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Paco Mancebo has become the latest of cycling's leading riders to include significant use of a hypobaric chamber in his preparation for the Tour de France. Fourth in last year's race, the Spaniard signed by Ag2r this season, has installed a chamber in a bedroom of the house he has recently rented in the Swiss town of Onex, near Geneva.
Mancebo has erected the tent-like structure so that he can get his bed and a table inside, and spends up to eight or nine hours a day in it, most of it asleep. "In the peloton they are used a lot, but not spoken about too often," Mancebo told AS.
Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong have admitted using hypobaric chambers, in which there is the oxygen content is just 16 per cent, equivalent to being at an altitude of 3000 metres. Effectively, they act as a perfectly legal way of boosting red blood cell production, oxygenating the blood, and improving resistance and recuperation.
Mancebo said he had bought his Colorado Altitude Training hypobaric kit for 7,000 euros in May last year, before finishing fourth at the Tour and third at the Vuelta. "Although red blood cell count depends on a lot of factors, I'll give an example: on April 8 I was measured with a red blood cell count of 46%, a week later it was 47.8," explained Mancebo of the chamber's effectiveness.
However, this currently legal method of boosting a red blood count is set to undergo scrutiny by the World Anti-Doping Agency next week, when its legality will be investigated. "This practice isn't cheating and it doesn't damage your health," said Mancebo. "It doesn't do anyone any harm and prevents the need for high-altitude training camps. I hope they don't ban it."
Mancebo did admit that there are side-effects associated with use of hypobaric chambers, but countered that they are the same effects you could feel by being at altitude. "You can feel nauseous, sleep badly and have a shortage of breath, but after a while you get acclimatised," he said, admitting that his wife, Luisa, does not share his chamber-enclosed bed each night.
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