"Doping is a part of the spirit of Le Tour"

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Julian Savulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford, offers up a defense of doping in the Telegraph:

Since it began in 1903, riders have used drugs to cope with the ordeal, resorting to alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, steroids, growth hormone, EPO and blood doping. But all sports face the drug problem. The enormous rewards for the winner, the effectiveness of the drugs and the low rate of testing all create a cheating 'game' that has proved irresistible to some athletes…

A rational, realistic approach to doping would be to allow safe performance-enhancing drugs which are consistent with the spirit of a particular sport, and to focus on evaluating athletes' health. Some interventions would change the nature of a sport, like creating webbed hands and feet in swimming, and should be banned on those grounds. But the use of drugs to increase endurance is a part of cycling's history.

Reason on 'roids here and here. Nice-to-look-at picture of Julian Savulescu here.

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  1. Thanks for the photo link, Kerry!

    Wish this guy had got some press coverage, instead of the sanctimonious histrionics evidenced by the rest of sports media.

    I am still not quite able to believe that the leading rider was expelled after having failed *no* drugs tests. None.

    If you can drum out athletes who have tested clean, what’s next?

  2. Also, Rasmussen didn’t test clean. He missed the required pre-Tour drug testing completely.

  3. Since it began in 1903, riders have used drugs to cope with the ordeal, resorting to alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, steroids, growth hormone, EPO and blood doping.

    How in the world would using alcohol and cocaine give you a competitive advantage in a bike race? Even caffeine is probably not a good idea, since can lead to increased perspiration.

  4. Also, update on the bicycle vs. car wars: but a few minutes ago, I had to swerve to avoid a guy riding his bike on the wrong side of the road and pulling a shopping cart full of glass bottles next to him (ie, totally blocking that lane of traffic). I felt like drumming him out of the Tour de Life.

  5. Yet another reason to make fun of libertarians! Thanks for this. Meanwhile, the grown-ups might worry about the effect allowing this would have on committed amateurs as well as the children. What about young professional athletes? Would they be able to dope up just like their idols? Why not just go the extra step and allow prosthetic enhancements of some kind?

  6. Missing a test is not the same thing as failing a test. You can make the consequences for either situation the same, but of course they are not the same.

    Penalties for missing a test presume guilt, which seems to me to be a pretty important and fundamental statement to make. I also understand that Rasmussen et al knew perfectly well that these were the rules of the game.

    Perhaps I seem unreasonably shocked because I had never heard of penalties for missing random drugs tests before, in any circumstances. Pee in a cup-comes up bad-you’re out has been part of the landscape for many years. Don’t pee in a cup-you’re out is new to me. Ranks right up there with presumption of guilt for refusing a breathalyzer when you’re pulled over.

  7. Thanks, TLB. For a second there, I was afraid we wouldn’t think of the children

  8. Bee,

    At my old job, we had random drug testing. If you “won” that lottery, you had to show up for the test within 48 hours or you were fired (which I remember us doing a couple of times).

    For obvious reasons, a random drug testing regime is pretty toothless if blowing off the test has lighter penalties than testing positive.

  9. TLB,

    You of all people should understand that we don’t want a Dope Gap to open up between us and the rest of the world. You think los illegales are taking our jobs now, wait till they’re chemically enhanced and we’re not.

  10. OMG Bastert wins!

  11. If we really want to level the playing field, we need to put all competitors on a strict diet of bread and water for 30 days before the competition, strap them to their beds so that their muscles atrophy between legs of the race, and have specially selected French whores give them handjobs each night so they will be equally deprived of their virile essences.

    Anything short of that is a half-measure.

  12. Colonel!

    Does that mean the water has fluoride in it???

    MEIN GOTT!!!

  13. If you rtfa TLB, you’d know that “prosthetic enhancements” would change the nature of the competition (for example “webbed feet for swimming”) and should be banned while drugs are mainly concerned with endurance and have a long and very established history in the tour.

  14. Sadly, I did scan the link and I did see that, and I see no reason for the distinction he makes.

  15. Don’t forget the strychnine – that was an early favourite too.

  16. There is definitely a guilty-until-proven-innocent culture in pro cycling, now that sponsors are leaving or threatening to leave. Whether you like the rules or not, they are well-understood and those who break them really have little excuse. How guys can still be getting caught for EPO and blood transfusions (somebody else’s blood) is beyond me. Then again, the labs and WADA don’t give two shits about their own processes.

    EPO and transfusions are illegal, but last I heard hyperbaric oxygen chambers were still ok. It’s all a mess.

    I don’t know why they don’t just let them transfuse their own blood. That’s the preferred method of cheating these days anyway, and it provides a sufficient boost.

  17. “Don’t forget the strychnine – that was an early favourite too.”

    Would you take that yourself, or feed it to the competition?

  18. Thanks, crimethink. I really did not know about the thing where you must test randomly or be penalized. I guess I’ve never been in that situation, or talked about it with anyone who has.

    Pre-hire? Check. At pre-known intervals, like winning a stage of the Tour, or starting duties at work involving driving? Check. Random-ass testing? Oi. What’s next?

  19. I don’t believe there’s any way to test for transfusing your own blood. Testing for others’ blood is pretty simple. I would guess that anybody who tests positive for blood transfusions probably got the bags of blood mixed up.

    I read at the conclusion of the Tour de France last year that something like 75% of all tests were positive for some banned substance, and all but one of those had a note from a doctor saying they had a medical condition that requires the drug. The fact that there are so many exceptions, a lot of the limits pretty much allow a certain amount of doping, and the fact that you can’t test for some of these things mean that pretty much all the top riders are going to do it to keep up with the other riders.

  20. Ammonium,

    I believe that transfusing your own blood can result in an increase to your hemocrit levels. There are probably masking agents for that, but seemingly unnatural rises in a rider’s hemocrit level (or a hemocrit level beyond what they consider the maximum natural value, which I believe is in the low 50s) is also punishable.

    You can get a doctor’s note for some things, like cortisone. Back in the late 90s, I believe an American cyclist was kicked out of the tour when he treated a bee or wasp sting with cortisone without a doctor’s note for doing so (of course, he would have had to know he was going to get stung to have the note prior to the tour starting). It’s all quite crazy.

  21. Here’s a great, if slightly older article that gives a first-hand account of doping and its effects. Great reading as background to any discussion on the topic.

  22. How in the world would using alcohol and cocaine give you a competitive advantage in a bike race?

    crimethink, either would help dull the pain that can get pretty intense at some points. Obviously, too much alcohol would be a problem, but a little bit is a fairly good anasthetic. The inhibition reducing effect is probably good for the situations when some courage or aggression is required.

  23. But as actual “perormance-enhancing” agents their utility is limited. Hence the endless search for the “new and improved”.

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