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Amgen's Epogen & Pedal Pushers

Lance Armstrong
AP
Lance Armstrong

The "Amgen Tour of California" is getting a lot more publicity than usual because superstar cyclists Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis are trying to make comebacks in the race.

Interestingly, though, the tour's website only prominently features Armstrong and not the much more controversial Landis.

The event has a tie-in with cancer support groups, so from that angle it seems to be a good venue for Armstrong, a cancer survivor and activist.

But there's a certain irony that the biotech company that makes EPO, what is by nearly all accounts the most popular performance-enhancing drug among cyclists, is the major sponsor of a bike race featuring one defrocked, steroid-using racer and another one who has long been rumored to juice up. For its part, Amgen says it's taking a hardline stance on doping during the race.

Last year Amgen sold around $2.4 billion worth of EPO (Epogen), down one percent from the year before. The drug is intended for anemic kidney patients. So, the drug combats the fatigue associated with anemia. That's why some long-distance bikers are reportedly fond of the stuff. Epogen is one of the top-selling and most profitable drugs for the California company, which is the world's biggest biotech measured in sales.

Amgen's love affair with cycling apparently isn't confined to the "Tour of California."

My colleague Jane Wells who lives near AMGN headquarters in Thousand Oaks, California says pedal-pushing company employees wearing jerseys like this one for sale on eBay are a constant (she says sometimes annoying) presence on the streets around those parts. The red dots that look like rose petals or throat lozenges are supposed to be blood platelets.

The "Amgen Tour of California" may be the only corporate-sponsored sporting event where if the company provided participants with goody-bag samples of its product, the athletes would be kicked out.

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