Updated: Team Sky says its riders are not given painkiller Tramadol and it should be banned

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

by Simon_MacMichael   April 29, 2014  

Michael Barry (CC SA licensed image by www.instants-cyclistes.fr:Flickr)

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.

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Why has Sky still not signed up to the MPCC?

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posted by netclectic [116 posts]
28th April 2014 - 19:45

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Velo News has Team Sky's statement on the matter http://velonews.competitor.com/2014/04/news/sky-avoids-barry-allegations...

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posted by Him Up North [133 posts]
28th April 2014 - 19:53

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daddyELVIS wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
Is it reasonable for us to ask for your medical history? No? Personal info and all that, so why is it ok to demand this from athletes?

Not got a problem with anyone seeing my medical history - apart from a few stiches and a minor back injury from rugby, there's nothing much else to see.

Why would an athlete have an issue with their TUE's being made public, unless it became apparent that athletes have more allergies and conditions requiring medication than the average person?

I do see where you're coming from, but the "if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear" argument really doesn't hold water. I wouldn't tell you my medical history- nothing illegal or performance enhancing, but there are private matters that I won't discuss.

I also can't help noticing that as ever with the "nothing to hide..." debate, it's not what the subject thinks they need to hide that matters, it's what the observer thinks the subject needs to hide. Whether that's refusing to disclose your religion to a fascist government, or your hypothetical multi-allergy-but-clean rider who finds that disclosing their medical history results in a shadow over all their performances.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2940 posts]
28th April 2014 - 20:07

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Euphoric, I have been prescribed Tramadol, never found it to be, but in in other users maybe that's the case. When I have had lower back pain it is an effective drug. However never wanted to ride a bike with those circumstances it would be irresponsible. I find it difficult to understand why pro riders would want to?

posted by onlyonediane [159 posts]
28th April 2014 - 20:12

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This is the Sky statement:
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.

So there you go, another non story to try and sell a few more books. It may have been taken in 2010 but it was not banned then and it isnt now. Unless of course your one of the people who see conspiracy in everything Sky do, sad i know but you will always get people like that.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2665 posts]
28th April 2014 - 20:15

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stumps wrote:
This is the Sky statement:
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.

So there you go, another non story to try and sell a few more books. It may have been taken in 2010 but it was not banned then and it isnt now. Unless of course your one of the people who see conspiracy in everything Sky do, sad i know but you will always get people like that.

This doesn't quite tie in with what the Sky doc said in Oct 2013:
"Asked if Team Sky used Tramadol during this year’s Tour de France, Farrell said that he could not disclose the medical histories of his riders but he would say that, “if we used it for an injury it would have always been with the riders’ health and safety paramount. Any time we used it, it would have been with the best clinical guidelines and thinking of the riders’ safety."

“I can’t say who it would have been used with but we would have used it throughout the year for any moderate to severe injury if pain warranted it. It’s certainly something that we would have used in the past but very minimally. It’s something that we’d want to use in the future in order to provide adequate pain relief."

posted by daddyELVIS [384 posts]
28th April 2014 - 20:33

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notfastenough wrote:
daddyELVIS wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
Is it reasonable for us to ask for your medical history? No? Personal info and all that, so why is it ok to demand this from athletes?

Not got a problem with anyone seeing my medical history - apart from a few stiches and a minor back injury from rugby, there's nothing much else to see.

Why would an athlete have an issue with their TUE's being made public, unless it became apparent that athletes have more allergies and conditions requiring medication than the average person?

I do see where you're coming from, but the "if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear" argument really doesn't hold water. I wouldn't tell you my medical history- nothing illegal or performance enhancing, but there are private matters that I won't discuss.

I also can't help noticing that as ever with the "nothing to hide..." debate, it's not what the subject thinks they need to hide that matters, it's what the observer thinks the subject needs to hide. Whether that's refusing to disclose your religion to a fascist government, or your hypothetical multi-allergy-but-clean rider who finds that disclosing their medical history results in a shadow over all their performances.

...except Sky were formed on the basis of clean cycling and ethics, and they were the ones who spouted about the need for transparency. In the wake of the Armstrong scandal why are Sky not pushing for real, honest debate on the doping issue.

If they were as clean and ethical as they say then they would have everything to gain from total transparency and by starting the debate - I dare say you could class it as another 'marginal gain' as suspicion and pressure would mount on those teams who refused to follow Sky's lead.

In reality, they only make statements on doping / ethics when an adverse story breaks. They seem to be about PR and damage limitation than true transparency. If they are against Tramadol use as much as today's statement suggests, why have they not been publically vocal about the issue?

It is an established fact that lots of riders are taking it during races - if the side effects are as Sky believe them to be, then by not publically demanding that this drug be banned they are endangering their own riders by asking them to ride in a peloton high on Tramadol.

posted by daddyELVIS [384 posts]
28th April 2014 - 21:41

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Team transparency, yes, but that doesn't equate to telling individuals "if you ride for us, you forfeit your inalienable right to medical privacy"

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2940 posts]
28th April 2014 - 22:19

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This has always been my biggest worry when you look at the performances of some of sky's riders. Given their resources it is easy to imagine them being able to take advantages of practices that whilst technically legal and within the rules, go against the spirit of the sport and the spirit of the rules.

To me this seems a much more likely problem than US Postal style team doping programs.

posted by giobox [238 posts]
28th April 2014 - 22:30

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notfastenough wrote:
Team transparency, yes, but that doesn't equate to telling individuals "if you ride for us, you forfeit your inalienable right to medical privacy"

Given the sports past, I think it only reasonable that riders are asked to waive that right. Its the only way to restore trust. Fair? Maybe not, but that's the reality of the situation.

posted by giobox [238 posts]
28th April 2014 - 22:33

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notfastenough wrote:
Team transparency, yes, but that doesn't equate to telling individuals "if you ride for us, you forfeit your inalienable right to medical privacy"

Listing TUE's is hardly a massive invasion of privacy.

Surely, a public list of TUE's such as: 'Rider-X takes a certain drug under a TUE for asthma', or 'Rider-Y has applied a certain cream under a TUE for saddle sores' is not unreasonable given that we are apparently in a new era of clean cycling.

Sky never shut-up about Froome's medical history!

I guessing that if we had full knowledge of current TUE's in issue in the pro peloton we would be shocked by both the number and the recurrence of certain conditions.

posted by daddyELVIS [384 posts]
28th April 2014 - 22:38

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giobox wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
Team transparency, yes, but that doesn't equate to telling individuals "if you ride for us, you forfeit your inalienable right to medical privacy"

Given the sports past, I think it only reasonable that riders are asked to waive that right. Its the only way to restore trust. Fair? Maybe not, but that's the reality of the situation.

Ok, so let's say they waive that right. Rider x takes y substance for control of condition z. You think that would prevent a shadow from forming over that rider? Sorry but we've seen time and again that this isn't the case. Chris Froome's Bilharzia (spelling?), that long-standing virus that was dogging JTL (notwithstanding the wider investigations regarding him, obviously). Rumours abound. Sure, it would be interesting to know, but I really don't think it solves anything.

daddyELVIS wrote:

Listing TUE's is hardly a massive invasion of privacy.

That depends what the TUE is for. Let's take a different tack. How about embarassing medical stuff? Female rider x is taking IVF drugs to help her become pregnant. Do the sport's challenges justify the rest of us knowing that her and her partner can't have kids? This stuff can be a major cause of stress and depression - you really think the rest of us have the right to know? In fact, let's assume we do that. Then some joker posts on the internet that IVF drug x could somehow enhance performance - next thing you know, that rider's stresses are just piling up; can't have kids, needs fertility treatment, AND accused of being a doper! Sorry no, the only people privy to that info, and deciding whether it's performance enhancing (and therefore remove the rider from the racing programme) are the doctors.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2940 posts]
29th April 2014 - 10:09

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There could always be agreement on exclusions, e.g. STD's - but come on, saddle sores, asthma, hay fever, hormonal disorders - I bet these feature heavily in the peloton as conditions requiring TUE's. And it would be telling if these conditions were represented within the peloton to a greater extent than in normal society.

How can any sport be serious about fighting doping if it can't show that the TUE system isn't being abused?

posted by daddyELVIS [384 posts]
29th April 2014 - 10:22

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ratattat wrote:
ColT wrote:
Have Sky issued a statement yet?

Why the fu*k would Sky issue a statement about the use of a legal painkiller ? Do we need a statement when Froome uses a Vic inhaler or takes a paracetamol . Every teams riders will be taking this it won't be just Sky

Alright, calm down, FFS. I asked the question with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek.

Then again, why not issue a statement to confirm/deny/clarify/whatever? Transparency and all that.

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posted by ColT [207 posts]
29th April 2014 - 10:31

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They might do, and I can't say those riders are clean, but you know what? If I sat on a saddle for 5 hours a day, and rode through the countryside a lot when the pollen is high, I might need a. saddle sore cream, and b. hay fever meds. That doesn't mean I'm doping. I'm not saying that other riders aren't doping, I'm saying that we as the public don't get to sit there behind a keyboard and just arbitrarily decide whether a rider is clean or not based on these things. What you're advocating is a massive over-simplification of the medical issues that can affect a person.

Put it another way: Running a country is, I suspect, massively complex. Part of the problem affecting politics is that policiticans want votes, and everything is aired in public for consumption by lowest-common-denominator media like the Daily Mail. This causes the politicos to make stupid decisions based on knee-jerk reactions, easy vote-winners, and no incentive to think beyond the next election. So you take a complex subject, but apply dumbass decisions driven by heckling from the public who understand very little of the issues.

When you ask if particular conditions are over-represented in the peloton, that's statistics. Statistics only work across a dataset. Any individual can be different - cleverer, stronger, weaker, big feet, small thumbs. You can't reasonably apply statistics to assume the worst of anyone who falls outside the norm, or you might as well cry 'witch!' and start burning people at the stake.

As an aside, there was a lot of talk about both (IIRC) Steve Redgrave and Paula Radcliffe - I think they might be diabetic and asthmatic respectively. Thoughts?

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2940 posts]
29th April 2014 - 10:55

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I do a bit of jogging and cycling and ran a lot in my younger days. One running event I went to, the winner was stripped of the title for a banned substance (1992 comrades mararthon) and at the time a medical person said in an interview that if they checked every participant, most of the field would actually be disqualified, typically due to over the counter drugs! Anyway, I never felt my performance ehnanced (even now), but then again I aint no pro!!!!

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posted by Comrade [134 posts]
29th April 2014 - 13:17

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Sky just cant be trusted. In addition to this I have heard that they ride in black to power solar cells that drive a small electric motor to power the cranks. That's why Rapha changed the branding of the material from Fuel Black to Cool Black. This means the electric motors in the crank dont need a battery as this had hampered Cancellara when he was routinely using one...it was to heavy to have a stack of 9v batteries in the seat tube. this is why Sky dont do so well in the Spring classics: not enough sunshine, to much grey Flanderian sky. Come Tour time though and the sunflowers are out and Sky can shoot along. Look at Chris Froome on Ventoux last year (though to be fair he apparently had to switch the power cells to his shorts as was in the yellow jersey). He also apparently powered the electric motor using a dynamo. When he turned the pedals it powered a dynamo that provided electricity that in turn powered the pedals. Thats why he pedals so much faster to escape Quintano, and only does so in a big crowd so people cannot here the whirring. Don't ask me where I got all this information, but let's just say 'I know people'.

posted by brackley88 [69 posts]
29th April 2014 - 13:37

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brackley88 wrote:
S When he turned the pedals it powered a dynamo that provided electricity that in turn powered the pedals.

Rolling On The Floor Love it Rolling On The Floor

posted by 7thGalaxy [39 posts]
29th April 2014 - 14:06

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I don't want to add any fuel to the Team Sky doping suspicions argument, and I really have nothing against the team or how they race, but I have a couple of comments related to this story.

The first is the very premise of "marginal gains" employed by Sky and many other top level teams. Conceptually, they would use the most expansive definition of legal means to improve performance, despite ethical or long-term health risks. Whether it is the (non)homologation of the Olympic time trial bikes or the alleged use of Tramadol, it's all about bending the rules to find better performance. It shouldn't be surprising when these stories break, as pushing legal boundaries is the core of the marginal gains ethos. Heck, even the Garmin doctor looked into the benefits and risks of Tramadol.

Secondly, the PR response by Sky is curiously crafted. In "None of our riders should ride whilst using Tramadol", by using the word "should" instead of "do", it may imply that team riders continue to use Tramadol, just not under direction by the team. My impression is that the PR response was crafted by the legal department to protect the team management and put all of the responsibility for Tramadol use on the riders. Anyway, just my two cents.

posted by isaacrsmith [6 posts]
29th April 2014 - 14:26

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daddyELVIS wrote:
Regarding a statement from Sky whenever Froome uses an inhaler, etc - what I would like to see from the clean, ethical Sky is a full list of all their TUE's - that would go a long way to revealing just how ethical they really are.

The answer to this would be the same as all the other teams; marginally ethical.

Back in the 90s 2 Aussies, Pate and Hall, won the gold and bronze at the world sprint championships, then got done for steroids. Because of the racing format, Fabrice Colas, the French silver medalist, couldn't take the gold, only the silver.

At the time I remember Cycling Weekly say that "in a subsequent interview Colas demonstrated how thin the line in taking illegal drugs was by listing a string of medication he was taking that would have been as beneficial".

I think that thin line is even thinner today than 20 years ago.

posted by Gordy748 [74 posts]
29th April 2014 - 15:25

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ColT wrote:
ratattat wrote:
ColT wrote:
Have Sky issued a statement yet?

Why the fu*k would Sky issue a statement about the use of a legal painkiller ? Do we need a statement when Froome uses a Vic inhaler or takes a paracetamol . Every teams riders will be taking this it won't be just Sky

Alright, calm down, FFS. I asked the question with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek.

Then again, why not issue a statement to confirm/deny/clarify/whatever? Transparency and all that.

As it happens they did..

posted by ratattat [30 posts]
29th April 2014 - 16:35

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What a shame - no more inane smiling as Sky drags a resentful group up those long long climbs . . .

Sudor

posted by Sudor [179 posts]
30th April 2014 - 9:25

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I cant be bothered to trawl through all these comments so would just like to ask if anyone has mentioned caffeine yet?
A very powerful stimulant and performance enhancer but perfectly legal and one that probably each and everyone of us uses on a daily basis.
If caffeine landed from outer space tomorrow i am sure it would be banned. Its probably no more or less 'dangerous' than Tramadol

posted by Some Fella [717 posts]
30th April 2014 - 10:21

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ratattat wrote:
ColT wrote:
ratattat wrote:
ColT wrote:
Have Sky issued a statement yet?

Why the fu*k would Sky issue a statement about the use of a legal painkiller ? Do we need a statement when Froome uses a Vic inhaler or takes a paracetamol . Every teams riders will be taking this it won't be just Sky

Alright, calm down, FFS. I asked the question with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek.

Then again, why not issue a statement to confirm/deny/clarify/whatever? Transparency and all that.

As it happens they did..

Indeed. Now, why the fu*k would they have done that? Wink

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posted by ColT [207 posts]
30th April 2014 - 10:32

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Do you think if I broke out the co-codamol on the chainy it wouldn't hurt so much?

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1029 posts]
30th April 2014 - 14:31

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Some Fella wrote:
I cant be bothered to trawl through all these comments so would just like to ask if anyone has mentioned caffeine yet?
A very powerful stimulant and performance enhancer but perfectly legal and one that probably each and everyone of us uses on a daily basis.
If caffeine landed from outer space tomorrow i am sure it would be banned. Its probably no more or less 'dangerous' than Tramadol

Perhaps you should have read the article:

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

“The effects are noticeable very quickly. Tramadol made me feel euphoric, but it’s also very hard to focus.

And you're not suppose to drive or operate heavy machinery whilst taking it.

posted by kie7077 [425 posts]
1st May 2014 - 10:00

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On the subject of caffiene - I think it's banned over certain quantities by the UCI isn't it? Might be wrong but I'm sure I heard that recently.

I can has espresso. I can not has three. Kiss(

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posted by mooleur [542 posts]
1st May 2014 - 10:06

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mooleur wrote:
On the subject of caffiene - I think it's banned over certain quantities by the UCI isn't it? Might be wrong but I'm sure I heard that recently.

I can has espresso. I can not has three. Kiss(

It used to be up until about about 6-7 years ago I think, not anymore though.

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posted by stuke [302 posts]
1st May 2014 - 10:45

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stuke wrote:
mooleur wrote:
On the subject of caffiene - I think it's banned over certain quantities by the UCI isn't it? Might be wrong but I'm sure I heard that recently.

I can has espresso. I can not has three. Kiss(

It used to be up until about about 6-7 years ago I think, not anymore though.

AHHH sweeeet *nails the second espresso* Big Grin

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Manx nerd peddler ~ http://mooleur.blogspot.com

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posted by mooleur [542 posts]
1st May 2014 - 12:21

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I am stunned that this drug is not on banned list! I have worked here in Ulster with Addict services & Tramadol has long been a problem !! Thinking !!

Alex7

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posted by Baldy1alex [42 posts]
1st May 2014 - 17:41

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