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The Ryan Braun suspension and the Tour de France

How can baseball find its way out of the Steroid Era?

Chris Froome.
Chris Froome.
Doug Pensinger

With the announcement yesterday that Ryan Braun will be suspended for the remainder of the season for dopingin connection with the Biogenesis investigation, there are already a number of articles comparing Ryan Braun to Lance Armstrong. That's understandable, but I think there's another comparison to be made. The Lance Armstrong news was big, but it was also ancient history in the cycling world. The sport has changed, and while riders will still occasionally test positive and be suspended, it's fair to say that cycling has made it out of its Steroid Era. If baseball wants to make it out of its own Steroid Era, it should pay attention.

The Biological Passport

The centerpiece of the cycling world's efforts to end doping is the biological passport. It's a series of regular, long term blood and urine tests that are taken and formed into a profile of each rider. To enable this testing, riders must let the testers know their whereabouts every single day, so that they can be tested randomly and at a moment's notice. The result is that changes in blood composition can be detected, even if the substance causing them is not. Performance enhancing drugs can be hidden by masking agents, but it's far more difficult to do that without effecting something that will show up in the haematological profile.

Performance Records

Cycling teams keep amazingly detailed biophysical information on their athletes. They know how much power their bodies are capable of putting out, and for how long. They know how much oxygen each rider can carry. When member's of the French media questioned eventual 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome's performance, suggesting that his pace up a particularly difficult mountain (Ventoux) was impossible without the help of performance enhancing drugs, his team released his wattage statistics. The leading cycling newspaper, Le Equipe, had an independent physiologist review the numbers, and he concluded that Froome's performance on Ventoux was in line with what he was already known to be capable of.


Part of eradicating doping comes down to creating a culture where it is difficult to dope. The UCI now follows a "no needle policy," wherein riders are not allowed to take intravenous supplements, even ones that are perfectly legal. If a rider is going to use the common PEDs, he'll need to do it in secret.

Athlete Buy In

None of this would have been possible without the support, and in many cases leadership, of the athletes themselves. All of these drastic measures were adopted by individual teams, like Garmin-Sharp, before they were made policies of the cycling governing body. The riders recognized that their sport and they themselves were tarnished. They saw a sport where athletes were pressured to dope by their teams and teammates and saw drugs as a career necessity, and they knew that the sport needed to change. So the cyclists lead the charge to clean up cycling.

I know that not everything here can be transferred directly to baseball, but some things can. A biological passport could be created in much the same way. Teams keep detailed measurements for their players (including bat speed), and those could be reviewed by independent experts to identify possible anomalies. Most of all though, change will need to come from within. To convince fans that the sport is clean, the lead will need to be taken by the players themselves and the MLBPA.

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