely known problem of blood thickening leading to thromboses and heart attack use of synthetic EPO leaves the body less able to produce its own EPO and the result is anaemia.

    Accidents that result in injuries from minor to life threatening are part of racing and training to race (and even commuting) but they are not an inevitable consequence. Health problems, from minor to life threatening, are, as far as I have seen, an inevitable part of doping and I want no part, not even as a spectator, especially not as a spectator, of that.

    What’s really depressing is that we’re having _this_ discussion _again_ instead of talking (arguing) about the who the best road/track/mtb/cross cyclist in the world is. *sigh*

  44. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 07.31.2007 | 4:23 am

    Well FC you certainly have some intelligent readers there are some excellent points of view posted here. Botched I can see your point and rationale but I think like some previous correspondents I do not want to condone the taking of drugs in any form. I’m not against your argument I just don’t feel comfortable with it… yet. It might turn out to be the necessary answer in the long term but at present I still cling to the hope that doping in all forms can be wiped out. I also cling to the hope that Euskaltel can produce a decent world class sprinter, an Aussie can win the Tour and that Aus can also produce a team good enough to ride in the big tours.

  45. Comment by TimK | 07.31.2007 | 8:28 am

    Ever read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Begeron?”

    The idea of equality and trying to make things fair is a bit silly in my humble opinion. The idea of trying to tell someone that they can’t do something to try to make themselves more competitive is possibly sillier.

    Here’s one of Mr. Vonnegut’s masterpieces – I am sure that Al M. could modify the text as needed to illustrate its relationship to cycling.

  46. Comment by Caloi-Rider | 07.31.2007 | 10:19 am

    That’s the real key—it’s not in catching dopers, but in creating a stronger disincentive to doping. “But what could create a stronger disincentive than a 2-year ban?” you ask. Actually, right now, I think the 2-year ban threat is just making it more exciting for the dopers. Ooo, what if you get caught …
    The trouble is that people still seem to worship former dopers—Pantani (and, yes, I was a Pantani fan), Virenque, and to some extent Hamilton and Landis (I’m not convicting, I’m just sayin’)—so there’s still an incentive to dope even if you get caught.
    I think when we can communicate to the riders that Pantani was actually a repugnant little punk because he doped or that Virenque is no more heroic than a dishonest used car salesman, or that dopers in general deserve no more sympathy than the algae I found living in my Camelbak the other day, then, perhaps, we’ll see doping taper off.
    But the fact of the matter is that as long as there is science, there will be doping.

  47. Comment by AMG in Texas | 07.31.2007 | 12:16 pm

    Botched – you are amazing! Thanks for you ideas. There will be no way cycling can clean itself up until each individual rider cleans themselves morally. This is a moral issue… cheaters are greedy, the system they work for idolizes the winners and forgets about the rest in the peloton.

    Why dont they make all the race results based on the entire teams time? So who cares who crosses the line 1st… it the the combined time of all of the team members that counts for the stage winner. Add time penalties for teams with fewer riders (since they would get the slowest guys to drop out to improve the combined team time).

    While you are at it, have complete unknown non cyclists (fans picked at random) added to each team to give it more of a variable. Like have a lottery to assign these non cyclists to the teams. Now we would be more interested in seeing these old, fat, bald, middle aged guys huff and puff to the finish than these dopers!!! Combined time wins. Give financial incentives to these non cyclist to try to get them to go farther, faster. Have a distance/speed matrix to give less time penalties based on the performance of these non cyclist smucks.

    Another way to control the doping is to have salary caps. If you earn more money than the salary limit (since you are so successful then you have to be doping), then have the excess monies be given to charity. Then the idea will be “let them dope, it is for charity and not for personal gain”.

    For more entertaining cycling is to have creative costumes competitions, bike trick routines, team trick riding, and joke telling. Why not have a creative bike toss competition? Helmet kicking contests, water bottle fights, team cheerleading chants…

    I can hear them now:
    “We are davitamon-lotto”
    “and this is our team motto”
    “we win at all costs”
    “and nary a loss”
    “‘cuz we are dvaitamon-lotto”

    “Shoulder to shoulder”
    “knee to knee”
    “come on Discovery”
    “on to victory!!!”

  48. Comment by Jay | 07.31.2007 | 1:10 pm

    First of all let me congratulate you on a very thoughtful and thought provoking article. I agree with much of what you say. However for ethical reasons alone I cannot and will not condone cheating. It’s a fine line but legalized cheating is still cheating. The problem as i see it is in leadership. Look at the guys in charge of just about any sport and you can see the problem. Years ago I was a runner and the AAU officials put themselves on a pedistal above the atheletes. If you look back on the battle between the AAU and the NCAA of years ago you will see startling simalarities between that and what is going on with cycling today. It’s all about power with the atheletes themselves as mere pawns. Recently i watched an IAAF track meet. A big time one. Some idiot official miscounted the laps in the 3000M SC. His entire job was to watch the guys run around the track and flip a lap card each time and when it hit one ring the bell for the last lap. Sounds easy….is easy and he fucked it up. probably flipped two cards at the same time….whatever. The point is these guys don’t give a shit about the atheletes they care about there little slice of power and mixing with the big boys.

    If you look at cycling as a sport it is not a very highly paid profession. Never really has been. The riders usually come from humble backgrounds and often use cycling as a way out much as boxers have done for quite some time in the US. The lure of winning even one stage in the Tour de France is compelling as a way to insure ones future. Not to mention how much money is there for the team of the overall winner. Not all cyclists make millions most bump along as most of us do. Doing something that I hope they love for little glory and even less money. When they sprint for that 800 Euro prime it’s because they need it. Then there is the sad case of Cristian Moreni. He wasn’t going to win the tour he was never in a break and he had to use dope to be in 54th place. My question is why would he feel the need to dope.

    Then there are the officials. Guys like Richard Pound head of WADA. Slick Dick was a swimmer a pretty good one. Competed in the Olympics for Canada. You’d think that would make him somewhat sympathetic to the plight of athletes. However if you look at his background and the amature code he was brought up in you’ll see that he has almost no relation to the people he is supposed to govern. Dick Pound is an elitist as are most of the others at the heads of all the myriad athletic agencies world wide. As i see it the problem isn’t doping or the riders. It’s the idiots running the show. You can no more expect them to understand the plight of the atheletes then the crooked boxing promoters in this country. It’s clear to me that Cyclist need a union of some kind to protect them from this exploitation.

    No the solution is not giving up to it. The solution is to empower the riders themselves so that they no longer feel the need to cheat.

  49. Comment by kenny | 07.31.2007 | 9:37 pm

    you look Marvelous, but why do you have two belly buttons.

  50. Comment by kenny | 07.31.2007 | 9:47 pm


  51. Pingback by On Proposals to Stop Doping- Reduce the Suspension Periods? « Love, Life and Bicycles | 08.13.2007 | 10:08 am

    [...] If that’s the case, a friend of Fat Cyclist offers another idea, which boils down to a comprehensive physiological “baseline” monitoring system of all cyclists from an early age, combined with reducing the severity of penalties. I think the idea is that in combination, these procedures would give authorities an individualized picture of each athlete. Testing would be sensitive to each individual rather than based on group averages. Better knowledge allows for more accurate positives, and shorter, more frequent(?) suspensions are sufficiently disruptive to discourage doping without turning into drawn-out legal battles. [...]

  52. Comment by Bob | 09.23.2007 | 8:16 pm

    You are not the only sport on a serious melt down due to EPO. The handle in horse racing has dropped by the millions because of it. I had this same idea for a rule. The only differance is there would be no Dr.s notes cause trust me even Dr’s lie. Hence unexceptable. The other differance is every time you go high after the first offence your suspended days and fines keep doubleing.
    You want the users out of the business before they kill it forever.


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