- Recent tests show a cleaner, less-doped up cadre of cyclists for this year's Tour de France.
- An analysis of 11 years of readings of cyclists' reticulocytes, or newly-formed red blood cells, shows a decline.
- Riders are pedaling slower despite lighter bikes, more aerodynamic wheels and other technological improvements.
This year's Tour de France opens Saturday morning, the first day of a grueling 2,172-mile, three-week event that for decades has been dogged by doping scandals -- most recently against seven-time Tour champ Lance Armstrong.
Despite the continuing controversies, blood tests collected over the past decade shows that the peloton is actually getting cleaner. It's the first scientific evidence that anti-doping efforts may be paying off. The sport of cycling, though, has had a long history of doping. It's a practice that has been a part of cycling since early 20th-century riders downed cocktails of strychnine, cocaine and caffeine to power their pedals.
But riders are pedaling slower despite lighter bikes, more aerodynamic wheels and other technological improvements. Uphill climb times have been impacted by the use of drugs in the sport. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a time when the use of EPO was likely at its peak, the winning time up Alpe d'Huez was usually less than 40 minutes. Italian Marco Pantani's record of 37:35 still stands, even though it was set in 1997. Second is Armstrong's 37:36 in 2004. But the winning times have slowed. In 2011, for example, the winning time of Frenchman Pierre Rolland was 41:57, a mark that would have been good for 8th place in 2004 or 40th in 2001.