63% hematocrit

I haven’t followed this stuff lately so I’ve lost track: Does the UCI still ban athletes from competition of their blood hematocrit tests above 50%?

An Italian-sponsored UCI Pro Continental cycling team dismissed Venezuelan rider Jimmi BriceƱo after he tested at 63% hematocrit.

This is not a positive drug test, but it’s an abnormally high level. When I have blood tests I check my blood levels and I test out in the mid 40s, which is considered normal for adult human men.

“Mr. Sixty Percent” mentioned in Velonews is Danish cyclist Bjarne Riis. Rumor says he once tested at 56% hematocrit in 1995, while his “normal” off-season hematocrit was in the low 40s. In 2007, Riis admitted to doping with EPO, growth hormone and cortisone from 1993 to 1998. This includes the year he won the Tour de France in 1996.

Hematocrit or HCT is the volume of red blood cells in blood. A higher percentage means more solids, which means “thicker” blood. You can deliver more oxygen during endurance events but with increased risk for undesirable side effects like death by heart attack, death by stroke, or death from pulmonary embolism. From 1987 to 1990, 20 young Belgian and Dutch cyclists died in their sleep from heart attacks. Artificial EPO manufactured with recombinant DNA technology wasn’t even available for use outside of medical experiments yet.

After the UCI ruled that blood hematocrit above 50% would be considered prima facie evidence of doping, dopers continued in their drug use. They were just forced to watch their blood numbers. They knew when the drug tests would happen, so dopers injected saline to dilute their blood and bring the hematocrit number down for the test. Nasty business, right?

H/T to Roger.

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