With the use of grey area performance-enhancing substances in the news after the leak of Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) data from WADA, including details of corticosteroid injections by Bradley Wiggins, the spotlight is on other such substances.
One of the most contentious is the painkiller Tramadol, which is a potent painkiller. It is currently not banned, although it has been on WADA’s monitored list for several years.
It has serious side effects, including seizures, decreased alertness and drug addiction. Anecdotal reports suggest that it may be a factor in numerous crashes in the pro peloton.
Four year ago American rider Taylor Phinney spoke to this writer about Tramadol and other powerful painkillers, and expressed concerns along those lines.
“Some people find it surprising that riders would take pain killers or caffeine pills in races, but it is actually really, really common,” he said in October 2012.
“You see so many late-race stupid crashes that I almost wouldn’t be surprised if some or most of those crashes are caused by people taking these hard-hitting painkillers at the end of races.
“There is widespread use of finish bottles, which are just bottles of crushed up caffeine pills and painkillers. That stuff can make you pretty loopy, and that is why I have never tried it. I don’t even want to try it as I feel it dangerous.
“Another issue is taking something for an improvement, getting into that mentality. You have to ask why are you taking a painkiller? You are doing that to mask effects that riding a bike is going to have on your body…essentially, you are taking a painkiller to enhance your performance.
“But the whole reason we get into sport in the first place is to test our bodies, to test our limits. If you are taking something that is going to boost your performance, that is not exactly being true to yourself, not exactly being true to your sport.”
Last Autumn UCI president Brian Cookson told CyclingTips that the ongoing inaction by WADA on the substance was vexing.
“This is very frustrating for us, and this is something that I have asked our legal people to look at,” he said then.
“We are pretty clear that this is something that is being abused. It is years now, it goes back before my time, my predecessors asked WADA to look at this. It has been on the watch list for all that time. They looked at it again this year and have concluded that there is still not sufficient evidence to put it on the [banned] list.
“That is very frustrating for us and we are going to look at it again with WADA. But as of now, it is still not on the proscribed list.”
Cookson and the UCI planned to look into their rules to determine if the governing body could introduce its own ban.
Almost a year on, it appears that this is not a runner. When asked for an update on the situation, a UCI spokesman said that the governing body was instead pushing WADA to tackle the issue.
“In March 2011 the UCI formally requested that WADA consider adding Tramadol to the List of Prohibited Substances,” he stated.
“As a consequence of the UCI’s initial request, Tramadol was added to the WADA Monitoring List in 2012. In 2015, the UCI expressly reiterated its request to WADA to include Tramadol on the Prohibited List. WADA decided to maintain it on the Monitoring List.
“This year again, we’ve reiterated our request to have Tramadol banned in-competition. Along with CADF [the UCI-linked Cycling Anti-Doping Federation – ed.], we are currently lobbying to have Tramadol included on the Prohibited List. WADA should publish its decision and the 2017 List in the coming weeks.”