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EPO of no effect in bike races, claim researchers who staged Mont Ventoux race

48 cyclists - half on EPO, half on a placebo - raced up the Geant de Provence this weekend

Researchers in the Netherlands say that EPO appears to have no effect on well-trained cyclists in a race after they staged one on Mont Ventoux this weekend in which half the participants had been injected with the banned substance, with the rest given a placebo.

Some 48 male amateur cyclists from the Netherlands participated in the race, arranged by the Centre for Human Drug Research (CHDR) in Leiden, which is investigating “the effect of recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) on the bike performance and potential side effects in well-trained cyclists.”

> Get paid to ride up Mont Ventoux – on EPO

The riders, none of whom know whether they had been given EPO or a placebo, had already ridden 120km before tackling Mont Ventoux during the weekend’s race.

According to a report on, the group that had been injected with a placebo took an average of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 45 seconds to complete the ascent, but those riding on EPO were on average 38 seconds slower.

The team carrying out the research, who launched the study because they had doubts about the performance enhancing benefits of EPO say that their initial impression from the race is that it makes no difference in a race situation, and point out that their investigation is the first to seek to gauge its impact in such a scenario.

Clearly, these are preliminary findings only, and it will be several months before the study is published in a scientific journal.

One point of note however is that among those who had been given EPO, only 38 per cent believed afterwards that they fell into that group; among those given a placebo, 74 per cent thought they had been riding with the aid of EPO.

The trial lasted three months, with participants making 15 three-hour visits to the CHDR and undergoing an eight week course of EPO or the placebo, depending on the group they fell into, while continuing to train normally.

The research facility has questioned the benefits of EPO for improving performance in cycling before.

In 2012, after Lance Armstrong was banned from sport for life, CHDR professor in clinical pharmacology Adam Cohen, writing in the British Journal of Pharmacology, insisted it was “rather naïve” to believe a race could be won solely due to a rider taking EPO.

> Study claims no evidence that EPO boosts performance of elite cyclists

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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