Luca Paolini's addiction to sleeping medication indirectly led to the Italian's cocaine positive at Tour de France
- Katusha doctors eventually refused to give him sleeping drug
- Paolini would drink 'five or six' cups of coffee before breakfast to wake up

Luca Paolini’s sleeping medication addition was a known problem in team Katusha, says team doctor Massimo Besnati. The Italian rider took greater amounts to sleep at night and drank more and more coffee to wake in the morning before a cocaine positive test the Tour de France stopped him this July.

The 38-year-old Italian explained yesterday in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper that he was addicted to Benzodiazepine drops, but now has recovered thanks in part to the Tour anti-doping test.

“Lormetazepam, the principle ingredient among all Benzodiazepines, is what brings on dependency,” Besnati told the newspaper today. “You start with 10 drops, then 15, 20, 30… You arrive at 100. If you try to stop, like all drugs, you have withdrawal symptoms.

“Yes, I knew. I knew this was his dependency. I told him he couldn’t go on this way. He also spoke about it with the people close to him. I wouldn’t give him prescriptions anymore, but he’d find a way to obtain it anyway.”

>>> Luca Paolini tests positive for cocaine at the Tour de France

Paolini raced since 2000, when he joined Mapei. Since 2011, he raced in team Katusha’s red colours where he helped Joaquím Rodríguez and Alexander Kristoff and won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Ghent-Wevelgem.

Luca Paolini before stage two of the 2015 3-Days of De Panne

Luca Paolini admits that he has been taking sleeping drugs since 2004

He failed an anti-doping test for cocaine at the Tour on July 7 and was ejected after the seventh stage, July 10, to Fougères. He said the cocaine test led him to seek help for his sleeping medication problem.

“Then came cocaine. It was inevitable for me,” said Paolini. “I took it when I was alone at a pre-Tour training camp in mid-June. It made me open my eyes to the dependency I had on sleeping medication.”

>>> Luca Paolini apologises for cocaine positive at Tour de France

“Benzodiazepine created a bad dependency. I needed it at night to rest, to confront the physical and mental effort of the next day. I started in 2004 when my brother-in-law died. I took it, I stopped, I took it again. In the last two to three years, I always used it, at home and at the races. I was dependent. The drops are never enough.”

The drug is not prohibited and Paolini explained he purchased it with a prescription.


Watch: Best of the 2015 Tour de France


“With coffee [he would try to hide the drug’s effect]. He would take his machine with him to races, drink five to six cups before coming down to breakfast. This helped fight the drowsiness that all the sleeping drugs leave. But he always had to up the doses, like a cat chasing his tail.”

Paolini added, “The doctors would ask how it’s possible to race.” Besnati said today, “We would all ask.”

Paolini went to a dependency clinic in Verona for help for two weeks in August and explained that he is “calm and balanced” now. He is waiting for a new trial with the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal, which had offered him two-year ban instead of four years that he did not accept.

  • Stevo

    What an average human being would feel is beside the point. I know of two former riders who, in the late 1990s, regularly took huge doses of Stilnox. It enabled them to sleep well and feel and perform better the next day than they would have if they hadn’t taken it.

  • Rich Wake

    That’s going into the realms of bed doping, which is laughable and ridiculous.
    Also the amounts he was taking would probably make your average human feel sick for days

  • Stevo

    I would question whether it is detrimental to performance, since one of the reasons the riders were taking the stuff was so that they could get a good night’s sleep despite the stress of racing and training day in, day out.

  • Nigel Rue

    What you say is very true, and that is why the punishments for drug talking need a serious review.
    If the drugs are not performance enhancing, then perhaps a slap on the wrist and some help is appropriate. If it’s something like EPO, something that gives a boost while you are using it but gives no long term benefit when you stop. A longer sanction would be in order. The longest punishment should go to those talking substances that give a benefit for years afterwards.
    Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to happen.

  • Rich Wake

    Mostly since its a detrimental drug to performance, it less about doping and more the sad case of addiction.

    But if the guy was racing with enough sleeping drops to tranquilize a hippo, imagine how he’ll be clean ^.^

  • Nigel Rue

    Great. For once we have considered comments instead of the normal “burn the doper” histrionics.

  • Andrew Bairsto

    It really shows what tremendous pressure pro cyclists are under all the time its unlike most sports they are on the go almost everyday of the year.

  • Ciaran Carroll

    I’m gonna miss Paolini popping up when his teammates need him. A great cyclist