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In search of relevance, a Cat. 3 turns to EPO and HGH

By Matthew Beaudin • Updated
David Anthony tested positive at a gran fondo in New York in May. Photo courtesy David Anthony
Editor’s note: As we ring out 2012, we look at 12 of our favorite stories of the year. Matthew Beaudin’s profile of the choices made and regrets held by amateur rider David Anthony, busted for EPO use in May, first appeared on August 1.

David Anthony didn’t think they’d test him. It was a gran fondo, and he didn’t win. He’d never been tested before. Why now?

“I knew there was going to be testing there. But I really did not think I was going to do well in that event, certainly not be tested,” Anthony said. “I was a little bit shocked when I got the strong-arm of the chaperone.”

Anthony later admitted using EPO after he tested positive in New York on May 20, at the Gran Fondo New York. He accepted his preliminary suspension on July 9 and was banned from racing for two years.

Of course, doping at a non-professional level is nothing new. In fact, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s suspension lists for cyclists include many more unknowns than stars. But why? Why cheat to win a Cat. 4 road race?

This is a story about a cheater. A man who loved to race his bike but slowly came to feel nothing at all on the bike, even when he won. This is the story of David Anthony.

Everything good about the sport

Anthony began racing and training in 2009. He had that new-to-the bike joy and was consumed by the sport completely. He and a buddy, in the swirl of cycling. Everyone remembers those first moments of going fast on a bike, of feeling potential. Anthony was no different.

“We both kind of caught the bug together. It was awesome. It was fantastic. We were training like crazy. We got coaches. Everything that was good about the sport was happening to us,” he said.

Anthony, who has a painfully analytical mind, took to the science of cycling as much as pedaling. He began to monitor his diet, to train harder and smarter. He won the Tour of the Battenkill in the Cat. 5 division. He was 42.

“And that momentum propelled me for a long time. That feeling of winning,” Anthony said. “It was great.”

He upgraded to a Cat. 4, but 2010 wasn’t as easy as the year before. Anthony crashed while training in California, and another cyclist fell on him, crushing his collarbone, breaking a few ribs and fracturing his ankle.

“That whole year was up and down,” Anthony recalls. “As I was coming back from that, when I was recovering, I was doing a lot of research. I started realizing that hematocrit was a big part of the equation.”

Hematocrit, or the percentage of red blood cells in a given blood sample, has gained its notoriety as a benchmark in testing for blood manipulation. Naturally, Anthony’s hematocrit value is in the low 40s. At the height of his blood manipulation, he was targeting a value of 52 or 53 — slightly above the 50-percent limit the UCI set in 1997.

To hear Anthony talk of the science of the sport is to hear an expert — someone so versed in its physiological aspects that it’s startling, notably for an amateur racer. He rattles off the precise biology of the sport’s most important physiological markers. It’s an obsessive mind at work, and he says as much. It’s what undid the single software developer.

Anthony looked into altitude training and other ways to boost his red blood cell count naturally, via a hypoxic machine.

“There was a pro from Jelly Belly who was selling his, and I ended up buying it. And I started using it. I was a [Cat.] 4. It was kind of ridiculous,” Anthony said. “That was sort of the begging to justify going in a bad direction.”

To suggest the idea of becoming faster consumed him is to vastly undersell Anthony’s obsession with improvement. “It’s more than that,” he said.

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