Riders face disqualification, bans and suspension for using tramadol in competition as UCI bans painkiller

The UCI is banning the substance despite anti-doping authorities permitting its use

The UCI will ban tramadol from March 1 (Picture: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
(Image credit: TNS via Getty Images)

Pro riders taking the painkiller tramadol face disqualification from races, fines and even suspension by the UCI.

The synthetic opioid has previously been permitted under anti-doping rules, but cycling’s governing body is now implementing its own in-competition ban to protect riders.

Tramadol is frequently used by riders, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), but the UCI has unilaterally opted to ban the substance from March 1.

The UCI said: “From March 1, 2019, in-competition use of tramadol will be banned across all disciplines.

“This new regulation, which is being introduced for medical reasons, allows for penalties to be imposed if the rules are broken.”

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Some riders use tramadol, a painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain, to improve their performance on the bike.

An experiment conducted by university academics found that riders’ power output was higher when taking the painkiller.

But use of the drug has raised concerns over rider safety, as side effects include drowsiness and loss of concentration which could cause crashes in the tightly-packed peloton.

Tramadol users also face gradual dependence on the substance with the risk of developing addiction.

The drug is not included on WADA’s list of prohibited substances, despite calls for it to be banned.

WADA says it is not convinced tramadol has performance-enhancing benefit, but that it could be banned in the coming years.

Instead tramadol is listed on the WADA Monitoring List, where it has remained since 2012.

According to a WADA study carried out in 2017, 4.4 per cent of in-competition tests on cyclists showed the used of tramadol, while 68 per cent of urine samples taken from 35 Olympic sports that contained the drug were taken from cyclists.

From March 1, the UCI will ban tramadol from all cycling disciplines.

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Any rider taking part in an event registered on a national or international calendar may be selected to provide a blood sample for tramadol.

Samples are likely to be taken at the end of a race, with testers taking a small blood sample from the rider’s fingertip.

Avoiding a tramadol test will be treated as a positive test.

A rider committing their first tramadol offence will be disqualified from the event and fined 5,000 Swiss Francs (around £4,000) if they are a member of a UCI-registered team.

A second positive tramadol test will result in disqualification and a five-month suspension and a third offence will result in a nine-month ban.

If two riders belonging to the same UCI-registered team test positive for tramadol within 12 months, the team will be fined 10,000 Swiss Francs (£7900).

A further offence within that same year will lead to the team being suspended for between one to 12 months.

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.