The Secret Race, the new book about doping in cycling by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, has been lauded as proof positive that Lance Armstrong doped. Most of the reviewers appear to be anti-doping crusaders who are obsessed with their pursuit of Armstrong as a doper. As a result, they overlook the real significance of Hamilton and Coyle’s book.
Hamilton dismisses the characterization of athletes and drug testers as being involved in an “arms race”. WADA never really had a chance of winning according to Hamilton. It was merely a “big game of hide-and-seek played in a forest that has lots of good places to hide, and lots of rules that favor the hiders.”
A key weakness in the WADA code involves the seven hour window every day during which athletes are assured they will not be tested for steroids, EPO or any other prohibited performance-enhancing drug (PED).
WADA requires that athletes make themselves available for testing between the hours of 6am and 11pm every day of the year.
This leaves a nighttime window for athletes to misbehave. Spain, the most popular destination for cyclists to train during the off-season, has even criminalized drug testing during this period due to privacy concerns.
WADA and Spain assume that any use of PEDs during this window will still remain detectable the following morning.
Cyclists know that this is not the case.
Hamilton explains how athletes have exploited this weakness in his book.
How to Use EPO in Cycling Without Getting Caught?
Evading detection in the urinary EPO test is relatively easy. It requires a procedure known as microdosing. Rather than inject EPO subcutaneously every 3-4 days, athletes inject smaller amounts of EPO intravenously every night.
“Instead of injecting 2,000 units of Edgar [EPO] every third or fourth night, we injected 400 or 500 units every night. Glowtime minimized; problem solved. We called it microdosing.”
How to Use Anabolic Steroids in Cycling Without Getting Caught?
If microdosing worked for EPO, why not use it for anabolic steroids too?
“Around 2001 we got away from the red eggs [Andriol gelcaps containing orally-active testosterone undecanoate] and started using testosterone patches, which were more convenient. They were like big Band-Aids with a clear gel in the center; you could leave one on for a couple of hours, get a boost of testosterone, and by morning be clean as a newborn baby.”
Hamilton provides a few more interesting tips on how to thwart WADA drug testers in the book. He doesn’t go really explain how to circumvent the the “biological passport” system other than to suggest cyclists are using smaller blood bags during transfusion. I guess this can be called a sort of “micro-infusion”.
But cyclists know that the biological passport has not eliminated doping. Doping simply requires a little more effort. The goal is to maintain a physiological range of reticulocytes between 0.5% and 1.5%. Blood doping can be masked by micro-dosing with EPO after blood infusions to keep the reticulocyte percentage in range.
Keep the above in mind when you hear people celebrate the so-called new generation of clean riders. Just like the introduction of EPO didn’t mark the beginning of doping in cycling, neither does the introduction of the biological passport mark the end of EPO. Doping was rampant before EPO (with amphetamines and steroids). The nature of doping just changed with EPO. Similarly, doping has simply been transformed as a result of new testing.
Doping is a fact of life in cycling. People should stop pretending it isn’t.
What do you tell the kids that want to become professional cyclists? How about the truth. There is no Santa Claus. There is no Easter Bunny. And there is no such thing as Clean Sport at the elite level.