EPO appears to have no effect on well-trained cyclists in race conditions. That’s the conclusion of Leiden researchers after an experimental cycling race on Mont Ventoux.
48 male amateur cyclists from the Netherlands participated in the race, arranged by the Centre for Human Drug Research (CHDR) in Leiden, which is investigating “the effect of recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) on the bike performance and potential side effects in well-trained cyclists.”
The riders, none of whom know whether they had been given EPO or a placebo, had already ridden 120km before tackling Mont Ventoux during the weekend’s race. The group that had been injected with a placebo took an average of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 45 seconds to complete the ascent, but those riding on EPO were on average 38 seconds slower.
The team carrying out the research, who launched the study because they had doubts about the performance enhancing benefits of EPO say that their initial impression from the race is that it makes no difference in a race situation, and point out that their investigation is the first to seek to gauge its impact in such a scenario.
Clearly, these are preliminary findings only, and it will be several months before the study is published in a scientific journal. One point of note however is that among those who had been given EPO, only 38 per cent believed afterwards that they fell into that group; among those given a placebo, 74 per cent thought they had been riding with the aid of EPO.
The trial lasted three months, with participants making 15 three-hour visits to the CHDR and undergoing an eight week course of EPO or the placebo, depending on the group they fell into, while continuing to train normally.
In 2012, after Lance Armstrong was banned from sport for life, CHDR professor in clinical pharmacology Adam Cohen, writing in the British Journal of Pharmacology, insisted it was “rather naïve” to believe a race could be won solely due to a rider taking EPO.