HomeUncategorizedEffects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs: You Can’t Put In What God Left Out
Effect of increasing power output on climbing ability for cyclists. The fictitious climb is 8 miles from bottom to top, at an 8% grade, similar to a climb you find in a major stage race. The graphic compares an elite cyclist climbing with a constant power output of 400 watts (w) to identical cyclists with 1% (396w), 5% (380w), or 10% (360w) less power. The rider at 225w represents my own climbing ability, and 250w would be 11% above my current ability, on a similar climb.  Values preceded by “+” indicate the amount of time each rider would lose to the rider at 400w, that is, how much longer it would take each other rider to get to the top (in min:sec).  The dark green lines show the approximate position of each other rider on the climb when the first rider finished.  http://bikecalculator.com/index.html

Effect of increasing power output on climbing ability for cyclists. The fictitious climb is 8 miles from bottom to top, at an 8% grade, similar to a climb you find in a major stage race. The graphic compares an elite cyclist climbing with a constant power output of 400 watts (w) to identical cyclists with 1% (396w), 5% (380w), or 10% (360w) less power. The rider at 225w represents my own climbing ability, and 250w would be 11% above my current ability, on a similar climb. Values preceded by “+” indicate the amount of time each rider would lose to the rider at 400w, that is, how much longer it would take each other rider to get to the top (in min:sec). The dark green lines show the approximate position of each other rider on the climb when the first rider finished. http://bikecalculator.com/index.html

I originally created this graphic for an article I was writing about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). The premise is that PEDs only increase performance by a few percentage points, say 1-5%. Given that, how much of an effect would doping have on the results of an event like the Tour de France? Using power output (watts) as my measure of performance, I asked what the difference would be in finishing time on a single climb such as one you might see in a stage of the Tour. I compared the expected performance of an elite cyclist climbing at an output of 400 watts to the same cyclist at 99, 95, and 90% of his maximum power, or a decrease in performance of 1%, 5%, or 10%.  For contrast I used my own power output to show how doping might affect my ability to keep up with the elite riders. Since power translates directly into speed, which in turn translates into time, I used this relationship to determine how much time each rider would gain or lose during the climb. The graphic also shows where (distance) each rider would be on the climb relative to the leader when he finished the climb. As shown in the figure, a 5-10% decrease in power results in a 1-4 min loss of time on an 8 mile climb with an 8% grade.  Thus, if doping enhances performance by 5% it would result in a significant advantage to the rider. At 1%, the loss would be about 20 sec, which could be made up, but would still take its toll over the course of the Tour.  On the other hand, no amount of testosterone, EPO, or HGH is going to make me an elite cyclist. I would be a little past halfway up the climb as the leaders finished, and lose almost 30 min on a single climb. If I increased my performance by 10%, I would still lose over 20 min on a climb of this difficulty.

Steve Anderson, Ph.D.
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Steve Anderson, Ph.D.

Steve Anderson has a Ph.D. in Immunology with over 25 years experience in biomedical research. His scientific expertise includes immunology, immunological diseases, tumor immunology, virology, and HIV pathogenesis.
Steve Anderson, Ph.D.
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