The use of painkillers in sport is a controversial subject. Chief amoung the substances abused in cycling for many years is tramadol. Many have called for it to be added to WADA’s banned substance list though it remains a monitored substance. The UCI has finally taken a stand and as of March 1, tramadol will be banned in competition.

Tramadol is a painkiller in the synthetic opioid category which has been widely used and perhaps abused in cycling. Some cyclists have been widely critical of the substance while their peers continued to abuse it.

The findings of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s monitoring programme in 2017 showed that over four per cent of in-competition tests on cyclists showed the use of tramadol. The use of the substance was particularly severe in cycling as compared to other sports. When samples from athletes in 35 Olympic sports were tested, 68 per cent of urine samples containing tramadol were from cyclists.

While there’s a wide range of reasons cyclists could need to use a painkiller following a crash or injury, the side effects of the substance can be particularly dangerous for cyclists who frequently hit speeds upwards of 60 km/h in the final of races. Apart from the risk of a growing dependence on the substance leading to addiction, side effects of tramadol include nausea, drowsiness and loss of concentration all which could contribute to more dangerous races.

In June, the UCI Management Committee decided the risks associated with tramadol’s use in competitive cycling warranted it being banned from competition. The UCI explained, “the ban is aimed at preserving the rider’s health and safety in light of the side-effects of tramadol, across all disciplines and categories.”

Athletes have been informed by the UCI that tests will be conducted at registered races on the national and international calendar. A blood sample for the test will be collected from a pinprick on the athlete’s finger. There is no threshold for the substance. Instead after an analysis, the sample will either be deemed negative or positive for tramadol.

At the first positive test a ride would be disqualified from the event and incure a fine of CHF5,000 if they are a member of the UCI-registered team or CHF1,000 if they are not. The second positive test will result in disqualification from the event and a five-month ban. Any further positive tests would result in a nine-month suspension.

Furthermore, teams will be responsible for educating and preventing their athletes from abusing the substance. If two riders from the same UCI registered team test positive in a 12-month period the team will be fined CHF10,000. Further offences in the same 12-month period would result in the UCI suspending the team for anywhere from one to 12 months as determined by the UCI Disciplinary Commission.

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