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Doping in cycling is popular probably because cycling could be the most difficult sport out there. Although it is very hard to measure which sport is the hardest, some have tried to do so and ESPN even tried to quantify the hardest sports out there, they had 9 criteria and cycling did not even got in to top 10. The second and third was ice hockey and football, how it is possible that few minute swap on ice hockey could be more physically demanding than 150 km high intensity cycling over different terrains for several hours. This just shows that it is not scientifically possible to measure the hardest sport.
I being a passionate runner think that long distance running could be the hardest sport out there. The reasoning is simple, if athlete gets in big trouble like being in huge pain, he is in far better position if he is on the bike, he can rely on his bike at least partly but in the case of running, he has to push through it or stop. This off course is not an absolute argument for which is harder, it might be the other way around.
Even if scientist say that it is impossible to measure the differences between sports accurately mainly because they are very different, it is possible to measure the heart rate and some other factors in particular sports, for example, from early 90’s researchers have been monitoring cyclists’ health throughout and after their stages. They have found that after mountain stages, significant number of cyclist are diagnosed with type of pneumonia, which is caused by body not getting enough oxygen which is desperately needed to deal with immense toll on the body.
One thing is clear - cycling is in top 3 hardest and mentally demanding sports out there.
Pro cyclists have to go through some of the hardest physical suffering for long time periods which are rarely seen in other sports, this combined with colossal competition and the fact that cycling is become a huge business with big sponsors is why cycling possibly is the sport where doping is used the most.
It seems that the history of pro cycling has been full of drugs, alcohol and every performance enhancer out there. About 50 years ago it was not uncommon to see cyclists using amphetamines and alcohol, in some cases even together. If you think that this can’t be a good idea, you are right and it is not a good idea by any means. This particular mixture plus intense physical stress was the unfortunate reason of death of one of the most successful Britain’s cyclists ever, Tom Simpson, he died while competing in Tour de France.
Although use of amphetamines and alcohol has gone down in past decades, doping in cycling in general have not slowed down, it seems that some athletes are willing to try everything what they can get their hands on, there even are reports that cyclists are using drugs which are not yet approved for human use.
EPO or Erythropoietin , also sometimes called Blood doping is one of the most abused medications in this sport; it is a hormone, which has important role in oxygen transport from lungs to all the other organs, which means better performance. Not only Lance Armstrong was caught using it, but also 12 out of 15 cyclists caught for using banned substances in year 2018, was caught using EPO. If history is any indicator then year 2019 will have the same tendencies.
Other very popular group of medications used for performance enhancement is drugs for asthma. The essence of asthma medication is that it allows ones lungs to increase the intake of oxygen. This is beneficial in sports, because more oxygen intake in lungs equals more energy in races.
The line between legal and illegal substances in sports could be very thin, we all know that caffeine can deliver great boost . And I kid you not , caffeine is something that WADA is actually looking in to according to the latest WADA review on performance enhancers on year 2018.
There is substances, which have been banned in past and now are again legal to use in pro sports according to WADA, there are not many cases when this happens. One of this kind of substances is Actovegin, this was something that Lance Armstrong also was using, only this is completely legal to use and is popular among high level athletes especially cyclists. Actovegin in high dosages can be a performance enhancer but in most cases, it is used for recovery purposes after races or injuries.
The name of doping game is oxygen. Whether it is a medication made of synthesized hormones, asthma drugs designed to increase oxygen intake trough lungs, heart medicine like Meldonium to impact the whole oxygen metabolism mechanism. Or even sleeping in fancy tents with controlled air flow composition or other interesting methods, its all about getting more oxygen to your system to get that extra push athletes need to be the first.