The UCI has confirmed that its proposed ban of the painkiller tramadol will come into effect on March 1. The governing body also detailed the punishments to be handed out if a rider tests positive, with penalties ranging from CHF 5,000 for a first offence to a nine-month suspension for a third offence.
In June of last year, the UCI announced its intention to ban tramadol from 2019, but later said that the measure was not likely to come into force until March.
Tramadol has been a hot topic in cycling for the best part of a decade and many have called for it to be put on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned list. It is currently on the monitored list – where it has been since 2012 – and WADA has toyed with the idea of banning it but has not yet taken that step. WADA has previously stated it is happy with the UCI banning tramadol independently of the WADA code.
A study of WADA's 2017 Monitoring Report data last year found that between 71 and 82 per cent of positive results for the painkiller came from cycling. In addition, as many as four per cent of all doping controls from within the sport showed traces of the substance.
Tramadol is an opioid pain medication and has side-effects that have the potential to cause crashes during races. It is for safety, then, that the UCI has chosen to ban it from the peloton, rather than for any performance-enhancing qualities it might have.
"The use of tramadol can have two types of side-effect: nausea, drowsiness and loss of concentration (increasing the risk of race crashes), and gradual dependence on the substance with a risk of developing an addiction," read a statement from the UCI. "Tramadol is available on prescription but is also freely available on the internet, which increases the risk of uncontrolled self-medication.
"In light of the risks associated with its use in competitive cycling, and in accordance with the UCI Management Committee decision of June 2018, the UCI Medical Regulations will ban in-competition use of tramadol."
The UCI confirmed that the tests would be carried out during competition, but not necessarily as part of the usual post-race anti-doping procedures. The test will be done by taking a small amount of blood from the rider’s fingertip, which will be sent off to a laboratory for analysis. Results will then be sent to the UCI’s medical director within four to five days.
There is no lower threshold for the amount of tramadol a rider can have in their system, so any amount will be considered a positive test.
Both riders and teams will be punished for any positive tests. For a first offence, a rider will be disqualified from the race they are competing in and will be given a CHF 5,000 fine. Those not registered with a UCI team will receive a CHF 1,000 fine.
A second offence will see a rider disqualified and handed a five-month suspension. Any further offences will result in a rider receiving a nine-month ban.
For teams, if two riders test positive within a 12-month period, they will be fined CHF 10,000. An additional offence within that same period will result in a team-wide ban of anywhere between one to 12 months.