Donkeys to racehorces. The effect of PEDs on cycling performance

Jul 19, 2009
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Respected and esteemed members of the clinic, I decided to start a thread on this topic so as not to derail other threads with the debate.

I would like to remove the emphasis on LA and discuss the debate as it could apply to any of the top GT riders over the past 20yrs. The top 3 GT winners based on results are Indurain, Armstrong and Contador, closely followed by Ullrich. Then there are a bevy of regular top 10 finishers including Pantani, Rominger, Zulle, Virenque, Zulle, Riis, Beloki, Basso, Mancebo, Landis, Leipheimer, Kloden, and in more recent years we have the Shlecks, Evans, Menchov, Sastre, Valverde.

The debate is whether or not an average level pro-cyclist, the so called "donkey", can simply bypass more naturally gifted pro-level cyclists, the "thoroughbreds", whom are also doping. Furthermore, how gifted does one really need to be in order to win clean?

Discuss
 
May 13, 2012
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It's an interesting debate to have, but very difficult, because of the simplistic comparions that are inevitably made. Someone will always find a rider they believe is clean, cite them as the bench mark for all other riders to beat, and then declare we know x rider is crap because he didn't beat z rider at the start of his career. Those of us who have long followed the sport know it doesn't really work like that. I could claim, for instance, that Cunego is a better rider than Contador because he used to beat Contador in their younger years. But would we really believe that? It's an extremely difficult calculation to make.
 
Krebs cycle said:
Furthermore, how gifted does one really need to be in order to win clean?
They are all enormously talented athletes, doping or not. It is difficult to comprehend how one could be so much better than the rest, that they could be able to better them with inferior preparation (illegal or otherwise). Ten years ago it would have been impossible, maybe today there's one in a generation - but what happens if that one in a generation is also preparing on the same level, who has a chance?
 
Jun 25, 2012
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I remember seeing a docu about how much effect PEDs had on a rookie, trained and super trained person..

I think someone that didnt train would do 27% better after a week, but for those pro its only a few % if even that..

But I don't think you can win over a doper, if your on even terms of talent.. but I can't say much more.
 
Jun 18, 2009
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Krebs cycle said:
The debate is whether or not an average level pro-cyclist, the so called "donkey", can simply bypass more naturally gifted pro-level cyclists, the "thoroughbreds", whom are also doping. Furthermore, how gifted does one really need to be in order to win clean?

Discuss
Bjarne Riis answered this question already. The answer is "yes", at least at that point in time.

"How gifted?". Riis was probably on the par with a good Cat 1 or average US domestic pro, no better. He was afforded some opportunities because he was among the best Danish cyclists. If he were Italian he likely never would have had those opportunities and wouldn't have even made into the ranks as a pro. So, compared to the average Cat 3, yeah, he was certainly talented. But that's about it.

He came along at a unique time, so you could look and tell "before epo/after epo". With so many riders in the late 90's through today, it's a total crapshoot as to determining who did and didn't have true talent. And that in the end that is the real shame of it all.
 
Jan 30, 2011
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Krebs cycle said:
The debate is whether or not an average level pro-cyclist, the so called "donkey", can simply bypass more naturally gifted pro-level cyclists, the "thoroughbreds", whom are also doping.
One of the earliest things we learn to do in science (without deliberately doing so) is how in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the outliers in order to find the general trends that can be used as a basis for comparison and discussion.

It's much easier to talk about the average, because a large sub-set of a population can be examined.

However, this question also encompasses the issue of potential - ie. the potential for someone to respond to PEDs.

In that debate it's worth also including the outliers at 3-4 SDs from the mean.

To include all of the population suggests that it's generally not possible to turn donkeys into thoroughbreds, however there is always the potential that a very, very small number of riders who are the outliers in their response to dope, are able to gain a much greater advantage because they are genetically/behaviourally disposed to respond better.

It's very difficult to know who those outliers are because, for someone to reach the pro-peleton on the basis of PED response, they would have to start with doping very, very early (as a young teenager), otherwise they will have already established themselves as an elite athlete (which is also outlier in terms of the total population).

The likelihood that someone is an outlier twice (ie. elite athlete who then has an elite response to PEDs) is exceedingly small, though if the population being studied is large enough, they must exist.

So is it possible? Not for the average rider, but there must be a very, very small number of people for whom it is possible.

Furthermore, how gifted does one really need to be in order to win clean
For the World Tour, the rider's are already the elite of the elite by being there in the first place. To win at that level clean or doped requires a lot of natural talent to begin with.
 
Covering this topic with ANY facts is like trying to discuss prostitution. Everyone that uses denies, the suppliers deny. Deny. Deny. Deny.

Like prostitution, we can approximate, but that's about it.

It's been said from at least one IAAF dealer busted that doping is a craft that is part of a larger effort. It's the right combination of drugs coordinated with effective training and good athlete management that creates the standout performances.

Beyond that, the other posts cover it pretty well.
 
Jul 19, 2009
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My belief is that doping only changes relative positions throughout the entire peloton.

So maybe a rider outside of the top 50 can push into the top 20 or 30 with a better doping program and a better doping response than others. A rider who might have been top 20 but responds poorly to PEDs and/or has a crappy doctor and doping program maybe gets surpassed by 10 or 20 riders with the better response and gets pushed outside of the top 30.

A rider who might have placed 10th with a good PED response ends up 20th because the response was poor and vice versa. A rider who places inside the top 10 can maybe win with a better than everyone response and a rider who can maybe podium with a normal PED response wins on multiple occasions with a better response. A rider who can place top 10 clean, can most likely win even if they only had an average PED response.

IMO PEDs do not elevate donkeys to racehorses ie: someone outside of the top 30 does not become a podium placer and especially not a multiple winner, because this implies that all of the racehorses, ie: all of the riders inside the top 20, must respond poorly and that one donkey must respond with a magnitude greater than seen in any published study on the ergogenic effects of EPO which is a highly unlikely statistical probability.
 
Jul 19, 2009
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DirtyWorks said:
Covering this topic with ANY facts is like trying to discuss prostitution. Everyone that uses denies, the suppliers deny. Deny. Deny. Deny.

Like prostitution, we can approximate, but that's about it.

It's been said from at least one IAAF dealer busted that doping is a craft that is part of a larger effort. It's the right combination of drugs coordinated with effective training and good athlete management that creates the standout performances.

Beyond that, the other posts cover it pretty well.
No that isn't true. we can use results of the ergogenic effects of EPO as a guideline and we can use the results of the physiological characteristics of pro-cyclists also as guidelines. There are published values for both. True, maybe the latter is tainted, but we can still gauge the variability in PPO that occurs at the pro level.
 
Jul 19, 2009
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131313 said:
Bjarne Riis answered this question already. The answer is "yes", at least at that point in time.

"How gifted?". Riis was probably on the par with a good Cat 1 or average US domestic pro, no better. He was afforded some opportunities because he was among the best Danish cyclists. If he were Italian he likely never would have had those opportunities and wouldn't have even made into the ranks as a pro. So, compared to the average Cat 3, yeah, he was certainly talented. But that's about it.

He came along at a unique time, so you could look and tell "before epo/after epo". With so many riders in the late 90's through today, it's a total crapshoot as to determining who did and didn't have true talent. And that in the end that is the real shame of it all.
Answer the question about probabilities and the ergogenic effects of EPO then. How is it possible that Bjarne Riis could have had an EPO response so far beyond anyone else and why did everyone else respond so poorly at that time?

An alternative explanation is that Riis was never a donkey, but simply that he didn't train and prepare properly until later in his career.

Training and overall preparation make a huge difference to performance. Well beyond anything that can ever be achieved by doping alone. Why must we always invoke doping as the only or main explanation?
 
Jan 30, 2011
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DirtyWorks said:
Covering this topic with ANY facts is like trying to discuss prostitution. Everyone that uses denies, the suppliers deny. Deny. Deny. Deny.

Like prostitution, we can approximate, but that's about it.

It's been said from at least one IAAF dealer busted that doping is a craft that is part of a larger effort. It's the right combination of drugs coordinated with effective training and good athlete management that creates the standout performances.

Beyond that, the other posts cover it pretty well.
Discussing individuals is not possible, however group data exists from studies.

It is absolutely possible to discuss the general aspects of the issue.
 
The only thing that really matters is the fact that the initial list includes nobody who hasn't got some sort of connection to doping, be it direct, team, or best buddy. They have all been connected in some way, some waaay more than others, but in 20 years not a single one that any sane person would claim was completely clean. Sucks, but true.
 
May 19, 2012
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Silliness

Dr.Sahl said:
I remember seeing a docu about how much effect PEDs had on a rookie, trained and super trained person..

I think someone that didnt train would do 27% better after a week, but for those pro its only a few % if even that..

But I don't think you can win over a doper, if your on even terms of talent.. but I can't say much more.
Why would the lesser trained people take PED's when they could still improve through training?

How does one ascribe the training benefits to PED's and or training on an untrained person?
 

mastersracer

BANNED
Jun 8, 2010
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peterst6906 said:
Discussing individuals is not possible, however group data exists from studies.

It is absolutely possible to discuss the general aspects of the issue.
it's not clear what group data you're referring to. In terms of individual variability, the issue would be individual responses to workload, fatigue, and recuperation, since the discussion is GT performance. Presumably, any rider that is on that list should be physiologically capable of performing well in a one day race. The effect of PEDs is to allow someone who otherwise would not perform at that level over 3 weeks to do so. I remember Greg Lemond - who I consider the template of a naturally gifted GT rider - saying in his prime that he felt stronger after the Tour and could turn around and do it again. So, what riders showed promise in one day races but faltered in GTs? Perhaps that could be analyzed looking at historical data in terms of GT standings through a race over successive years.
 
Mar 13, 2009
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ask 131313 about a few of the mellow jonnies riders who turned up at Gila.

One of them, a former pro who rode on one of Armstrong's Tour wins, did reckon Levi was a donkey, when he was on the team. He had not broken through to the grand tour teams, at that stage. He was just a rookie from the bagels team.

So Armstrong turns around, going backwards to the autobus, in Gila, to getting on the podium in Suisse within a few weeks.

And Udo Bolts also said Ully could not climb before he got on epo. Ask Race Radio.

We dont know who has the talent.

What is known, the pure grimpeurs, went backwards relative to the peloton, in the past 20 years. When Armstrong and Riis have some of the best ascent times on the prestigious ascents, that tells you something. Rouleurs...
 
Jan 30, 2011
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Jeremiah said:
Why would the lesser trained people take PED's when they could still improve through training?
Faster path to conditioning.

Quicker recovery allows harder training more frequently.
 
Jan 30, 2011
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mastersracer said:
it's not clear what group data you're referring to.
GT winners are no less or more human than the rest of the peleton and in a discussion of the effects of drugs on the potential for someone to improve performance, there is a lot of scientific data in the literature to use as a basis for discussion.
 
Jul 19, 2009
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mastersracer said:
it's not clear what group data you're referring to. In terms of individual variability, the issue would be individual responses to workload, fatigue, and recuperation, since the discussion is GT performance. Presumably, any rider that is on that list should be physiologically capable of performing well in a one day race. The effect of PEDs is to allow someone who otherwise would not perform at that level over 3 weeks to do so. I remember Greg Lemond - who I consider the template of a naturally gifted GT rider - saying in his prime that he felt stronger after the Tour and could turn around and do it again. So, what riders showed promise in one day races but faltered in GTs? Perhaps that could be analyzed looking at historical data in terms of GT standings through a race over successive years.
I am referring to group data on the physiological characteristics of pro-level cyclists and also group data on studies of the effects of EPO on performance. We can examine the effect that EPO has on performance in a step test for example. If the argument is that this has no bearing on performance in a GT, eg EPO did not improve your PPO on a step test but it did improve your GT performance, then that needs some explanation. How is that possible?

EPO enhances aerobic performance, if you get a response it will be detected on short duration performance tests such as TTs and step tests, there is an abundance of evidence which shows this. There is no evidence anywhere though which indicates that it "enhances recovery" and thus somehow improves GT performance without making any difference in a TT or step test.
 
Jan 30, 2011
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If we are only discussing EPO, that limits the discussion. The evidence from sources like Joe Papp, USADA letter, positive tests, etc., etc., etc. shows that doping programs are much broader than EPO alone.

Why not include those also (eg. HGH, transfusion, etc.)?
 
Mar 17, 2009
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131313 said:
Bjarne Riis answered this question already. The answer is "yes", at least at that point in time.

"How gifted?". Riis was probably on the par with a good Cat 1 or average US domestic pro, no better. He was afforded some opportunities because he was among the best Danish cyclists. If he were Italian he likely never would have had those opportunities and wouldn't have even made into the ranks as a pro. So, compared to the average Cat 3, yeah, he was certainly talented. But that's about it.

He came along at a unique time, so you could look and tell "before epo/after epo". With so many riders in the late 90's through today, it's a total crapshoot as to determining who did and didn't have true talent. And that in the end that is the real shame of it all.
How do you come to that conclusion?

Pre EPO he was a Giro stage winner and had ridden for French teams who have always been notoriously chauvinistic when giving opportunities to foreign riders. He may not have been a GT contender without EPO but to rate him as low as you have is unfair.
 
Jun 18, 2009
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Krebs cycle said:
Answer the question about probabilities and the ergogenic effects of EPO then. How is it possible that Bjarne Riis could have had an EPO response so far beyond anyone else and why did everyone else respond so poorly at that time?
As an exercise physiologist I'm kinda surprised you're actually asking this question? Possibilities:

-he was an outlier in terms of his response (surely you've seen all of the EPO studies in the public domain. Not everyone responded the same).

-he was predisposed to benefit from a blood-boosting product (e.g low natural crit or more rapid deterioration of crit during exertion).

-he was ahead of the doping curve at the time, and had a competitive advantage by having better doctors (remember, I said "at that point in time". As doping practices became more widespread, they also became universally better).

-he took more risks with the drugs (while there's a law of diminishing returns, it's naive to assume that there's *no* benefit to going over 50%, particularly since you don't know the entire regimen of other drugs being used. Conconi and Riis both had documented values alleged to be in the high 50's).

And, MOST IMPORTANTLY

-the difference between a professional donkey and a racehorse isn't that dramatic, roughly 5-7% of sustainable power. Take any non-sprinter in the pro peloton and give him a 5-7% increase in threshold power and you have a guy who can win the tour. So, the average guy gets an increase of 7% via various methods, Riis gets an increase of 12-14%, and now you have your tour champion.



Krebs cycle said:
An alternative explanation is that Riis was never a donkey, but simply that he didn't train and prepare properly until later in his career.

Training and overall preparation make a huge difference to performance. Well beyond anything that can ever be achieved by doping alone. Why must we always invoke doping as the only or main explanation?
I've been a competitive athlete for almost my entire life and a professional cyclist for the last few, and I can tell you that I've never in my life seen a rider make a dramatic change in training behaviors and performance in their late 20's. What, he just suddenly decided to start training correctly when he was almost 30 years old? He wasn't training hard before that? I'm sorry, but that's nonsensical. In the entire history of the TDF, can you point to another rider with a meteoric rise from career domestic with practically no results to a Tour winner?

The most likely answer is the most obvious: the dope turned him into a Tour champion. Sure, space aliens could have taken over his soul and ridden to a Tour victory, but I don't think it's all that likely. That seems about as likely as your suggestion.
 
Jun 18, 2012
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ultimobici said:
How do you come to that conclusion?

Pre EPO he was a Giro stage winner and had ridden for French teams who have always been notoriously chauvinistic when giving opportunities to foreign riders. He may not have been a GT contender without EPO but to rate him as low as you have is unfair.
Fillipo Simeoni post-EPO use: Vuelta stage winner, Italian national Champion.
At no stage would he be considered anything other than a domestique.

Occasional results don't equate to an indication of outstanding ability without the dope.

e: Cycling is littered with GT stage winners who are domestiques. Ask the most famous one.
 
Jun 18, 2009
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ultimobici said:
How do you come to that conclusion?

Pre EPO he was a Giro stage winner and had ridden for French teams who have always been notoriously chauvinistic when giving opportunities to foreign riders. He may not have been a GT contender without EPO but to rate him as low as you have is unfair.
He won 1 stage of the Giro, in a breakaway. This is the grand total of his results prior to getting on the Ferrari train:
1986-1988: 0

1989
1st Stage 9, Giro d'Italia
1st Stage 2, Tour of European Community
95th Overall, Tour de France
1990
1st Stage 7, Stage 9, Tour of European Community
1991
107th Overall, Tour de France
1992
Denmark Danish Road Racing Championship

I would say it would be like Steven Cozza winning the Tour, but honestly I don't think that's fair to Cozza, since without dope I think he's better rider than Riis ever would have been.

1992: 101st in the Giro
1993: 5th in the TDF

He started taking EPO in 1993. Sorry, I'm being as fair to Riis as he deserves. If you can't recognize this for that fraud that it is, I really can't help you.
 
Jul 19, 2009
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131313 said:
As an exercise physiologist I'm kinda surprised you're actually asking this question? Possibilities:

-he was an outlier in terms of his response (surely you've seen all of the EPO studies in the public domain. Not everyone responded the same).
Of course I have seen the studies, I worked on two and I was also a subject in both. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that EPO can produce the magnitudes of performance enhancement being suggested. Based on the evidence I don't believe it is possible and I'm an expert in the field of elite endurance performance. I'm asking you or anyone else how YOU think it is possible, but you keep repeating something I've already stated is highly improbable.


131313 said:
-he was predisposed to benefit from a blood-boosting product (e.g low natural crit or more rapid deterioration of crit during exertion).
Yes, possible, but still invokes the response improbable "outlier" phenomenon.


131313 said:
-he was ahead of the doping curve at the time, and had a competitive advantage by having better doctors (remember, I said "at that point in time". As doping practices became more widespread, they also became universally better).
Mid 90s? Seriously?


131313 said:
-he took more risks with the drugs (while there's a law of diminishing returns, it's naive to assume that there's *no* benefit to going over 50%, particularly since you don't know the entire regimen of other drugs being used. Conconi and Riis both had documented values alleged to be in the high 50's).
Also possible but there seems to be lots of evidence floating around that suggested hcts in the 50s was the norm.

131313 said:
And, MOST IMPORTANTLY

-the difference between a professional donkey and a racehorse isn't that dramatic, roughly 5-7% of sustainable power. Take any non-sprinter in the pro peloton and give him a 5-7% increase in threshold power and you have a guy who can win the tour. So, the average guy gets an increase of 7% via various methods, Riis gets an increase of 12-14%, and now you have your tour champion.
Hold up. You said that Riis was about as good as an average US pro. That means there were literally hundreds of riders who already had 5-7% higher sustainable power even without doping, and top pro riders probably had 10% higher sustainable power. So again, you are invoking the highly improbable occurance that none of those hundreds of riders had an improvement greater than 7% but Riis, on his own, got 12-14%. Even then, that would only make him on par (which I suppose you could argue allowed him to win once). Now take that even further to what LA achieved. 7 wins in a row? Not possible.


131313 said:
I've been a competitive athlete for almost my entire life and a professional cyclist for the last few, and I can tell you that I've never in my life seen a rider make a dramatic change in training behaviors and performance in their late 20's. What, he just suddenly decided to start training correctly when he was almost 30 years old? He wasn't training hard before that? I'm sorry, but that's nonsensical. In the entire history of the TDF, can you point to another rider with a meteoric rise from career domestic with practically no results to a Tour winner?
.
How is possible then that you are forgetting that elite endurance athletes tend to mature over a period of many years? He was domestique for Fignon for several seasons and once he became a leader in his own right it still took him 3yr of high placing finishes before winning. If it is possible to achieve that 12% increase in sustainable power in a couple of months of doping and he didn't change his training behaviours according to you, then why did it take him 4yrs?
 
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