World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate Tizanidine drug discovered at Tour de France

Tour de France 2021 - 108th Edition - 21th stage Chatou - Paris Champs Elysees 108,4 km - 18/07/2021 - Scenery - photo Jan De Meuleneir/PN/BettiniPhoto©2021
The men's peloton in Paris at the 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will study the effects of Tizanidine, the drug allegedly discovered in a team hotel during the 2021 Tour de France and tested for in hair samples by researchers in Strasbourg on behalf of French police.  

Tizanidine, also known as Zanaflex or Sirdalud, is not a banned substance and no further information of the French police investigation has emerged since experts from the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Strasbourg revealed how they created a Tizanidine hair test. In a research paper they said they had discovered the drug in three of seven samples taken at the “international three-week cyclist race in France.”

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." 

Bahrain Victorious team confirmed their riders had been searched and their hair tested at the time but claimed they had been damaged by reports of the search for Tizanidine in hair samples.   

"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 team’s statement last October

"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.”

However, investigations will now be done into why professional athletes could be tempted to use Tizanidine. There are suspicions athletes use the drug off-label to help ease muscle pain.    

"It is not a substance considered to be prohibited at this time. That said, in view of the latest events, we have put it on the agenda of the 'list committee' for the month of January,” Olivier Rabin, the  scientific director of WADA, was reported as saying by French newspaper L’Equipe

"We do not know this substance too well because it is used for therapeutic purposes. By looking at its profile we can legitimately ask ourselves the question of what the doping purposes could be.” 

Rabin suggested athletes could use Tizanidine for side-effect benefits but warned that other side effects could influence performance. Tizanidine is designed to treat muscle spasticity perhaps from spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis. Side effects can include dizziness, hallucinations, vomiting and stomach pain. 

"We mustn't overlook the fact that some of the people who help athletes perform at a higher level are subject to pressure to try to find solutions, to bring about new things, without there being any scientific rationality behind them,” Rabin explained. 

“We want to have a 360 degree view, including what could be a doping use. We look at the pharmacy-safety files of molecules where the doses are higher, where the side effects are exacerbated, because we have sometimes seen that the side effects of a drug could be sought for doping purposes. And that allows us to reflect on a substance. Today, this work is in progress. We’ll discuss it with the expert committee.”

WADA regularly updates its list of banned substances and carries out research into new drugs and medicines to help the fight against doping in sport. 

“Sometimes substances can jump out at us and we include them very quickly. Regarding Tizanidine, we are entitled to ask certain questions,” he concluded. 

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.