TRI-CYCLING: Power as an anti-doping weapon?

Is cycling power analysis a way of detecting doped cyclists? Some analysts sitting in front of their TV claim that with calculations, they can evaluate the rider's condition and their ethic during a climb. But what are these analyzes worth?

Cycling was (is still?) destroyed in the 90s and 2000s by cheaters. Myself, when I saw the US Postal or Festina’s affairs, I stopped watching the Tour de France and stop riding. Since this period, the authorities have taken draconian measures, anti-doping controls during the races, unannounced anti-doping controls but we regularly discover positive cases ...

Today, any licensed athlete can be controlled by a doping control officer taking a urine/blood sample during a race. Athletes referenced by their federation can also be controlled on their home, internship or training place. These athletes must communicate through an online system (ADAMS) a possible control place 365 days a year.

Yet, we know, cheaters are still relevant as Georg PREIDLER from AG2R pro team in 2019 and for some of them, they just disappear from the pro pack in silence. Unfortunately, doping methods are changing, always taking a lead on the doping program.

Nowadays, it is always difficult to have 100% clean races at any level. I still remember a competitor of more than 60 years-old caught by the patrol for taking doping products on a TT race, a race where the winners leave with flowers and a sausage ...

From 2000, Antoine VAYER, former coach of the Festina team, wanted to develop a method to find competitors with strange performances. With the help of Frédéric PORTOLEAU, a specialist in fluid mechanics, he used a method of indirect calculation of the power developed in a climb when we can’t have access to the power meters data.

This coach and this mathematician think they can classify cyclists for a 4hrs+ stage:

  • as "possible cheaters" over 410 watts during the last climb,
  • as "miraculous" cyclist over 430 watts during the last climb,
  • as "mutant" cyclist over 450 watts during the last climb.

You may remember the buzz following the calculations for CONTADOR oversized oxygen uptake values, close to 99ml/min/kg!!

How does the VAYER-PORTOLEAU calculation technique work?

It is a model from the end of the ’70s to identify the power needed to cope with resistance for a cyclist. The resistance to the cyclist's progress is air density and wind, the rolling on the road, the crankset or the gravity when it is necessary to climb.

A few years ago, a gadget fixing on the handlebar proposed a power and claimed to be a power sensor but he used the same methodology.

VAYER and PORTOLEAU use this equation to estimate power developed in the final climb. This calculation requires to know a lot of data and it is the problem with this method which makes the buzz on Twitter or on the sport’s newspaper!!

The weight of the cyclist and his bike, the elevation gain, the strength and direction of the wind or the quality of the bearings are part of the data to be collected. But it’s still very fuzzy! As it is difficult to compare cyclists with different weigh, VAYER uses a "stallion" 78kg-cyclist which is a very good idea to facilitate the comparison of performance.

PORTOLEAU calculates, VAYER interprets "from his sharp knowledge of the environment and the testimonies he collects" but without ever being along the stage road!!

And that's a big problem!!

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