Needles banned

Cycling syringe

The UCI can move swiftly. Yesterday it was announced that any form of injection is now effectively banned and punishable. Up to know, infusions, from pouches with a drip for example, were banned but there was nothing to stop the use of injections, where obviously several injections can amount to the same volume as a drip.

Several teams put the idea to the UCI, it was reviewed and within two months the ban has appeared. Who says teams and the UCI can’t co-operate?

Monte Carlo simulation
Once again it puts cycling a long way ahead of other sports. Just a few weeks ago the start of the Monte Carlo Masters final between Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray was delayed in order to allow the latter to have a cortisone injection because his right arm was sore. To make it clear, localised use of glucocorticosteroids is allowed in sports under certain conditions but here’s the new procedure for cycling, as recounted by

In case of a local injection of glucocorticosteroids, which are subject to the Anti-Doping Rules and on the Prohibited List, the rider must rest and is prevented from competing for 48 hours

If he was a cyclist, Murray would not have been able to compete. That said I’m wary of comparisons with other sports and above cycling has a doping problem so let’s worry about that rather than what other sports choose to do. I don’t think it helps to finger point, that’s not my aim here. No, it’s the inverse, to say cycling is a long way ahead of other sports and I just wanted to use the Monte Carlo example. Note the UCI’s ruling is in conjunction with is the fruit of collaboration with the International Federation of Rowing Associations (FISA).

Whilst this is another step to clean up the sport, don’t expect change overnight. Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh summed up one idea succinctly: “UCI banning needles….. they have also banned blood transfusions and EPO dosn’t seem to stop anyone“. I tend to agree, if some are racing around Europe with blood bags and more, often a criminal offence, the mere UCI ban on needles won’t stop determined cheats. But it does make things awkward for teams who have to account for any medicines.

Cycling doping
Annoying stock photo

Some riders might have legitimate grumbles too. They might be used to receiving some recovery aids, like vitamins, via injection. There’s now a change and some might fret about post-race recovery. Especially with the Giro. But that’s all about education. I’d like to see the UCI accompany the ban press release with a briefing note about the science involved to help convince riders that injections, whilst convenient, are not necessary and that it’s a small price to pay to help clean things up.

For the kids
Above all whilst everyone’s looking at this on the eve of the Giro, for me the message really needs to go to younger riders yet to turn pro. Surrounded by coaches and advisors, the simple message of “needles = no” is very obvious. I’m wary of saying a vitamin injection is the first step towards heavy grade doping but all the same it’s a clear signal that natural means, from nutrition to massage, are the way to go.

This is good news. But like so much of the doping, bans don’t really change behaviour. Rather it’s cultural. If this is to work, the benefits will be felt in five years’ time or more. I doubt it will change much overnight.

12 thoughts on “Needles banned”

  1. Will needle bruises be questioned, do testers now get the ability to give the riders a body examination to look for track marks? I imagine most of the doping injections are aimed in an around the groin area as it is the least likely area to be seen.

    Tennis does have a bit of bad name itself, then again I doubt very few elite level sports are clean, but that is for another blog.

  2. If you take a look at some ex-dopers’ confessions you’ll often find a remark in the vein of “with all the vitamine and supplement injections, needles weren’t anything new or arkward anymore.” So if a youngster develops in a needle-free sport he’ll be more relcutant to blood transfusions hopefully.
    Still, people used to take vitamine pills might bother taking banned pills less than people who don’t. But still the needle-ban seems to be good step.
    Also when you’re thinking of the impression it hopefully has on the public.

  3. Good move by the UCI. Won’t solve the problem, but it is one more small step in that direction.

    Interesting comparison to Tennis and one that highlights to me how I view PED use in different sports. Personally, I want to see the best tennis match possible and if that means Andy gets a cortisone injection, I am all for it and I am sure the sponsors are all for it as well. Particularly if the result without the shot is Andy withdrawing midway through the first set. Would that rationale apply to EPO or blood doping in Tennis? How about HGH to build muscle in training? It is an interesting question where in my opinion skill based sports like tennis are more about the skills of the athlete than his engine, whereas Cycling is more about the engine. I can take all the PEDs in the world and I won’t play Tennis like Andy Murray.

  4. @JZ: That is the big mistake made, there is no difference between “skill based” sports or endurance sport. In the end it is all about fitness. If you cannot play the ball precisely or strongly enough after a for example 4h Grand Slam match or are too fatigue to use your superior skill it won’t use you much. Even more drastically this matter becomes if you look at sports with even less scoring like football, where faults are more heavily punished and luck plays a bigger part, if you are too tired after the 90 min and make the game deciding mistake, all you technical skill won’t help you much if you just can’t get to the ball in time. Or in tennis, especially in mens’ tennis, power is very important. I can see the benefits of the use muscle grows stimulants.
    There is as much to gain from doping as is in cycling.
    OK, maybe some/many dope(d) because it makes the suffering more bearable, but in the end the doping is a culture and educational thing, not how much “skill” is needed in a sport, because usually involves physical fitness.
    Also I like to add, cornering and descending require a lot of skill. As does moving in the bunch. It’s not all about the engine it’s also about energy saving.

  5. So you all think Murray shouldn’t have played the fucking FINAL of a Masters becouse of some stupid, treateble injury. Great. For you, it seems that medicine = evil.

  6. Grease monster: I think the marks can be hidden.

    Beev/leif: yes, it’s a great image that captures a lot in one go.

    Alex: that’s the idea but it’s a bit like the “smoke marijuana and become a junkie” line, it’s not always the case.

    JZ: maybe rules are rules? It does make a difference but if it’s banned, it’s banned.

    Visko: eh? As I said above it’s allowed. But whether it’s a final or a training session measures like that would now be even more regulated. Medicine’s ok, the abuse of it isn’t.

  7. As the father of young rider, I’ve got to say moves like this continue with the overriding messages that drugs are bad. I genuinely think peer pressure now exists to ‘not’ take drugs where it once existed ‘to’ take them. My son wears his ‘bike pure’ wristband with pride and knows what it means. His heroes are the likes of Cam Meyer and Richie Porte who also espouse a drug free message. For as much as I still believe the UCI is most ineffectual, badly run, conflicted sports administration in the world, I’ll give them credit for getting something right (what’s that make it, about one in 20!?!).

  8. @cthulhu: Of course there is skill involved in cycling, I didn’t say there wasn’t. But I disagree that there is no difference. Obviously fitness is important for both sports, but skill plays a much bigger role in tennis. My point was that this distinction (as well as the fact that tennis is an individual sport and if you ban Nadal, Murray, etc., the sport suffers arguably more than cycling would/does when you ban its top riders) may be why doping is viewed differently.

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