Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Photo of Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Post Tour Doping Thoughts

The Tour de France ended yesterday and I wanted to use it to continue to highlight issues related to sports doping.   Since the tour started, there were a number of busts in the track and field world apparently related to the use of a banned stimulant by Tyson Gay and several sprinters from Jamaica. Ultimately athletes are responsible for what goes into their mouths or bodies via other routes, but adulteration of “supplements” with banned substances is both a real problem and a convenient excuse.


1% is a Big Deal

The other issue I want to bring up is that a 1% edge in something like a 10,000m run would be a huge margin of victory (100m) or a huge improvement (~16-17 seconds for a world class runner).  If you simply translate this to the Tour de France which lasts about 80-90 hours it would be about 50 minutes.  That is unrealistic due to the team tactics and the fact that every day is not a test for the top riders.  However, this year there were more climbs than normal and perhaps 8 or 10 hours that might have been decisive, so 1% would be a 5-6 minute margin.   If you believe that drug tests and the biological passport are beatable with low dose drugs, a doping regimen that generates a 1% edge while remaining undetectable seems conceivable to me.   Lance Armstrong and his collaborators showed what is possible when the East German approach was privatized and there is more than enough at stake with a Tour win to tempt people to learn to fly under the doping control radar.


Show the Data

My colleague Ross Tucker, one of the World’s leading experts on human performance, has called for more transparency related to publishing the power outputs of riders during the Tour and other races.  I support this call completely.  He also has thoughts about the progression of performances that I agree with and recently posted on related to distance running.  Finally, here is a deep dive by Ross on this topic that is worth the read.



The biological passport may be working to limit doping in endurance sports.  The physiological data, especially in cycling where it is possible to measure power output accurately, should be of great interest to those trying to ensure clean competition.  Show us the data.


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