Francesca Rossi, the director of the Cycling Anti-Doping Commission (CADF), has called on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to ban the strong painkiller Tramadol in competition for 2016, but WADA has opted to keep the substance on its monitoring list for the coming year.
Rossi revealed that a large number of riders in the professional peloton are using Tramadol. "One statistic says that in cycling, if Tramadol was banned, there would be 675 [positive] cases, 5.2 per cent compared to other sports. An enormous figure. I think there is a clear abuse," she said to an assembly of cycling doctors in Faenza, Italy.
The prevalence of the drug's use in the sport highlights one of cycling's doping gray areas. While riders such as Taylor Phinney have vowed to be pill-free, the use of pharmaceuticals to enhance performance continues in the peloton. Even if the drugs are not technically illegal, many feel their use violates the spirit of the anti-doping movement.
Tramadol use in particular is on the edge of ethical: it is an opioid that can mask the pain caused by injury, but it can also numb riders to the pain of extreme physical effort.
There are down sides to its use, however. While it has fewer side effects than some other strong painkillers, it can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Thought to be not as addictive as other opioids, it can still cause withdrawal symptoms such as depression, insomnia, mood swings and tremors.
Because of the myriad dangers of this drug, members of the MPCC teams agreed not to use Tramadol two years ago, and Cannondale-Garmin doctor Prentice Steffen shied away from using it unless it was for a painful injury. The serious nature of the drug's use (and abuse) was highlighted when former rider Michael Barry described its effects: Barry told The Times that "Tramadol made me feel euphoric, but it’s also hard to focus. It kills the pain in your legs, and you can push really hard.”
Team Sky has since said none of its riders should use the drug in competition.