Martin and Pinot raise eyebrows over doping grey areas

Martin argues that the doping line can be crossed simply by taking an aspirin when you don't need one.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

In a display of sporting dominance that makes Tadej Pogačar’s successful career look like a flash in the pan, tennis’ Rafal Nadal extended his French Open record to 112 wins and only 3 losses as he wrapped up a 14th title.

After his victory it was revealed Nadal had required anaesthetic injections throughout the tournament in order to numb chronic foot pain caused by the rare degenerative disease Mueller-Weiss syndrome that the Spaniard suffers from. So effective are these legal injections that the 36-year-old said he couldn’t feel his foot during the two weeks of competition.

“How many injections did you have during the tournament?” Eurosport asked Nadal after the final.

“It’s better that you don’t know,” Nadal replied, laughing.

“Today’s heroes…” Thibaut Pinot commented on this exchange. The French climber an expert by now in pain affecting his sporting performance.

Anaesthetic injections are completely legal in tennis but, as Pinot’s compatriot Guillaume Martin pointed out to L’Équipe, would be illegal in cycling.

“If a cyclist does the same thing, it’s already forbidden, but even if it weren’t, everyone would fall on him calling him doped because there is such a cultural background, such connotations attached to the bike,” Martin, who recently finished 14th overall at the Giro d’Italia, told the French newspaper, pointing to not only the difference in regulation but also in perception between sports. 

“While people praise Nadal for being able to go this far in pain. I believe that [footballer] Zlatan Ibrahimovic also spoke about his knee injections. They pass for heroes because they go far in pain, but in fact, they use substances to go far in pain and again, it’s very borderline. The winner on the bike, in particular that of the Tour de France, even if there is no element behind it, he is systematically accused of doping.”

“Tennis, for example, has quite similar parameters with cycling, it’s an endurance sport with accelerations, so I think the same products can have a doping effect. In that case, I don’t see why there would be different regulations. There is a part of endurance in tennis, in football, and anyway, there have been proven cases of doping in these sports, so there was an interest. The MPCC publishes statistics quite regularly and in terms of the number of positive athletes compared to the number of tests, cycling comes far behind many other sports.”

Both Martin and Pinot belong to teams (Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ) who are MPCC members, the Movement for Credible Cycling, a union created to defend the idea of clean cycling, where teams sign up to follow a strict code of ethics that goes further than what is legally permitted in terms of performance enhancement.

Martin, who holds a master’s degree in philosophy, was asked in the same interview about whether there can be a definition of doping that goes beyond what current regulations permit.

“This is a great question, which I have often asked myself,” Martin begins. “The UCI anti-doping regulations, for me are a minimum. There are plenty of things that are allowed and that I forbid myself. It’s the whole question of grey areas, the use of certain drugs that are normally used to treat cancers, multiple sclerosis for example. I don’t see myself taking this kind of thing to be a better cyclist. Yet it is allowed. The anti-doping agencies are always behind the times, so I don’t think you have to wait for them to position themselves to adopt their own positions. It is up to everyone to build their own ethics. I accept that sometimes my results are less good because I follow this ethic, but nevertheless I remain consistent with myself and I am satisfied with that.”

“To say that the limit is between what is prohibited and authorised, that does not seem to me the right criterion,” Martin continues of where the doping line sits. “So it’s more a question of personal ethics, say do I need to take paracetamol to do a bike race? What’s the meaning of all this? For me, it loses all meaning if we start using substances.”

“We as cyclists have no right to take anything,” Trek-Segafredo’s Kenny Elissonde added to RMC Sport. “That is the way to go. If we are injured we take a little rest and we go to the next race. The rules are clear and it’s for the best, otherwise we enter the grey zone.”

“For you, doping can start with taking an aspirin when it’s not necessary to take one?” L’Équipe’s interviewer asks Martin.

“Yes,” he replies. “The process of telling myself that I am going to take a pill to be better, that bothers me.”

Editors' Picks