All cyclists use doping

Doping in cycling - guinea pigs on two wheels

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In the past, professional cyclists were creative when it came to improving their own performance. They boldly reached into the medicine cabinet - to medicines for cancer patients, impotents or heart patients.

The history of doping in the Tour de France is as old as the tour itself. Whether “l'elixir de vitesse” or “Vélo Guignolet”: bicycle cherry liqueur based on cocaine and morphine - if it perks up tired legs, pourquoi pas?

At least 50 years ago, when Briton Tom Simpson fell dead from his bike on Mont Ventoux, pumped full of amphetamines and alcohol, it was clear: It couldn't go on like this.

But since the world cycling association UCI set up the first doping rules in 1966 and initiated unannounced controls, the measurement options have lagged a step behind the latest doping agents.

Because the methods are becoming more and more perfidious and clever - thanks to the advances in medicine. Professional cyclists use drugs for kidney patients, asthmatics or heart attack patients - and sometimes even drugs that are not even approved for patients. A selection:

  • Growth and other hormones: For cancer sufferers - and more persistent cyclists

EPO is the most scandalous doping agent of modern times - the large EPO stocks tracked down in the Festina racing team, doped tour winners like Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich or Lance Armstrong, all of them gave synthetic erythropoietin a negative aftertaste. From a medical point of view, however, EPO is an absolute godsend. Usually it is produced in the kidney itself. The protein hormone increases the number of red blood cells and enables patients with anemia and kidney disease, but also cancer patients after chemotherapy, to lead a more normal life.

For professional cyclists this means: the more red blood cells, the more oxygen the blood can transport, the better the stamina. The endeavor is risky: if the blood becomes too thick, heart attacks and strokes can occur. EPO can now be proven, but there is no shortage of successors. They all lead to the same goal in different ways: They increase the blood's ability to transport oxygen.

Professional cyclists have also experimented with thyroid hormones. Thyroxine, which is given to patients with an underactive thyroid, is said to have been swallowed by athletes to improve performance and training hardness.

  • Stimulants: What calms down hyperactive children pushes athletes

Previously popular against asthma or as an appetite suppressant, amphetamines are now feared in medicine because of their high potential for addiction. Only active ingredients of this group are still used against narcolepsy and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Cyclists almost affectionately call the ADHD drug Ritalin “Le cousin Riri”, while the drug Lidepran with a similar spectrum of activity is called “la petite Lili”. While this group of active ingredients gives hyperactive people more rest, it has exactly the opposite effect on athletes: they are stimulated.

The trend is not new: ephedrine, for example, which is now used in meth kitchens for the production of crystal meth, was previously contained in asthma drugs and decongestant nasal sprays, but was also welcomed to increase blood pressure and as an appetite suppressant - or doping agent. However, studies have so far not been able to prove an actual increase in performance.

  • Clenbuterol & Co.: More air for asthmatics - longer breath for professional cyclists

In the event of an acute asthma attack, the bronchi constrict and asthmatics get poorer air. Asthma drugs re-open the airways. Athletes also use this effect. In particular, the active ingredient Clenbuterol has come into focus in recent years. It is also said to have a positive effect on metabolism and muscle building and to stimulate fat burning. The three-time tour winner Alberto Contador, for example, was stripped of his tour win in 2010 because of clenbuterol and a two-year ban was imposed. He himself attributed the positive doping test to contaminated veal, because the substance, which is now banned in the EU, is also used in calf breeding.

  • Cardiovascular medication: wide blood vessels for people with heart disease - further routes for professional cyclists

Cardiac surgeons appreciate the active ingredient papaverine because it prevents the blood vessels from constricting during bypass operations. With the same principle of action, papaverine also benefits men with erectile dysfunction. Cyclists also like to use the circulation-promoting effects to increase their performance.

  • Testosterone: male hormone - or "doping the idiot"

In 2007, T-Mobile professional Patrik Sinkewitz demonstrated a 27-fold increase in testosterone levels. What is actually used to treat men with underactive testicles is used by cyclists because it accelerates muscle regeneration, promotes muscle building and stimulates blood formation - and gives athletes a bit of extra aggressiveness. But it can be proven so well that it is also referred to as “doping the idiot”.

  • Diuretics: drainage - or covering up doping substances

In the 1980s and 1990s, dehydrating agents were common in cycling to flush illegal doping substances out of the body. They are usually prescribed for gout, edema, or high blood pressure. Today, however, the diuretics are easier to detect in the laboratory than the doping agents to be disguised, which is why they are hardly ever used.

  • Narcotics & analgesics: switch off feelings of pain on the tour of suffering

Narcotics and pain relievers relieve pain. It is only thanks to them that badly damaged professional cyclists can get back on their bikes. Morphine, opium and heroin were used over 100 years ago - but are of course banned today. Tramadol is used so excessively in cycling today that it is on the monitoring list.

Cortisone also falls under this category and is a real all-rounder: It helps against stress asthma, but also has an anti-inflammatory effect and raises the pain threshold.

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