Katusha doctor claims use of sleeping pills worse than doping in cycling


Katusha team doctor Massimo Besnati claims abuse of sleeping pills in cycling is more widespread than doping in the sport.

Besnati alleges that riders combine sleeping pills with alcohol to create an "explosive effect" and tobacco substance 'snus' is taken by competitors as a stimulant.

His comments come after Luca Paolini - who was thrown out of the Tour de France when riding for Katusha after testing positive for cocaine - admitted to taking the drug and an addiction to sleeping pills.

"I'd be Pinocchio if I said that doping has been defeated, but now the use of sleeping medication is worse and a more widely used," Besnati told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"It affects the person rather than the athletes. What makes things worse is using it with alcohol: it has an explosive effect. It's terrible.

"Riders take it because of the stress, for the progressive fatigue of stage races. Now that there are no longer pharmaceutical recovery products, riders, who refuse to use natural herbs, struggle to recover.

"When you're too tired, you struggle to get to sleep. Look at the last week [of a Grand Tour], they're all skin and bones.

"It's especially widespread amongst young riders. They drink a lot. While we're talking about it, I'll add another thing: 'Snus' - putting tobacco in your mouth. It has an exciting effect that shouldn't be overlooked. If you look carefully you can see riders with red, swollen gums."

On Paolini's addiction to lormetazepam in the Minias sleeping medication he used, Besnati added: "I knew about his addiction. I told him he couldn't carry on like that. I'd spoken to people near him but there was nothing we could do.

"He told us not to worry and said he'd be okay without it. I stopped giving him the prescription but he still managed to get hold if it.

"Of all the benzodiazepine drugs, lormetazepam creates the worst addiction. You start with 10 drops and then go to 15,20, 30... and up to 100. It's an endless escalation. If you try to stop, like with every drug, it creates abstinence problems.

"He used coffee. He brought a little coffee machine to races and drank five or six cups before coming down to breakfast, 180-200 miligrams of caffeine. That was needed to fight the effects left by the sleeping medication.

"But then you have to increase the dose and it's like a dog chasing its tail."