It's just water.


Drug abuse in cycling - a potted version.

Here’s a list of some favoured drugs and a smattering of the most famous casualties and users by period (a precis of Wikipedia).

1890s on - riders use ether-soaked handkerchiefs as well as alcohol, cocaine - whatever was going - to help ease the pain of participating in this new sport.

1896 - Welsh cyclist Arthur Linton (managed by ‘Choppy’ Warburton) dies after drinking a blend of cocaine, caffeine and strychnine, supposedly in the Bordeaux–Paris race. He also had typhoid, which can’t have helped.

1904 - Also managed by Choppy, Jimmy Michael dies of the DTs. Michael had previously accused Choppy of poisoning him.

1919 - The Pellissier brothers (x3) admitted to using strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, "horse ointment" to a journalist. Lated claimed to be winding the journalist up. This line of denial was never used again!

1930 - Tour de France rule book helpful advice includes a reminder that drugs would not be provided by the organisers.

1949 - Fausti Coppi openly admits using ‘La Bomba’ - amphetamines.

1955 - Jean Mallejac collapses on Mont Ventoux. He lives - just - and claims he was drugged against his will.

1956 - Entire Belgian team goes down with food poisoning ‘from eating fish’. Their hotel did not serve fish the preceding night.

1958 - Riviere, on a dose of Palfium, crashed off a mountain and broke his back because he was too out of it to squeeze his brake levers. Later he said he had an injection of painkillers and amphetamine before the start and swallowed several amphetamine tablets. He said he was an addict who downed thousands of pills a year.

1960 - Danish rider Knud Jensen dies at Rome Olympics after crashing while off his face on amphetamines and various other drugs. Team was using “dope - whole cartloads -[were] used in royal quantities”.

1960 - Riders and other athletes caught ‘retransfusing’ their own blood, a potential gain in performance of around 20%.

1962 - More bad fish at the Tour De France, 12 riders abandon on the same day. They had the same soigneur (carer).

1964 - Doping banned (!)

1965 - Jacques Anquetil said that “only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride Bordeaux–Paris on just water.“ On being criticised he simply said, "Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope."

1965 - First ever doping control catches five riders on the UK’s national tour.

1966 - After the first drugs test on the Tour De France the riders dismounted an walked in protest at being treated so poorly, like criminals.

1967 - Tommy Simpson dies on Ventoux, off his face on amphetamines.

1960-1989 - More and more riders caught including Eddy Mercyx. Arms race between detection methods and new forms of drugs (ongoing). Other drugs found included Ritalin, Cortisone, Steroids, Amphetimines (still), various hormones, Testosterone, Synacthen, Strychnine (making a come back). Many athletes were also retransfusing (not illegal at the time).

The use of ‘pot belge’ started, running right through until the present day. Pot Belge is a mixture of amphetamines, caffeine, and sometimes cocaine and heroin, and is taken as a ’top up’ in the last part of a race.

1984 - Sean Kelly (now a commentator) was tested positive after a race. This came as a surprise, not because anyone thought he was a clean rider, but because he used the urine of a mechanic. The mechanic was using a banned substance himself because he had to work long hours at night and needed the lift to stay awake. Doh!

1988 - The first EPO ban. Through the late eighties several riders overdo it and die. Later confessions and autobiographies reveal EPO use was endemic at the time and would remain so for the next 20 years.

1991 - Tour de France a whole team withdraw with ‘Food Poisoning’. You have to be very careful with your fish - doesn’t anyone learn?

1998 - ‘The Festina Affair’ blows the lid on EPO use and whole team chucked off the tour. 35 of 38 riders tested for EPO came out positive.


Rogues gallery from 90s-00s: Riis, Ullrich, Pantani, Armstrong, Landis

From 1998 on - a series of scandals over the next 20 years, ‘The Festina Affair’, ‘The Telekom Affair’, ‘Operación Puerto’, reveal the extent of the systematic use of EPO in the peloton. Unsurprisingly team sponsors become harder to find. The list of riders caught or admitting later to EPO use is very very long. Culminates in the admission of Lance that he not only used EPO himself but organised the systematic doping of his team (and the systematic use of lawyers to destroy the lives of anyone who told the truth).

2010 on - ‘EPO in a pill’ substitutes: FG-4592, GW1516, AICAR - all of them banned, AICAR was a trial drug that wasn't even released.

Finally here’s a fun list of drugs I have compiled while putting this together, and an appropriate soundtrack:

Styrincnince, ether, opium, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, morphine, anabolic and catabolic steroids, amphetamines of many kinds, Palfium, testosterone, human growth hormone, transfusions, insulin, caffeine, Bromantann, 19-norandrosterone, Clenbuterol, Salbutamol, Clostebol, Stanozolol, Ephedrine and pseudoephidrine, Carphedone, Norandrosterone, Prednisolone, Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), heptaminol, Nandrolone, Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), Nikethamide, Triamcinolone acetonide, Metelonone, cortisones of various kinds, Actovegin and Oxyglobin (veterinary drugs), Ritalin, Pemoline, Synacthen, Phentermine, Tramadol. Then there is EPO (Erythropoietin) and variants (NESP, rHuEPO, epoetin and Aranesp) and latterly ‘EPO in pill’ FG-4592, GW1516, AICAR.

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