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July 05, 2010


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Doping isn't using drugs. As I understand it it's just giving yourself a transfusion that raises your red blood cell count.

Kim Krawiec

I think you're a bit confused anon -- you might start with the Wikipedia blood doping page. Though it's rather beside the point, as the type of enhancement is not relevant to the question raised here of how we enforce doping rules.


I was a bit wrong; I just looked at the blood doping page.

Anyway, "autologous blood doping" is where I think most of the cheating happens--you put your own red blood cells back into yourself (a few days or weeks) after your body has replenished its stores. As wikipedia says, there's no test for that...I don't know why any athlete would take hormones if they can just do that. You can truthfully claim to not use drugs or performance enhancing substances.

On top of all this, caffeine is widely-used enhancement--they even take it mid-race in their gels. And, speaking of unnatural, it's not illegal for athletes to sleep in high altitude chambers either...not sure it works, but some do it for training.


Anon - Autologous blood doping has become more common since tests for EPO and for heterogeneous blood doping have been devised. Before then, blood from another person was often used in the 1980s since it didn't result in any downtime for the rider (and didn't require planning ahead, as with the 1984 US cycling Olympic Team). EPO was the choice in the 1990s since it's easier and more effective than traditional blood doping and doesn't have the potential for causing illness that heterogeneous doping does (as long as you stay fully hydrated, that it). Heterogeneous blood doping made a resurgence once EPO was testable, but testing for that is now available as well. The problem with autologous blood doping from a competitive viewpoint is that it restricts the rider's ability to race and train for the 30+ days it takes the body to replenish the removed cells, must be done months prior to the competition, and there is a limit to how much blood can be banked for any given rider.

Also - caffeine is regulated - more than about 1 1/2 cups of coffee (or that used to be the limit if I recall correctly) yields a positive test. In fact, birth control pills were illegal at one point, but what is and isn't legal changes based on the rationale for the ban (e.g., birth control pills became permissible once a test for the steroids they masked was devised I believe). Hyperbaric chambers, on the other hand, like living and training at altitude, are legal.

One of the interesting questions for me is why substances for which there is no test are illegal - at that point, drug control is relying on evidence from the doctors and other personnel involved in, for example, the transfusion to come forward and that historically has been rare in bicycle racing and very difficult to corroborate even where someone like Landis (and Paul Kimmage and a very few others before him) comes forward. There's a clear signal that the substance shouldn't be used, but no real means of enforcement. In addition, when it's autologous blood doping that's banned, it's really the technique (transfusion) that is banned, which seems different to me than banning a substance, potentially requiring the development of novel forms of testing.

Kim Krawiec

Thanks for this TM -- very helpful info. You raise an interesting question about the illegality of substances for which there is no test. Have any theories? The normative statement? Perhaps to maintain the flexibility (as you note -- rarely exercised, at least in cycling) of prosecuting flagrant violations where there is a lot of secondary evidence?

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