EPO has “little effect” on performance of amateur cyclists in races

Dutch researchers who staged race on Mont Ventoux publish findings


A study published today in The Lancet Haematology has found that EPO has “little effect” on the performance of amateur cyclists during road races.

Researchers from the Centre for Human Drug Research (CGDR) in Leiden, the Netherlands, undertook a double-blind, randomised trial involving 48 well-trained male amateur cyclists aged between 18 and 50.

They said that there was some improvement in performance among those who took EPO in high intensity tests laboratory conditions.

But in a laboratory time trial test and a road race staged as part of the research that finished on Mont Ventoux in June last year, “the performance enhancing effects were mostly undetectable.”

The three-month trial saw participants make 15 three-hour visits to the CHDR and take an eight-week course of EPO or a placebo, while continuing to train normally.

Amateur cyclists were used in the study because it would have been impossible to use professionals, given the fact they are subject to anti-doping rules, including testing.

The study’s authors say that their findings may reduce the incentives for athletes to use EPO. 

Jules Heuberger, who led the study, commented: “The scientific evidence behind doping is relatively weak, partly because it is not possible to do trials of performance enhancing drugs in elite athletes who are subject to World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.

“Our study was designed to apply the gold standard of clinical trials to doping research, and we found that while rHuEPO increased performance in a laboratory setting on high intensity tests, the differences largely disappeared in endurance tests, and were undetectable in a real-world cycling race.

“While these findings also applied to the highest performing cyclists in our study, the question remains as to whether these findings can be applied to professional cyclists,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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