So this week the well-respected journal the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that human growth hormone (HGH) does, in fact, improves athletic performance by helping to build fast-twitch muscle fiber. Specifically, the study found that in men HGH would improve performance by 3.9 percent—shaving .4 of a second from a 10-second sprint time in the 100-meter dash. And while sprinting performance was dramatically improved, HGH did nothing for endurance (unsurprising) or overall strength (somewhat surprising).
In cycling, an improvement of 3.9 percent isn’t the difference between steps on the podium, it is the difference between pack fodder and crushing the competition. Whether you look at the results from a Grand Tour or from one of the Monuments, a single percent range in performance can include the top-20 finishers.
Some of the men in the study also received injections of testosterone. For those men, the performance increase was a whopping 8 percent. Imagine for a second being an 8-percent-improved rider. That’s going from a 1-hour 40k time trial to a 55:12 40k time. Eight percent could turn you from a climber into a time trialist or a nobody into a god.
The study begs several questions. First, is anyone really surprised by this? There has been strong anecdotal evidence that HGH produced results for anyone looking for an illegal edge.
A bigger question is, what is the dosage size that athletes taking HGH normally use? Dr. Ken Ho, who ran the study, gave his subjects modest doses for only eight weeks, as compared to what guys like Mark McGwire were taking, which is alleged to be a much higher dosage for extended periods of time. Obviously, the gains could be more than 4 percent. Much more, perhaps.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) helped fund the study. One wonders why they wanted the results printed in a peer-reviewed journal. This would seem to be information that they wouldn’t want athletes willing to dope (or their doctors or coaches) to find out. One can safely assume that some aspect of this study will aid those who are trying to evade detection of their drug use.
The amateur athletes who participated in the study reported several side effects. The HGH caused fluid retention that resulted in some swelling as well as joint pain. One man reported that his breasts grew.
Maybe drug testing in the future should include looking for pros who are wearing jog bras.
More seriously, the media has reported the publication of this paper with a certain amount of surprise. As I read about it, I’ll admit my jaw went slack, but my expression was more “duh” that “holy cow.”
There have been whispers about who in the peloton has been using HGH, but so far, the most substantive accusation was that the entire T-Mobile team was using the stuff along with EPO. And of course, boatloads of the stuff was in Willy Voet’s Festina team car when he arrived at his fateful border stop in 1998.
I don’t want to accuse you readers of being a cynical bunch, but are any of you surprised by the results of this study, either in general or the more specific aspect of just how much performance can be improved by either HGH alone or in combination with testosterone?
And in other news … there’s this little cycling tour that’s going to take in some great sights in Italy. Disingenuousness aside, most of the cycling media outlets are saying this is the most wide-open Giro in years. That may be right. With no Menchov, no Killer, no Pellizotti and no Contador, Evans would seem to be the heir apparent; he seems to have developed a taste for actually winning instead of just showing.
Does anyone think Garzelli has something like a chance to win? Even Simoni seems to have conceded that he is over the hill and will hope for a stage win in this, his final Grand Tour.
So two questions to you all: Who will take the maglia rosa in the prologue? We’ve got stickers for the first correct answer on that. Also, who do you think will get to go home with the pink jersey once the last kilometer is ridden? Stickers to the first correct prognosticator.
I’ve got my money on Evans.
So Joe Papp is back in the news. This time it’s for a guilty plea in connection with selling doping products. Specifically, he plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to sell EPO and HGH over the Internet.
As much as I’d like to ignore this and hope he fades into forgettable obscurity, I don’t think that will happen just yet. And because RKP has written so much about doping, we are rather obliged to give this more of a once-over than two Tweets about the subject.
Papp netted more than $80,000 between September 2006 to September 2007 selling these drugs. That’s a tidy income, especially for what I suspect wasn’t a lot of work. After all, he didn’t have any of the traditional marketing costs associated with a sales enterprise, so people found him, 187 of them, to be precise.
The income isn’t the issue. It’s the time period. It was during this same time period that USADA trotted him out as a star witness at the Floyd Landis hearing. His purpose? To testify on the remarkable recovery that one can enjoy when using synthetic testosterone. That Travis Tygart (then counsel, now CEO) of USADA didn’t vet Papp more thoroughly is deeply troubling.
Papp disputed VeloNews’ contention that he testified against Landis. He told them, “The matter for which I publicly acknowledged my guilt today in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with my appearance at the Landis hearing. I didn’t testify against Floyd Landis in that hearing,” Papp noted. “My testimony was about my own personal experiences with the drug testosterone and how it is generally perceived within the peloton. That was it. I told the story of how testosterone works and can help you as a cyclist by enhancing recovery.”
Papp’s point splits hairs. Semantically, he may be correct, but he was an instrument in the process of convicting Landis. The problem I have with this is that he was presented as a reformed doper, someone who would be candid as a result of his changed ways. Candor is an important part of establishing credibility, and Papp presented himself as someone for whom performance enhancing drugs were strictly past tense. We have learned that was not the case.
So what should Papp’s sentence be? He could be banned for life from cycling, and that ought to happen; he shouldn’t be allowed to coach or advise other cyclists given his recent industry. He also stands to serve as much as five years in federal prison when he is sentenced on June 25. Hopefully, that June date gives him enough time for him to finish his graduate degree at Chatham University, where he is a student, and (we hope) not focusing on exercise physiology. No one should be forced to starve and Papp needs a good way to reinvent himself in order to stay away from the racing end of the sport.