EPO Trial Report

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drugsBack in September there was a call for recreational cyclists to take part in an EPO study.  Exercise Research Australia was doing research to help fight against blood doping in sport and was looking for riders/test subjects. The basic criteria was that you must be between 18-39 years old and have a VO2 of over 55.  It required regular physical tests, blood tests and IV injections for the 3 study groups. Two groups were on EPO and the third was given normal saline for control.

I have to admit, I enquired about taking part in this study. I thought it would have made great blog fodder and I could have had a shot at winning the Australian Nationals (EPO and a set of horse legs transplanted!)  As it turned out I would have had an automatic 2 year suspension by the UCI if I took part.  After thinking about it, this is probably a good thing.  This “scientific exemption” would have guys like Ricardo Ricco  taking part in “research” all the time.

Anyway, a mate of mine named Scooter (and a damn good massage therapist www.impactmassage.com.au) got accepted into the study.  Unfortunately he had a couple setbacks to his riding during the study but it’s interesting to hear Scooter’s description of how it all went.  Thanks for sharing Scooter.

This is just my thoughts on it all and not necessarily scientific.

For a bit of background, I’ve been a bike courier for 10 years which sees me riding around 20000km’s a year. I’ve never really raced seriously, and never raced road. I have raced a lot of mountain bike marathons and enduros, even ending up on the podium a couple of times. I’ve done a fair amount of cycle touring around Europe and your beloved Canadia. I just like to ride and feel sorry for those that feel the need to “train”.

At the time of our initial testing I was 186cm, 80kg (I still reckon their scale weighs heavy) and my VO2 was 59.05ml/kg/min. I can ride all day, day after day, but crack pretty quickly when the pace goes up. My favourite formats were the 8 hour mtb enduro or pairs in a 24 hour mtb race.

There were 3 groups, a control group and 2 groups with different levels of EPO. At the beginning of the trial it was quite interesting to figure out whether or not I was on the good stuff. I didn’t have any rides that made me think I was on EPO, so I was pretty sure I was in the control group. While I was working the Tour of Tasmania I didn’t get to ride my usual k’s, although they were road k’s instead of courier k’s, which generally make me feel fresher due to the nice even tempo for an hour or so that I don’t get to see to often. Unfortunately I came back with a flu that hit me pretty hard and screwed with my breathing.

I was just getting over that and the day before I was due back at work as a courier, I binned it coming down Reefton Spur when my front tyre blew out. I lost a fair whack of skin and broke some ribs, which put me off the bike for another 3 weeks or so. Riding up Reefton, I felt pretty comfortable. My riding mate put it down to the EPO but I wasn’t so sure, it just felt like I was having a good day on the bike.

As the ribs sorted themselves out, I didn’t feel like I had suddenly turned into a pro who was couriering for something to do in the off season. I didn’t really feel any different, but then we don’t have the same volume of work we used to, and hence, aren’t doing the same km’s as say 3 or 4 years ago. What I did start to notice was that I was having trouble breathing whenever the intensity of my efforts went up. I put this down to the bug I picked up in Tassie and the fact that I had been a reasonably heavy smoker back in my younger days.

It turns out, I was on the juice, and in hindsight it all makes sense.The EPO in my system highlighted the fact that my lungs are the weak point in my oxygen delivery system. It also made me aware of the psychology of not believing that I was on EPO (or not cheating as the context may be), days where I might have been riding above myself, I just put down to “having a good day” or “feeling strong”. It was quite easy to convince myself that I wasn’t on EPO. I also think that being on the EPO made me struggle a lot more with the heat than normal, I had to take more care than usual in staying hydrated.

In terms of performance enhancing, one of the testing protocols demonstrates my improvements best. In the time to exhaustion (TTE), my initial time was 5min57 with a max HR of 183bpm equating to a work output of 123kj. At the end of the study my TTE was 7min with a max HR of 182bpm and a work output of 144.4kj. Also, during the last test I kept a steady cadence between 110-115 all the way until I could no longer breathe properly and had a quiet spew from the effort. In the initial test my cadence dropped about 10 revs in steps as I struggled to cope with the lactic acid build up in my legs.

Despite all the general turmoil of life, I was very glad to be a part of the study. I can really see how easy it is for people to convince themselves that it’s not really cheating, just insurance to ride as you know you can. You can’t turn a donkey into a thoroughbred, but I did get to sneak off to Newcastle to race the Single Speed Nationals while I was on the good stuff, just don’t tell the UCI.

You can’t beat hard work and a little luck.

Ciao, scooter

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