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UCI concerned new drug "ten times more powerful than tramadol" could be used by professional cyclists to mask fatigue during races, report suggests

The governing body has reportedly already told representatives of pro cycling teams of its "concerns about a new substance", the "very powerful" painkiller usually prescribed in cases of severe osteoarthritis and bone cancer...

The UCI is reportedly worried about the possibility of a powerful new painkiller making its way into pro races, with riders and teams having been warned of the governing body's "concerns" about the drug "ten times more powerful than tramadol".

Le Temps broke the story yesterday evening, reporting that tapentadol — a "very powerful" painkiller used to treat extreme pain, often in cases of severe osteoarthritis or bone cancer — could be one of the UCI's current main doping concerns.

> Miguel Ángel López handed four-year doping ban for "use and possession" of human growth hormone during 2022 Giro d'Italia

The Swiss newspaper reports the UCI's concerns about its potential use in races has been simmering for the past few months, the governing body obtaining permission from the World-Anti Doping Agency (WADA) to place it on its monitoring programme at the end of 2023, ahead of a possible future ban.

However, taking proactive action at a meeting last month, it is believed the UCI has alerted representatives of riders, teams and organisers of the situation, Le Temps reporting that: "The UCI expresses its concerns about a new substance which could be used to replace tramadol, called tapentadol. Further analysis needs to be carried out but, if [this substance] is used, it is presented as being ten times more powerful than tramadol."

The Movement for Credible Cycling has urged the authorities to introduce a ban on the substance, the very powerful painkilling abilities making it a potentially attractive shortcut for any riders inclined to use drugs to mask fatigue during races.

It is feared, on top of the moral question about improving performance through these means, that tapentadol may cause "very common" side effects such as a reduction in alertness, as well as dizziness and drowsiness, raising concerns about crashes. It was introduced by German pharmaceutical giant Grünenthal in 2011 and is generally used in a medical context in cases involving extreme and severe pain, such as for patients of serious osteoarthritis, diabetes or bone cancer.

How much stronger than tramadol the painkiller is remains up for debate, the UCI landing on a figure of "ten times more" powerful, however a 2012 study published in Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy suggested it may be "two to five times more powerful" than tramadol.

"Athletes in good health do not need to use therapeutic products of this nature," Roger Legeay, the MPCC's president, told the Swiss news website. "In addition, it should be noted that an analgesic reduces or eliminates pain, which is a factor in improving performance. It took us twelve years to obtain a ban on tramadol. This time, we hope that the proceedings will be faster."

Tramadol was banned in 2019 and in the immediate aftermath of that announcement the UCI carried out 143 tests on 117 riders at 11 WorldTour events, all coming back negative.

Nairo Quintana was disqualified from the 2022 Tour de France, losing his sixth place finish, after analyses of two dried blood samples provided by the rider on two dates during the race revealed the presence of tramadol and its two main metabolites.

Nairo Quintana 2022 TDF (Zac Williams/

As infringements of the in-competition ban on using tramadol were offences under the UCI Medical Rules, and it was Quintana's first offence, he was not banned from competition and raced at the World Championships that autumn.

In 2017, retired professional cyclist Michael Barry claimed Team Sky were "not ethical" in terms of administering medication to riders when he was with them. Barry, who admitted doping during his own professional career with the United States Postal Service (USPS) team, said he had concerns about tramadol use.

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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froze | 2 weeks ago

There is an old saying in NASCAR, if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying!

All pro and even amateur sports cheat, even high school kids cheat in sports; there's cheating in academics as well, you can buy term papers and test answers all the way through college; people cheat on their income tax reporting.  Cheating has been going on since the beginning of time, and UCI isn't going to be able to stop it, they'll slow it down, but there is always something new popping up that will fly by the checks until they figure it out, it's a game to see who can get away with something without getting caught.

S.E. | 1 month ago
1 like

It's called medecine... until a new more powerful substance is on the market, then it's called dope.

I'm being sarcastic, but let's be positive, at least they have some tests, which means they are probably cleaner than most other jobs?

chrisonabike | 1 month ago

Cake.  It's a made-up drug.

mdavidford replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago

Apparently lots of cyclists are on it though.

ROOTminus1 replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
1 like

There's no way pro cyclists are on cake, have you seen the size of it? It can't be lightweight or aero

chrisonabike replied to ROOTminus1 | 1 month ago

True - but side effects such as crying out all the water from your body can help in mountain stages.  And a mild case of 'Czech Neck' makes it easier to maintain a deep aero tuck.

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