No needles

No needles

I wrote something last year about Garmin’s “no needles” policy and promised to ask every team what their policy was regarding the use of needles with a view to seeing who is doing what. The results were frankly boring and not worth following up, the standard reply was “we comply with WADA guidelines” over and over again. I suspect is code for saying all infusions are banned but that injections of vitamins and minerals are considered and their extent varies from team to team.

One team was more engaging and let me email their doctor. He explained that even vitamin injections were not worth it, that they had a nutritional sponsor and besides, the injectable material was problematic to transport and store when compared to a tub of vitamin pills.

UCI ban
Now the UCI has announced an initiative to ban the use of all hypodermic methods. I’m in favour of banning needles, allowing them only when a therapeutic use exemption can be granted. Some might say the enormous strain of a grand tour means high quantities of vitamins are needed, especially when the digestive organs are already under strain. But that has to be offset against the fact that nutrition can be done right and if necessary supplements can be swallowed, not injected. Plus there are tales of slippery slopes and the “first I started with vitamins and before I knew it, I was taking EPO” refrain.

Policing this would be hard, as such it’s largely a symbolic matter. But the sport can gain. As things stand, teams that forgo injectable vitamins could lose out to those that don’t. But collective rules ensure everyone is – in theory – on the same level. It would allow the sport to take another step towards appearing clean, being able to say to the world that no injections are tolerated would be an advantage.

Just one more thing?
Inspector Columbo often turns around to ask “just one more thing” when exiting the crime scene. I’ll leave this item with a final, cynical thought: the Court for Arbitration on Sport is supposed rule on Franco Pellizotti’s bio passport case today. The UCI is desperate for good news on the best of days and I could be crediting the UCI with masterly media-handling skills but… it couldn’t be the case that the UCI have put this story out to counter any news from Lausanne this week, could it?

11 thoughts on “No needles”

  1. How do these policies jive with acute care? Say a rider crashes and the team doctor is treating him after the race and an injection of some kind is required. I know exemptions for TEU are written into the rule, but how does it work when it’s an acute case without time to secure a TEU?

  2. lieutenantmudd: that’ll have to be determined. Perhaps any care delivered by a paramedic can be exempted?

    leif: yes, this is more cultural. It would send the signal to young riders that anyone brandishing a needle should be avoided. Plus it stops the Virenque “what, I thought it was vitamins” defence!

  3. If I was a rider though, I’d be more scared of powdered supplements than liquid vitamins. Ideally, they should take neither and rely on, you know, food.

  4. No needles, unless it’s a doping control, you’re Team Type 1, or have one of a dozen other exceptions for therapeutic use… except dehydration.

  5. Paramedics should always be allowed to give a rider an iv if they think it is needed. In fact, it can be one of the first things they do in an emergency situation. To make sure this is not used for illegal purposes the UCI could ban a rider that has had a emergency iv for one month as a standard. This way the rider has time to fully recover before he goes back to racing and the chances of him having received illegal iv is much smaller since the effect won’t last a whole month.

  6. This will be tough to get right with all the edge cases. It’d also be harsh to ban someone for 2 years if they weren’t taking anything illegal. Is it an infringement on your liberties to say that everything must be ingested orally? I guess Garmin must have a fairly good program already implemented so it’ll just be a case of rolling it out across the peloton.

    On the plus side it should make it more obvious who is cheating. I assume that supplements ingested naturally have less of an effect on a blood sample than a supplement injected intravenously. This is pure conjecture but it might make things stand out more in the bio passport.

  7. Is the UCI no needles policy really a no needles policy? As far as I can see all McQuaid has actually said is a 48-hr stand-down for shooting up corticoids under a TUE. The no needles thing seems to be just something they’d like to associate themselves with. Have written about this for PdC today, both on the recent news and on the historical need for such a policy. Any extra insight would be appreciated.

  8. fnk: very interesting. My view is that change needs to be cultural. There’s a reflex to use medicines, after all teams employing a doctor will find the doctor keen to justify his employment, talk of “give it some time, you’ll be ok” or “try to eat some fruit to top up the vitamins” will make the team think “do we need this guy?”.

    It’s the “you’re tired, time for a vitamin injection” mentality that needs to be changed, the instant resort to these methods is not healthy. Riders can be very depleted but there are many modern-day examples of riders who compete without these.

    It would be nice to see more teams support this idea and something fans should be asking about, putting it to teams whether the use needles or not.

  9. On the support from teams, apart from Garmin, who else has gone needleless, even for one season? I’ve heard Francaise de Jeux may have tried it, and Geox’s name was mentioned too. Don’t know if either / both of them right. Any others you’re aware of?

    The docs justifying their existence – you’re back to Paul Köchli’s argument right there.

    On the science side of it, do you know whether the pro-needles argument is right, that pills and lotions and potions too inefficient?

    The one issue I would stress with all this is that I think there may be some mis-reporting going on here. I think the UCI may be looking at the corticosteroid stand-down, and they could probably do that within their own rules, but the needles ban is a bigger story and I’m not sure it can be done (or is even really being considered to be done) by the UCI on their own. That sounds like a WADA move to me. Pity the UCI won’t talk to anon internet people.

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