Friday 20 June 2014

Sergio Henao, Team SKY and the biological passport

On Sunday June 29, I will be attending at Oxygen Transport meeting at UCL in London where some of the top experts on altitude physiology will be presenting – including Monty Mythen, Carsten Lundby, Peter Wagner and Ron Astin. And Harriet Tuckey will talk about the use of oxygen on the 1953 Everest Expedition. There is still time to register:

but if you can’t make it you can read the abstracts here (a search for altitude in the text is particularly illuminating).

I was going to write a blog prior to this meeting on the science of the Sergio Henao affair, but then one of those ironman / cycling web pages  - - got there first. Honestly, sometimes I think cyclists spend as much time reading research papers as scientists – they are definitely better informed that the average sportsperson.

Anyway the particular Henao story seems to have been resolved now I guess. See:

I was slightly confused by Dave Brailsford’s initial comments that there was something mysterious about red blood cells, Andeans and altitude and they need to carry put further research. They – and their contrast with Tibetans – are the two most studied research populations in altitude science. Basically Andeans have high hematocrits (number of red blood cells) to cope with the altitude. Leaves them with lots of clinical problems. The Tibetans (e.g. the Sherpas) can manage with fewer red cells, but have other adaptations.

The really interesting new finding from Peter Wagner seems to be that those Tibetans with naturally fewer red blood cells are able to reach a higher oxygen consumption peak that those with more red blood cells. Sometimes science does indeed throw you a curve ball.

Now what could be really scary would be to take a Sherpa cyclist who was adapted to altitude performance and then give them EPO to increase their red cell count. My feeling is that Sherpas - like Lance Armstrong? – would be the genetic type that could disproportionality benefit from blood doping

**note the paragraph above is only a scientific thought experiment of course ! *****