Cycling rife with Tramadol use, WADA report shows

Cycling is far from having cleaned up its act when it comes to drugs, a new report from the World Anti-Doping Agency shows. The agency released the data from its Monitoring Programme – where it tracks the use of substances that are not on the banned list but are being tracked for potential abuse. Tramadol, a synthetic opioid painkiller, showed up in over four per cent of all doping controls tested – a rate an order of magnitude higher than in any other endurance sport.

The use of Tramadol to mask the pain of intense efforts in races has been on the radar the MPCC for more than five years. The group has been calling on WADA to ban its use in competition.

In a book published this year, retired rider Lieuwe Westra admitted to abusing Tramadol and caffeine as performance enhancing aids. Former Team Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke claimed to have been offered Tramadol by team doctor Richard Freeman.


This week’s WADA report shows the scale of the drug’s abuse somewhat declined over the past two years. In 2015, 730 out of 12358 doping controls had more than 200ng/mL of Tramadol (5.9 per cent). In 2017, out of 12,554 samples tested, 548 were positive for more than 50ng/mL of the painkiller, a rate of 4.4 per cent.

Other sports like rugby and football showed increased use of the drug, with 1.4 per cent of samples from rugby players positive (up from 0.95%), 0.35 per cent of footballers (up from 0.28).

WADA also monitored glucocorticoids – steroids that are used to treat inflammation. Cyclists also showed the highest incidence of positive samples of any sport for this class of drug, in competition, with 3.8 per cent of samples positive. Out of competition, cycling was third to skiing and triathlon with 4.38 per cent of cyclists’ samples positive compared with 4.7 percent of triathletes and 5.5 per cent of skiers.

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