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Michael Barry claimed he and other riders used legal but controversial drug

Updated: Team Sky says its policy for the past two seasons is that its riders should not race or train while using the legal but controversial painkiller Tramadol, and believes it should be banned. The team was responding to claims by former rider Michael Barry that he and other Sky riders had used the drug while racing.

In a statement released yesterday, Team Sky said:

None of our riders should ride whilst using Tramadol — that’s the policy of this team.

Team Sky do not give it to riders whilst racing or training, either as a pre-emptive measure or to manage existing pain.

We believe that its side effects, such as dizziness and drowsiness, could cause issues for the safety of all riders.

We also feel that if a rider has the level of severe pain for its appropriate use they should not be riding.

Tramadol is not prohibited by WADA but this has been our firm position for the last two seasons and all medical staff and riders are aware of this.

Our view is that it should be on the WADA list and any appropriate clinical use could be managed through the regulated TUE, or Therapeutic Use Exemption, system.

Barry, who retired in 2012 shortly before it was revealed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that he had admitted having used EPO while at US Postal, for which he received a six month ban, had made the claim about the use of Tramadol in his new autobiography, Shadows on the Road.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) does not currently included Tramadol on its prohibited list, but in his book the Canadian describes it as being “as performance-enhancing as any banned drug I had taken” and says that “some riders took tramadol every time they raced”.

There are concerns over its potential side-effects, which can include lack of concentration and drowsiness, with Lotto-Belisol team doctor Jan Mathieu blaming it for crashes in the Spring Classics and calling for the drug to be banned and also warning it can be addictive.

In an interview with Jeremy Whittle of The Times [£], Barry said: “I used tramadol at Sky. I never saw it used in training, only in races, where I saw some Sky riders using it frequently.

“The effects are noticeable very quickly. Tramadol made me feel euphoric, but it’s also very hard to focus. It kills the pain in your legs and you can push really hard.

“After I crashed in the Tour de France I was taking it, but I stopped after four days, because it allows you to push beyond your natural pain limit.”

He added: “Tramadol packaging warns against driving or operating machinery, so I can’t see how racing down narrow cobbled lanes at 50km an hour on tramadol can ever be a good thing.”

Teams that are members of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) have pressed WADA to ban Tramadol, with the anti-doping organisation having told it that “the number of samples containing Tramadol is significant and the very large majority of them originate from cyclists.”

While MPCC members are forbidden from giving their riders Tramadol, there is nothing to stop non-member teams such as Sky or Omega Pharma-Quick Step from doing so as current rules stand, although some might question whether it is in the spirit of the sport.

Last October, Team Sky doctor Alan Farell told Cyclingnews that he backed an appeal from his counterpart at Garmin-Sharp, Prentice Steffen, for Tramadol to be banned both in and out of competition, but admitted that riders on the team had used it during races.

He said it was “an effective pain killer when it’s used in the clinically appropriate scenario. Certainly in our team we would have used it in the past but only when justified.

“We would have prescribed it, very minimally but sometimes if someone had an injury that justified pain killing medication.”

He added: “We would never have used it in training. It’s only a medication that we would have used very minimally and in a supervised environment. I just can’t believe people would use it in a training environment.

“It’s definitely something that we would have as medication within the team but it would only be something that we’d use in the appropriate scenario.”

Barry insists that during his spell with Sky, he never saw banned substances being used.

“I believe Sky is clean,” he maintained. “I know it’s become a cliché but they focus on the little things, as well as having the best riders.

“You have to take into account the little factors and the big factors like budget and riders.

“But I’ve never seen anything to doubt their performances,” he added.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

76 comments

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Wookie [242 posts] 2 years ago
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And let the fun commence  19

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Mike_B [26 posts] 2 years ago
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I've had to take Tramadol after surgery - it's quite addictive and (dosage dependent) makes you extremely drowsy. Amazing that anyone could ride a bike on it let alone race in a peloton down narrow roads.

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Yennings [237 posts] 2 years ago
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Is this what Brailsford means when he talks about "marginal gains"?

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jollygoodvelo [1540 posts] 2 years ago
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After an operation last year I was on 30mg codeine for a few days and was completely spaced out. Riding a bike on cobbles like that? Lethal.

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mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
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Mike_B wrote:

I've had to take Tramadol after surgery - it's quite addictive and (dosage dependent) makes you extremely drowsy. Amazing that anyone could ride a bike on it let alone race in a peloton down narrow roads.

With you here, I've used it also & riding a bike in a high-pressure situation where concentration is paramount, even at the lowest of doses, would be a total nightmare....more than a nightmare, surely nigh impossible!

That said, I could see its attractiveness for managing the likes of DOMS - so I suppose this is a bit grey for some people (personally I think using anything to suppress pain unless you're injured is wrong, if it's needed then said person needs to HTFU)

Reminds me of an interview I read recently on the "greyness" surrounding paracetamol use pre-race in Oz and whether or not it should be revisited, again this is grey in that it's hard to police the justifications for use - such as women using paracetamol for period pain before racing, how would the anti-doping agencies handle something as complicated as this?!

I'm glad I don't work for these guys (the anti-doping agencies) - must be a complete nightmare.

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Him Up North [235 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm sorry, where is the story here? Cycling team used a legal painkiller. Wow, scoop!

Actual outcome: Barry sells a few extra copies of his kiss 'n' tell while providing grist to the hate mill for a team he gladly took a salary from for 2 years.

*applauds ironically*

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

I'm sorry, where is the story here? Cycling team used a legal painkiller. Wow, scoop!

Actual outcome: Barry sells a few extra copies of his kiss 'n' tell while providing grist to the hate mill for a team he gladly took a salary from for 2 years.

*applauds ironically*

It's on the WADA watch list actually.
Teams abuse it (not just cycling as well) it's not always for a therapeutic use.

http://inrng.com/2014/04/tramadol/ is a very good article on the matter.

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Parkaboy [13 posts] 2 years ago
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It's the new pot belge. Pain killers to deaden the pain in the legs, then mixed with caffeine to re sharpen the reflexes. The original pot belge used morphine and amphetamine to do the same thing. Nothing ever really changes  4

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mrmo [2093 posts] 2 years ago
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This comes back to my point made elsewhere. If it isn't banned and it is effective it will be used. I believe that most Pro's are sailing close to the wind when it comes to drugs.

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NeilG83 [302 posts] 2 years ago
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When Team Sky were founded it I was hoping they would set new standards for racing cleanly and fairly, but it appears that ethically they are no different to most teams. Whilst not breaking any rules they disregard their riders health and it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

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Chuck [568 posts] 2 years ago
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NeilG83 wrote:

it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

Really? It's only a small step from taking a legal drug that's not on a doping list to illegal ones that are?

I don't really see the story here TBH.

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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Chuck wrote:
NeilG83 wrote:

it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

Really? It's only a small step from taking a legal drug that's not on a doping list to illegal ones that are?

I don't really see the story here TBH.

The misuse of a opiate based painkiller is the story.

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Chuck [568 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:
Chuck wrote:
NeilG83 wrote:

it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

Really? It's only a small step from taking a legal drug that's not on a doping list to illegal ones that are?

I don't really see the story here TBH.

The misuse of a opiate based painkiller is the story.

Yeah, if you assume 'use' and 'misuse' are the same thing.

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Some Fella [890 posts] 2 years ago
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Does anyone know where i can get some?
Asking for a friend.

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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Chuck wrote:
glynr36 wrote:
Chuck wrote:
NeilG83 wrote:

it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

Really? It's only a small step from taking a legal drug that's not on a doping list to illegal ones that are?

I don't really see the story here TBH.

The misuse of a opiate based painkiller is the story.

Yeah, if you assume 'use' and 'misuse' are the same thing.

The way I see it, and from a few other articles I've read.
Use = injured rider using them
Misuse = uninjured rider using them either usually under the guise of a 'finishing bottle' to push on harder.
It's not to dissimilar to the 'use' of cortisol for saddle sores.
Take away the grey area, make riders and teams need to get a TUE for tramadol.

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ColT [302 posts] 2 years ago
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Have Sky issued a statement yet?

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Simon E [2851 posts] 2 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

I'm sorry, where is the story here? Cycling team used a legal painkiller. Wow, scoop!

Actual outcome: Barry sells a few extra copies of his kiss 'n' tell while providing grist to the hate mill for a team he gladly took a salary from for 2 years.

*applauds ironically*

+1.

Barry retired in 2012 so this is surely old (or non) news. Alan Farrell, who supports a ban, didn't join Sky until mid way through that season, presumably after Leinders departed.

The comment that Sky are clean because he didn't see anything is bollocks. We all know of riders who are clean but see zero evidence of teammates who are later banned for doping. Barry previously denied doping himself, I wouldn't believe a word he says.

The article states: "While MPCC members are forbidden from giving their riders Tramadol, there is nothing to stop non-member teams such as Sky or Omega Pharma-Quick Step from doing so as current rules stand, although some might question whether it is in the spirit of the sport."

The spirit of the sport? Don't make me laugh! It's dog-eat-dog.

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Chuck wrote:
glynr36 wrote:
Chuck wrote:
NeilG83 wrote:

it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

Really? It's only a small step from taking a legal drug that's not on a doping list to illegal ones that are?

I don't really see the story here TBH.

The misuse of a opiate based painkiller is the story.

Yeah, if you assume 'use' and 'misuse' are the same thing.

Really see where you are coming from Chuck.

Another non story opportunity for a heap of speculation and accusation.

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notfastenough [3715 posts] 2 years ago
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NeilG83 wrote:

When Team Sky were founded it I was hoping they would set new standards for racing cleanly and fairly, but it appears that ethically they are no different to most teams. Whilst not breaking any rules they disregard their riders health and it's only a small step from taking Tramadol to popping other illegal drugs.

I agree, I took paracetamol for a headache at the weekend, and will be buying EPO later today.  44

Hang on, read the article again, this sounds like BS. The issue here isn't that Tramadol was used - it's a legit painkiller, to be prescribed only by a doc - of which the team has one (or more). The issue is that the doc says it was only used in 'clinically appropriate scenarios', while Barry says some riders took it before every race.

Now, in one breath MB says that Tramadol is as performance-enhancing as anything else he's taken, and that some riders use it every race, and then in another breath says that Sky are racing clean. Well, which is it? Are riders taking it un-necessarily and gaining a performance advantage, or aren't they?

Or, is it:
1. Ex-rider has book to sell, slings dirt at avowedly 'clean' team - score one for book sales.
2. Ex-rider doesn't want to be sued by the team, so then contradicts himself with non-inflammatory statement that team is clean
3. The damage is done, because the headlines (which will lead to book sales) will focus on the former, not the latter (see top of this page for example)

Otherwise, surely his scoop would be "I used Tramadol, it's really performance enhancing, loads of the guys are on it regularly, therefore the only conclusion I can reach is that the performances aren't clean"?!

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daddyELVIS [656 posts] 2 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

I'm sorry, where is the story here? Cycling team used a legal painkiller. Wow, scoop!

This is a pretty big story in my book, especially when a full-time Sky doc was calling for the drug to be banned only 6 months ago, said it was only prescribed minimally at Sky for painful injuries, and that if riders needed such a strong pain killer then they shouldn't be riding!

Oh the Sky bullsh!t just keeps mounting up!

http://m.cyclingnews.com/news/team-sky-calls-for-tramadol-ban-in-peloton

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Where is a list of all the pro teams that use it?

Just curious to see how much of this is really news or how much is news as its team sky.

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Also, when it says

'in his book Barry describes it as being “as performance-enhancing as any banned drug I had taken” and says that “some riders took tramadol every time they raced”.'

It doesn't say those were team sky riders does it? I do believe he rode with other teams during his career and taking it further, it says other 'riders' not 'team mates'

Purely going on the article. I've not read the book.

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Jimmy Ray Will [514 posts] 2 years ago
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No... i can see why a Sky doctor would ask for something he knew his riders to be taking to be banned... it does come back to ethics.

What do people want in a clean team sky? Are they happy with the team steering clear of illegal drugs/practices or do they need to also steer clear of anything legal that some people might find questionable?

I am perfectly comfortable that Sky are playing with a straight bat, however that bat may sometimes be a bit ugly.

We've all heard the rumours of sleeping pills being used to aid weight loss? Go training, eat your recovery meal and then knock yourself out on pills until tomorrow... stops you eating and maximises recovery time. Its nasty, but it works.

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Sim1 [57 posts] 2 years ago
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Super Domestique: while you shout bullsh&t, its worth remembering that after his crash on stage 1, Geraint Thomas was taking just ibuprofen to get him through the worst of the next few stages. Alan Farrell was the team doctor at the Tour. Now Thomas was in a hell of a lot of pain, if ever a rider was. But just ibuprofen.

Clearly Farrell wasnt prescribing Tramadol for Thomas.

Equally clearly he and the team are being very sparing in how they use it.

Or is that still bullsh&t in your book?

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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If it's nothing why are the (supposed?) team sky fans feeling the need to dismiss / defend the use of it...

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Sim1 wrote:

Super Domestique: while you shout bullsh&t, its worth remembering that after his crash on stage 1, Geraint Thomas was taking just ibuprofen to get him through the worst of the next few stages. Alan Farrell was the team doctor at the Tour. Now Thomas was in a hell of a lot of pain, if ever a rider was. But just ibuprofen.

Clearly Farrell wasnt prescribing Tramadol for Thomas.

Equally clearly he and the team are being very sparing in how they use it.

Or is that still bullsh&t in your book?

This is directed at me why?

I haven't shouted anything other than non story!

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Sim1 wrote:

Super Domestique: while you shout bullsh&t, its worth remembering that after his crash on stage 1, Geraint Thomas was taking just ibuprofen to get him through the worst of the next few stages. Alan Farrell was the team doctor at the Tour. Now Thomas was in a hell of a lot of pain, if ever a rider was. But just ibuprofen.

Clearly Farrell wasnt prescribing Tramadol for Thomas.

Equally clearly he and the team are being very sparing in how they use it.

Or is that still bullsh&t in your book?

This is directed at me why?

I haven't shouted anything other than non story!

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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Sim1 wrote:

Super Domestique: while you shout bullsh&t, its worth remembering that after his crash on stage 1, Geraint Thomas was taking just ibuprofen to get him through the worst of the next few stages. Alan Farrell was the team doctor at the Tour. Now Thomas was in a hell of a lot of pain, if ever a rider was. But just ibuprofen.

Clearly Farrell wasnt prescribing Tramadol for Thomas.

Equally clearly he and the team are being very sparing in how they use it.

Or is that still bullsh&t in your book?

This is directed at me why?

I haven't shouted anything other than non story!

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Sim1 [57 posts] 2 years ago
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Super Domestique wrote:
Sim1 wrote:

Super Domestique: while you shout bullsh&t, its worth remembering that after his crash on stage 1, Geraint Thomas was taking just ibuprofen to get him through the worst of the next few stages. Alan Farrell was the team doctor at the Tour. Now Thomas was in a hell of a lot of pain, if ever a rider was. But just ibuprofen.

Clearly Farrell wasnt prescribing Tramadol for Thomas.

Equally clearly he and the team are being very sparing in how they use it.

Or is that still bullsh&t in your book?

This is directed at me why?

I haven't shouted anything other than non story!

Oh no! I cant read! It was DaddyElvis.

Sorry, Super Dom....

'  41 myself'

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Super Domestique [1609 posts] 2 years ago
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No worries Sim

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