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Xenon gas should be banned, says Garmin-Sharp doctor

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Prentice Steffen has a long career in cycling

Prentice Steffen has a long career in cycling (Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Garmin-Sharp's Prentice Steffen (middle)

Garmin-Sharp's Prentice Steffen (middle) (Image credit: Daniel Simms)

Xenon gas, the latest drug to hit the headlines after allegations that Russian athletes used the substance at the Olympic Games in Sochi, should be added to WADA’s banned list, says one leading WorldTour doctor.

The gas, which stimulates the production of EPO, and increases heart and lung capacity, is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned list and although the agency has recently stated that it will discuss the matter during a post-Olympic meeting, one leading WorldTour physician believes that it constitutes doping and should be banned.

Prentice Steffen MD, head physician at Garmin-Sharp, told Cyclingnews that although the team he worked for looked into the idea of using the Xenon, they were quickly put off. Although not on WADA’s banned list the use of the gas by humans has very little research attached to it. The fact that it stimulates the effects of doping, despite arguably still a legal substance, crosses an ethical boundary too, according to Steffen.

Earlier this week former WADA president Dick Pound told WDR that. "Let us realise without doubt that this is doping and it is impossible to say in this process that the rules are not clear."

However the matter remains ambiguous to some, Vladimir Uiba, the head of Russia's Federal Biomedical Agency, stated that there was "nothing wrong" if the Russian team used the drug. "We use what is not illegal, is not destructive and does not have side effects,” he added.

Steffen, who was instrumental in the UCI’s adoption of the no needle policy within the peloton told Cyclingnews that, “We looked into Xenon, honestly, but we had several concerns about it and we ultimately decided not to use it. There’s really nothing good in terms of safety or athletic enhancement and then you throw in the ethical considerations. I personally feel that it crosses a line and that it’s unethical so we decided not to pursue it.”

“We were trying to think of what the up sides would be but it’s pure speculation because there’s no research on it. We think that it would just displace oxygen but that you’d get the same effect from breathing a lower concentration of oxygen compared to air. But it’s just speculation and as far of the ill effects we have no idea. If you compare it to radon, which has some cancer risk effects.”

The current WADA code states that "Artificially enhancing the uptake, transport or delivery of oxygen, including, but not limited to, perfluorochemicals, efaproxiral (RSR13) and modified haemoglobin products (eg haemoglobin-based blood substitutes, microencapsulated haemoglobin products), excluding supplemental oxygen."

“I think enough people could look at the arguments in the same way as we did and come up with the opposite conclusion. I think it would be unethical and a little crazy but it’s not clear cut until WADA, and that’s the thing with the Code, which I think could have more flexibility so that these things can be added quickly rather than maybe two years from now.”

Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson is the Managing Editor at Cyclingnews. Based in the UK, he coordinates the global coverage for the website. Having joined Cyclingnews in April 2008, he has covered several Tour de France, the Spring Classics, and the London Olympic Games in 2012.

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