A Needleless Policy

D_mediumThe UCI is apparently giving serious consideration to the banning of all needles in cycling, which would effectively ban even shots of vitamin B12. They are also said to be considering standing down any rider who needs to inject corticosteroids - which, though illegal, are allowed under a Therapeutic Use Exemption - for forty-eight hours.

Such a rule change, the reports state, could be in place before the start of the Giro d'Italia in May. Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion as to which change is being referred to here: the no needles policy or the two-day's gardening leave for anyone legally shooting-up with corticosteroids.

So far, I've only seen two comments from Pat McQuaid on this. The first suggests that the UCI's primary objective here is optics: "We remember the syringes found in hotel rooms, and you know how much that contributes to tarnish the image of the sport." Nowhere have I seen McQuaid expand on how a no needles policy would be implemented.

The only other quote from him I've seen so far relates to the forty-eight stand-down: "It is necessary to introduce a new rule. An athlete who receives an injection of corticosteroids will be rested for forty-eight hours "

On this issue - the legal use of corticosteroids - the CPLD kicked up a fuss in 2000 when they revealed that twenty-eight of the samples tested at the Tour de France that year popped positives for corticosteroids but were excused by the use of TUEs. By 2003 that had risen to more than forty. At the 2008 Tour the AFLD gave a figure of six riders testing positive for corticosteroids but being excused by the use of TUEs. It is unlikely that all of those corticosteroids would have been taken by injection.

Garmin-Cervélo team doctor Prentice Steffen, who spoke at the pre Paris-Nice meeting at which these rules changes were discussed, explained the matter more to Cycling News: "I talked more about the ethics, logistics, evolution and implementation of our policy [Garmin have had a no needles policy since last year]. Pat McQuaid spoke first and said that they'd been talking about this at a UCI level. But Pat talked about the image problem that we have in cycling and how there's several ways that it manifests itself, and the association with needles is one of them."

The Garmin-Cervélo needle ban - which was originally trialed by Jonathan Vaughters' riders at the 2008 Tour de France and brought in season-long last year - makes no distinction between legal and illegal use of needles.

WADA moved on sport's association with needles several year ago. Since 2005 they have treated intravenous drips of all kinds - whether they be for (legal) glucose drips or (illegal) blood transfusions - as being a banned method. Only intravenous injections by syringes of less than 50mL are permitted under the WADA code. Obviously, you can still get a Therapeutic Use Exemption, where an IV is considered essential.

Others have taken an even firmer hand on the issue of the medicalisation of cycling. At the juniors' Giro d'Italia, the Girobio, the organisers have a strict no medications policy. No drugs of any kind may be carried by the teams. If you want to take even a headache tablet, you need to see the race doctor.

Cycling has - and has long had - a culture of the syringe. Policies like those in place at the Girobio and at Garmin-Cervélo can only help this sport overcome its dependency on needles and pills. Available evidence suggests that both Garmin and the Girobio organisers are policing these policies, and they are not just window-dressing.

The UCI considering the adoption of a no needles policy (even if it is driven mostly by optics) ought be applauded - if it is policed properly. Ditto the forty-eight hour stand-down for injections of corticosteroids. Who knows, such policies might one day help the sport address an absurd irony: in order to dissuade people from doping, it is today necessary to reinforce the culture of the syringe by subjecting riders to blood tests.