UCI tramadol ban: All you need to know

From 1 March 2019 the world governing body for sports cycling, the UCI, will be enforcing a new in-competition ban on the use of tramadol across all disciplines, and will begin testing immediately after this date.

Tramadol is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), although it has been on its monitoring programme for several years.

The new ban means any rider taking part in an event run by the UCI may be selected to provide a blood sample for tramadol testing.

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is a strong pain killer, frequently used by cyclists, as shown by the findings of the WADA monitoring programme since 2012.

The 2017 survey showed:

  • 4.4% of in-competition tests on cyclists showed the use of tramadol;

  • 68% of urine samples – taken from across 35 Olympic sports – containing tramadol were from cyclists.

Why has tramadol been banned by UCI?

The UCI has banned tramadol over concerns about a series of negative health effects if taken without correct medical guidance. As stated on the UCI website, these include “nausea, drowsiness and a loss of concentration, increasing the risk of race crashes. It can also cause users to become gradually more dependent on the substance, resulting in the possibility of developing an addiction. Tramadol is available on prescription, but is also freely available on the internet, which increases the risk of uncontrolled self-medication.”

The ban is aimed at preserving the rider's health and safety in light of the side-effects of tramadol, across all disciplines and categories.

What standards of athlete will the UCI be testing?

Any rider taking part in a UCI-registered event may be selected to provide a blood sample for tramadol testing.

What events will the UCI be testing at?

Tramadol testing will be carried out events listed on the UCI international calendar, including national competitions, such as:

  • Tour of Britain
  • Ride London
  • Tour de Yorkshire
  • Tour of Scotland
  • CiCLE Classic
  • Track World Cup
  • BMX Supercross World Cup
  • Road World Championships
  • Tour de France
  • Vuelta a Espana

This list gives an overview of the types of events which will be subject to tramadol testing and is not intended to be exhaustive.

What will the sanction be if I fail a UCI tramadol test?

Sanctions can be handed out on both an individual and a team basis.

The UCI website states:

“A first offence committed by a rider will be penalised with disqualification from the event. In addition, a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs (around £3,851) will be imposed if the rider is a member of a UCI-registered team. In all other cases, the fine will be 1,000 Swiss francs (around £770).

“A second offence will result in disqualification from the event and a five-month suspension. If a further offence is committed, a nine-month suspension will be imposed.

“If two riders belonging to the same UCI-registered team commit an offence within a period of 12 months, the team will be fined 10,000 Swiss francs (around £7,702). If a further offence is committed within the same 12-month period, the team will be suspended for a period of 1 to 12 months, to be determined by the UCI Disciplinary Commission.” 

Will I get charged with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) if I fail a tramadol test?

No. Tramadol is not on the WADA Prohibited List and so you cannot currently be charged with an ADRV if you are found to have tramadol in your system. However, if you are competing in an event during which the UCI is conducting tests, and are found to have tramadol in your system, you will be bound by their rules and regulations.

The WADA Prohibited List is updated each year (on 1 January), but substances and methods can also be added and removed at any time throughout the year.

Why is tramadol not banned by WADA?

Tramadol is currently on the WADA monitoring programme, but not the Prohibited List. In 2017, WADA Director General, Olivier Niggli said: “We have a committee of experts. We have a process for putting out the List every year which is determined by experts. They discussed it at length and their conclusion was it didn’t meet the criteria to be put on the List. We have a process for the List, we have the relevant knowledge and we have to rely on our experts and their conclusion.” 

UKAD has made submissions to WADA for tramadol to be placed on the Prohibited List.

Will I have to provide a urine sample as part of the UCI tramadol test?

No. The UCI’s guidance says: “The sample collection for UCI tramadol testing is not invasive and will be conducted using a sampling kit to collect a limited amount of blood from the rider's fingertip.

“This will be managed by the UCI's Medical Director, with logistical and personnel support from the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF). It should be a very quick and easy process.

“Testing will take place in-competition, in particular but not only at the end of the races.

Like in anti-doping, avoiding a tramadol test will be treated as a positive test.

“Dried blood droplets will be collected for presence of tramadol, and positive or negative results will depend on the presence or absence of the substance in the blood (there is no threshold). Results will be sent to the UCI Medical Director within a maximum of 4-5 days.”

Next steps

If you have any further questions or concerns regarding the UCI’s tramadol ban, please contact substanceenquiry@ukad.org.uk