WADA set to investigate drug found in the hair of three cyclists at 2021 Tour de France: 'We are entitled to ask certain questions'

The riders carried traces of tizanidine, a drug used to treat multiple sclerosis

WADA tizanidine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Olivier Rabin, scientific director of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has confirmed the organisation will study the effects of the drug, tizanidine.

Tizanidine is a medication used to treat muscle spasticity due to spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis. It is therefore used to relax muscles, but the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists is still not entirely sure how the drug works. 

Officials found the drug during a raid at a team hotel and in the hair of three cyclists at the 2021 Tour de France; researchers from the Institute of Forensic Medicine published a report having tested the hair samples of seven riders.

Shortly after a report was published, Team Bahrain-Merida published a statement, noting: “Team Bahrain Victorious and any of its riders have not been officially or unofficially notified about any findings related to tizanidine or other substances.

“The team would like to stress that the authors of the scientific article to which all allegations refer have unambiguously pointed out that tizanidine is not a prohibited substance in sport."

WADA doesn't yet know how tizanidine might be used by cyclists, which is why the organisation will inspect the drug further. 

Rabin told L'Equipe: "It is not a substance considered to be prohibited at this time. That said, in view of the latest events, we have put it on the agenda of the 'list committee' for the month of January.

"We do not know this substance too well because it is used for therapeutic purposes. What is interesting by looking at his profile is that we can legitimately ask ourselves the question of what could be the use for doping purposes. 

"In the profile of tizanidine, except when there is an excess of muscle tone, as can be seen in certain degenerative pathologies, one can ask the question of its use. An effect on a normal muscle seems inconclusive."

Rabin continues, suggesting the side effects of the drug will inhibit sports performance. He argues people with normal muscle shouldn't need to use the drug, with dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations, vomiting and stomach pain, to name a few, all side effects.

The investigation into tizanidine will help determine the safety of the drug for riders, regardless if it is banned or not, adding that it is imperative WADA conducts an investigation into tizanidine. 

"We must not overlook the fact that some people who have to help athletes perform at a higher level are subject to certain pressures to try to find solutions to bring about new things, without there being any scientific rationality behind them. 

"But, quite honestly, sometimes substances can jump out at us and we include them very quickly. As much on tizanidine, we are entitled to ask certain questions."

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