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Speaking out against the still-legal use of powerful painkillers in the pro peloton, Lotto-Soudal doctor Jan Mathieu has said that more needs to be done to try to stamp out the use of tramadol in the sport.
Mathieu’s team is part of the MPCC anti-doping organisation. It has regulations against the use of tramadol, with teams committing on a voluntary basis not to use the substance. While it is less than certain if all the teams do follow through on that commitment – WADA tests for it, but doesn’t currently ban it, and so ‘positives’ are not declared – the collective stance of the MPCC makes it more likely that the painkiller will eventually be blocked.
In October 2013 it made a formal request to the agency to bring about such a rule change.
“Tramadol is on WADA’s monitoring list, therefore it is being closely followed,” said Mathieu in a MPCC video. “I know in Belgium it is a very monitored medication. We saw the riders using it out of competition and now they are used to taking the substance on a daily basis. This is not good at all.
“This year I went on Belgian TV in order to explain it but the non-MPCC teams disagree with us on that point. That medication is hazardous to the athlete’s concentration and to the brain’s functions. For example, you ride in the bunch, you want to go through a tiny gap and it increases the risk of a crash for everyone.”
While the use of tramadol has long been highlighted as problematic, WADA has held off on banning it. As a result the UCI is also compelled to follow the same line. The MPCC and Mathieu hope that this will change in the future but, in the meantime, he would like to see pressure increased on teams who do not sign up to the voluntary commitment to ride without the pills.
“We say: no, this is not okay,” said Mathieu, referring to the possibility that some teams are gaining a dangerous edge. “We must no longer work on our own. We are all together in saying no to these medications and this is a good thing. I think we still have to do more on these matters, to speak between us on things like this.”
The MPCC comprises 11 out of the current 17 World Tour teams. Sky, BMC Racing Team, Trek Factory Racing, Etixx-QuickStep, Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo are the top teams who have thus far not joined.
The membership also includes all of the Pro Continental squads – with the exception of the Southeast Pro Cycling Team, which is suspended – plus 32 Continental teams and eight women’s squads.