The UCI has confirmed that the powerful painkiller tramadol is to be banned in competition on medical grounds from 1 March, and has outlined the penalties that will apply for those caught using it after that date.
World cycling’s governing body cited figures from a 2017 survey by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that highlighted the widespread use of the drug within cycling in particular.
According to WADA, 4.4 per cent of in-competition tests on cyclists that year showed the use of tramadol, while across 35 Olympic sports cyclists accounted 68 per cent of urine samples found to contain the drug.
Concerns about the use of tramadol surround rider safety, and in particular the heightened risk of crashes due to the drug’s side effects of nausea, drowsiness and loss of concentration, as well as possible addiction.
While WADA does not ban tramadol, teams that are members of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) undertake not to use it in competition.
Team Sky, which is not a member of the MPCC, said in 2014 that its policy was that its riders should not use tramadol in racing or training, in response to claims from former rider Michael Barry that he had used the drug while with the team.
Under the UCI’s ban, which applies across all cycling disciplines, samples will be collected using blood from the rider’s fingertip through a non-invasive procedure. Avoiding a test will be treated as a positive test.
The UCI said: “Dried blood droplets will be collected for presence of tramadol, using a high-precision analysis technique. Positive or negative results will depend on the presence or absence of the substance in the blood (there is no threshold). The analysis will be carried out in a reference laboratory, with the results sent to the UCI Medical Director within a maximum of 4-5 days.”
First-time offenders will be disqualified from the event the sample was collected at, plus a fine of 1,000 Swiss Francs, rising to 5,000 Swiss Francs for members of UCI-registered teams.
A second offence will result in disqualification from the event plus a five-month suspension, and a further offence will attract a nine-month suspension.
UCI-registered teams with two riders found to have taken tramadol within a 12-month period will be fined 10,000 Swiss Francs, and a further offence within the same period would see the team suspended for between 1 and 12 months.
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