Every so often I start thinking about doping in cycling, but it never seems to get much clearer in my mind about where we should draw the line.
Doping in cycling was not actually made illegal until 1965. Before then it might have been a dirty word but it was hardly a secret. In the 1930s the Tour de France rule book said that the race organisers would not provide drugs for the riders! The first explicit admission of drug use was from the Pélissier brothers when they talked to a journalist about running on ‘dynamite’ (see a previous post). But there are tales of drugs being used as far back as the 1880s with cocaine and strychnine being favourites.
Over the years the many of the stars of the sport have been either open about their drug use or been found guilty of using them. Coppi was upfront about his drug use of la bomba (amphetamines) saying it was the only way to stay competitive. Anquetil was equally frank saying that he had a backside like a pin cushion. Tommy Simpson was not quite as open about his drug use but also did not deny it. Eddy Merckx denied ever taking drugs but was kicked out of the 1969 Giro d’Italia for taking the stimulant Reactivan, and was found guilty again in the 1973 Giro di Lombardia.
But what is and is not permissible is not quite as clear cut as it might seem. Partly because there is no clear definition of what doping is. But a handy working definition is that a performance enhancing drug (PED) must meet at least two of the following three criteria:
1) The potential for enhanced performance
2) The potential for being detrimental to health
3) Violation of the spirit of sport
If we take the usual doping example of increasing the number of oxygen carrying red blood cells it quickly demonstrates how tricky drawing the line can be. Four ways of increasing red blood cells are:
1) Having a blood transfusion
2) Taking EPO
3) Training at altitude
4) Sleeping in an oxygen tent (one which sucks the oxygen out!)
Having a blood transfusion and taking EPO clearly tick all three of the doping criteria so are obviously banned. Training at altitude, certainly does not tick 2, but does tick 1 and could be argued is borderline for 3, but it is permissible. Sleeping in an oxygen tent ticks 1, not 2, but more is even more borderline for 3 than altitude training. In fact in
, seemingly a hot bed of doping, it is actually banned, but not anywhere else that I am aware of. Is it because it seems more artificial than training at altitude? Italy
Can you see why whenever I start to think about doping I end up even more confused?