The Bahrain Victorious team have shrugged off suggestions that hair testing on three of their riders searched by French police during the Tour de France have discovered traces of the powerful muscle relaxant Tizanidine.
French researchers revealed details of the hair testing in a document published in the Wiley Analytical Science Journal by Pascal Kintz, Laurie Gheddar, and Jean-Sébastien Raul.
The researchers explained that French investigators specifically asked them to create a hair test for Tizanidine, “based on suspicion as numerous boxes of tizanidine were found in the room of the medical doctor of the team.”
The substance is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The research document, seen by Cyclingnews, does not identify the Bahrain Victorious team or name the three riders.
The document says: “During an international three-week cyclist race in France, a special public health division of the police controlled a whole team. In addition to the control of the rooms and the medical devices and products by the police, a trained forensic pathologist was requested to collect head hair specimens from seven cyclists.”
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Bahrain Victorious confirmed to Cyclingnews at the time that the team was searched after stage 17 of the Tour de France. Sonny Colbrelli confirmed to Italian media during the race that he gave a hair sample.
A statement from the Marseille prosecutor's office at the time said the investigation concerned the possible “acquisition, transportation, possession and importing of a prohibited substance or method for use by an athlete without justification by members of Team Bahrain Victorious.
L'Equipe reported that, while objects such as mobile phones were seized, nobody was immediately placed under formal investigation, though Bahrain Victorious team doctor Marjan Korsic faced formal questioning at the end of the Tour de France.
Tizanidine, also known by the Sirdalud and Zanaflex brand names, is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency but the research document says it is not available in pharmacies and can only be ordered via hospital services.
The researchers write that Tizanidine “can be used alone or in combination for the management of pain in case of tension headache, acute low back pain, chronic pain associated with cerebral palsy, or acute postoperative pain. It has recently gained recognition in the treatment of opioid withdrawal.”
The document said levels of 1.1, 3.7, and 11.1 pg/mg of Tizanidine were found in three hair samples.
Possible side effects include dizziness, hallucinations, strange dreams, depression, increased muscle spasms, and a tingling sensation in the arms, legs, hands, and feet.
In 2019 the UCI banned the use of Tramadol painkiller, going beyond the WADA code after reports the opioid was used in races by a number of teams.
According to a doping expert contacted by the Tribune de Geneve, who wished to remain anonymous, athletes have been using Tizanidine for a long time, possibly off-label, to help ease muscle pain.
“Over a three-week race. recovery plays a key role. After a few days, after having driven 180 km each day, cyclists find it difficult to fall asleep, due to their muscles being too tight. This could be an explanation for the presence of Tizanidine in the team pharmacy,” the doping expert is reported as saying.
Bahrain Victorious continued in the Tour de France after the police raid, with Matej Mohorič winning stage 19 and claiming the riders had been “searched like criminals” but they “had nothing to hide.”
Immediately after the police raid team manager Milan Erzen told Cyclingnews: "They disturb riders for one hour and at the end, they said thank you. They didn’t tell us what’s the reason of visit.”
Erzen shrugged off the report that traces of Tizanidine were found in the hair of three of his riders. “What’s that? We are not using this. Never heard about that.” he told Cyclingnews in an initial message.
He later said: “Our Team and/or our Riders have not been officially or unofficially notified about any such findings. Therefore, the Team has no comment on it.”
On Friday, Bahrain Victorious released an official statement, suggesting they have suffered reputation harm as a result of the study's publication, and could take legal action.
"Team Bahrain Victorious and any of its Riders have not been officially or unofficially notified about any findings related to tizanidine or other substances," read the statement. "The Team would like to stress that the authors of the scientific article to which all allegations refer have unambiguously pointed out that tizanidine is not a prohibited substance in sport.
"The Team is consulting legal advice about the nature in which this information was published during an ongoing investigation without the Team being notified which has impacted the Team’s reputation. At this moment, the Team has no further comments."
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