Ben Spies Talks About Doping in MotoGP

09/10/2012 @ 6:15 pm, by David Emmett29 COMMENTS

The use of performance-enhancing (or in the case of Anthony Gobert, performance-reducing) drugs in motorcycle racing is an interesting subject. There have been very few racers who have been caught for using doping of one kind of another – Noriyuki Haga being the most high-profile example, banned for the use of ephedrine – but the FIM continues to police the issue very strictly, even organizing a special educational briefing session for all of the riders in the MotoGP paddock in 2011.

At Brno, when news broke of Lance Armstrong’s decision to stop fighting the charges made by the US Anti-Doping Agency, leading to the American cycling legend being stripped of his seven Tour de France victories, the subject came up during one of Ben Spies’ daily press conferences. Spies is both a Texan and a very keen cycle racer, running his own elite cycling team, Elbowz Racing, and so it was a natural topic for discussion.

Spies accepted it was a natural consequence of the accusations against Armstrong, saying “if that’s what’s fair and that’s what’s to be served with what they think is justice, then OK. That’s the way the rules are and if they have enough data that proves that, then they do.” The balance of Armstrong’s career and his efforts outside of cycling was positive, however, whatever the accusations leveled against him Spies said. “I think at the end of the day, no matter what he’s done good or bad, he’s done more good than bad. Not just for cycling, but for cancer foundations in general, I think he’s done a good job with that.” The problem is that Armstrong’s case is symptomatic of that era of cycle racing. “What he’s done in the past I don’t think is much different to what everybody did in the past,” Spies added.

The discussions then turned to the benefits of doping in motorcycle racing. Where there any benefits, Spies was asked? “As a motorcycle racer, for sure there’s benefit. There’s a lot of things you could take that would be better for you on the motorcycle,” Spies replied. But there were clear differences when comparing motorcycle racing with cycling, Spies explained. “When it comes to why the cyclists do it, it’s a completely different reason, and they use it for a completely different thing for training. With us, it’s more that, if you were to take something on a race weekend, it could help you.” Where cyclists were using substances aimed at improving recovery, what motorcycle racers needed was a quick boost on Sundays, Spies said.

The problem for motorcycle racers is that they fell into the one-size-fits-all World Anti-Doping Agency ADAMS program, which sets out a standard procedure for all elite athletes in all sports. “The problem is that we’re on the same ADAMS list, or a lot of the MotoGP riders are, the same as the cyclists. Where they have to know where you are 24 hours a day, all the time.” The intrusion into his privacy was what irked Spies the most, especially as it was not enforced very well. “I’m on that program, I’ve been tested once, and I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think I should have to log in and tell everybody where I’m at 24 hours a day if you’re going to test me once in seven months. I don’t think it’s fair.”

The problem, according to Spies, is that the ADAMS program is irrelevant to motorcycle racers. What was needed was not following a whereabouts program, it was regular testing at the races. “I think they should test the top five, top six of each class every weekend, on the weekend. Because in motorcycle racing, if a racer’s going to do anything, it makes much more sense to do it on the race weekend, not two weeks before, because we’re not training for the Tour de France.”

Though Spies had issues with what was being tested, he was keen to point out that he was in favor of testing for illegal substances. “I don’t agree with some of the ways they’re doing our stuff, but I believe in drug testing and I’m for it. I like it, but I just think for them and from what I know about everything, they should do it on the race weekend. And they should do the top five in every class every Sunday, and that’s it. And not make you live like Big Brother is watching over you for seven months and test you one time. I just don’t see the point in that.” Currently, the FIM tests riders selected at random at a certain number of events throughout the year.

Testing on race weekends was more effective because of the differences between motorcycle racing and a sport like cycling. “For cycling it’s more of a recovery type deal, because they train so much. For us it’s more 45 minutes of pure just going at it. So it would be different substances [they would use].” When asked what kind of substances, Spies professed ignorance. “I don’t even know, but there’s a lot of stuff, if you look at athletes like sprinters and things like that. Like I said, I don’t know for our stuff, but cycling, everybody knows that everybody does, and there’s always something you can do to make whatever you do better.”

Would the FIM find anything if they tested riders in the paddock right now? Spies was unsure. “Maybe. You never know. It’s hard to say, I mean there’s been riders before that have, and like I said, I think they should test on the race weekends more often, instead of what they do know. I think it makes more sense and it’s cheaper actually to do it that way than to do it the way they are doing it now, and it’s just a big hassle for the riders, honestly, to have to go through that. But like I say, top five of each class every Sunday, test them, that’s it, end of story.”

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • If you need an article to understand why David is a breath of fresh air in the MotoGP paddock, this story illustrates the point perfectly.

  • Bob


  • Calisdad

    +2 Thanks David

  • Very well written article, also agree with Ben on how the testing should be done to be more effective … You can’t really compare motorcycle Roadracing to cycling …

  • John

    I have to agree with Spies. If racers are taking anything, my guess would be they are popping an adderall before the race and maybe qualifying. Endurance or strength is not so much the issue as is focus, concentration, reflexes, and reaction time. What helps with this? CNS stimulants like amphetamines and methylphenidate (Ritalin). All of which have very short half-lives and are virtually undetectable in blood or urine after about 48-72 hours.

    Testing for things like EPO or anabolic steroids is pretty pointless, and you’re not going to catch stimulant dopers unless you test them on race weekend.

  • TexusTim

    Great article…..I think with cyclist because of training and just how long each race day is and the entire event, the recovery and blood doping type drugs are what there looking for anobolic steroids that stuff… cyclist there not looking nor do they hardly find and “party drugs like weed or speed or coke…but motorcycle racer’s that travel to such awsome locales and live the super star lifestyl I would think Dorna is thinking “party drugs” and lifestyle choices and like previously said everything but weed is gone in 24 to 48 hrs. not to much high entensity work out for them nor is anything they do much longer than 45 min. at a streach..might be some stimulants they could use maybe somthing to kepp there energy up but I dont believe they would want to be “high” when racing but if I was on the Med. and some foreign hotti sat down on the beach next to me puffing a joint it might be hard to resist that moment…and why should anyone have to certainly that would not result in any unfair advantage?…the ony thing unfair would be to tell her no !

  • Jay Van Der Zant

    The logical conclusion to this great idea of an article would be to question the relevant authorities running the current tests at MotoGP. What do they have to say about the curre my and this proposed strategy?

  • anti

    So the top five riders hey…. Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Stoner, Dovi (can’t even think who the fifth would be). Interesting. What is Spies saying here?

    We definitely know that Vale isn’t taking anything :-)

    Good article. Although how do we know for sure there are not benefits to training on these stimulants? You have to train for a 45 minute race regardless, and training would be a huge part of preparing for race weekend. FP1, FP2, FP3, Qualifying, Race, recovering from crashes, Testing on Monday mornings. More than just 45 minutes of track time.

  • TexusTim

    Im just talking about performance at the extrem under compition they only have to do that 45 minutes to and hour at any given time not for hours on end were recovery is the cycliest quest in drugs but I get the thought but if they allow one thing then there’s this huge debate of whats should and shouldnt be such as groth hormones…..hell some idiot is gonna end up getting hormone therapy and turn into a chick and want to race moto gp some day……no balls…just deflated sack…lol

  • bobx

    on the contrary..i think vr46 is probably taking the most of anyone… i bet that red bike gives him a killer headache, stomach ache, heartburn…

  • JoeD

    I believe testing is a sham. A private company has a mandatory screening policy but State Employees have no such requirement? Most specifically, within the education system. We all know why and it is not about cost. Does not Monster Energy sponsor racing? Red Bull? Jacked up and ready to fly. We have been conditioned to believe in pills. Can’t sleep?-here ya go. Behavior issues?-this will docilate little Timmy. Viagra wasn’t invented for men.

  • Everett

    TexusTim…don’t tell Tom Boonen about the lack of party drugs in cycling (Tornado Tom?!)

    Anyway, Ben, as a cyclist (and myself moto and amatuer pedal-speed-cycle racer) would know that even though their events are 45 mins, as others have pointed out there is FP#n+1, crashing, travel etc and all that would benefit from similar endurance and recovery ‘doping’ like PRO cycling.

    As the cycilng world is now finally dealing with the LA issue, it’s really just the maxim ‘follow the money’ and that will show that there is an incentive to gain advantage; even pharmacologically.

    Finally, even though motorcycle racing may be more a skill than pure VO2max style athletic pursuit, baseball (as a skill sport, hand-eye hitting the ball) has well proven the effectiveness of PED’s in PRO sport.

  • Gritboy

    Interesting piece and I appreciate Ben’s frankness. With doping so rampant in many sports (and encouraged behind closed doors) it’s a touchy subject to police. Of course racers get tons of pain killers and whatnot when they ride injured, so “technically” that’s performance enhancing as well (prescribed or not), since most couldn’t ride injured without ’em. I do think that pre-race testing would probably alleviate the issue in quick race sports, but anything that’s done would is going to have it’s detractors.

  • There is no drug that I know of that will make you a better motorcycle rider, I obviously don’t agree with Mr. Spies, but maybe he knows about some drugs that I don’t. Perhaps some of the more advanced stimulants, like the things people use for studying which supposedly help you focus, but I’m not aware of any drug that will increase your reaction time or make your neurological system operate more efficiently. Anybody know of a drug like that?

    I think banning a rider and pulling them out of a race because they took a natural herb (Ma Huang in Noriyuki Haga’s case) is a bit unfair, though I don’t know how much within his system. And knowing the way Haga rides, I wouldn’t want to be out there on the track with him on stimulants, though he has mellowed with age. In his early career he should’ve been smoking ganja before every race to calm his ass down :) Great rider, but a bit of a psycho when he was young.

    I used to take ephedrine, back when you could get it in Xenadrine, before I’d go to the gym, and it definitely gave me significantly more energy and allowed me to work out longer, it also made me horny as hell, and gave me heart palpitations while doing cardio one of the first times I took it. So it could be used to increase endurance, and has very real health dangers. So I think it’s a good idea that they took it off the market here in the states. I sure wouldn’t want to be getting heart palpitations in a motorcycle race.

    But I also know that there is no drug test that cannot be beaten, everything from urine, blood, hair follicle, even liver and brain biopsy drug tests can be beaten. All it takes is the know-how. It seems Lance Armstrong had people helping him who knew how.

    Generally I don’t like drug tests, but I think if we’re going to drug test some people, we should drug test all people. Everyone from the president of the United States, and world leaders on down. Fair is fair, and if truck drivers have to put up with random drug tests in order to keep their jobs, then the people elected to office in democracies should be randomly drug tested. I figure that the people who elect them have the right to know if they are under the influence while they’re doing their jobs.

    Let’s start drug testing Washington lobbyists, and those guys getting hundred million dollar bonuses in the financial sector. How about drug testing billionaires like the Koch Brothers who have bought large sectors of the US government in recent years, and are buying up our public universities. I’d really like to know what those guys are on. So I say drug test em’ all.

  • Calisdad

    This really is a non-issue guys. If they are serious test the placers as part of tech inspection. You place- you piss. End of story.

    Dani put on muscle to toss his bike around? Doubt it. His biggest advantage in MotoGP is that he’s a super featherweight.

  • John


    As I mentioned above, there are absolutely drugs available that would (or at least *could*) make you a better rider. Prescription stimulants like amphetamines and Ritalin would be very effective in improving reaction time, accelerating your nervous system, and generally improving concentration and focus. Amphetamine abuse has been rampant in baseball (predominantly a skill sport like motorcycle racing) since the 1960s for precisely that reason.

    The problem is amphetamines are virtually undetectable after about 48 hours after last use.

  • DareN

    Well, if you are telling me that you can ride the race bike at +200 mph at 3-4 Gs while braking/accelerating with broken bones / torn ligaments/muscles and not being drugged up you delusional. And remember – thy suspend athletes for using cough syrup…

  • I thought, “Dopes in MotoGP? This’ll be a long article.” Then I realized he was talking about dopING. It would be interesting to get a little deeper into what drugs, exactly, might enhance racer performance. I’m curious particularly about the beta-locking class that might improve mental focus, or even what the effect of ADHD drugs might be…

  • Ades

    There is one very good reason why they do not test on a race weekend. Pain Killers. MotoGP is the only sport I know of that allows and injured rider to have pain killing injections (localised) and take pain medication (general) minutes prior to lining up on the grid.

    I would already point out that this alone should be considered ‘performance enhancing’…. no?

  • I’ve pissed into my fair share of cups for sporting reasons, so I just wanted to clarify something for you guys making comments about pain-killers being “performance-enhancing” drugs.

    The simple answer is no, the complicated answers is yes.

    Consider this: let’s say you have a natural physical baseline for your ability in a sport. “Performance-enhancing” drugs are usually categorized as externalities that help you perform that sport at a level higher than that natural baseline. If I’m taking painkillers because my ankle is broken, and I can barely ride a motorcycle without them, then am I really performing above my natural limits? I’d call these instances of performance-enbaling drugs.

    The issue here is where do you draw the line? Do you fail a test because you had a headache before a race and took an aspirin? What if you had hayfever and took an anti-histamine? You’re not enhancing your performance, you’re attempting to enable your body to perform in a manner closer to its baseline because of a detrimental ailment or injury hindered you.

    Now where it gets tricky is where, for instance, someone takes a pain-killer to help reduce the pain associated with muscle fatigue. The issue of arm-pump in MotoGP is an interesting one. Should a rider be able to take medication before a race to reduce the onset of arm-pump in a race? I’d classify that as “peformance-enhancing” in my book.

    My favorite topic is the human growth hormone debate, where the substance is shown to have little, if any actual effect on physical performance, but because athletes associate HGH as being performance-enhancing, and take it because of those reasons, they run afoul of unsportsman like conduct rules. I’m strangely comfortable with that idea, to be frank.

  • Ades


    And what of the masking abilities of pain medication? (which is why other sports have banned the use)

  • Isn’t that what my last two paragraphs are about? Or are you referring to something else?

  • Ades

    The ability for the chemical compounds within painkillers to mask other PED’s.

  • AD

    Pain killers are used in many sports, especially contact sports, now they are not really performance enhancing, maybe performance enabling, as the athelete is already injured and pain killers just block the pain for a short while. All the talk has been focused on performance enhancement, I would think that drug use that might be a possibility is in the rehab from injuries, which is when steriods and the like come into play.

  • @John & all other interested parties

    This ain’t the 60s, where motorcycle racers didn’t make enough money to live on, had to work on their own bikes, and drive themselves cross country from state to state or country to country with their mechanics, and took amphetamines to be able to make up for the loss of sleep, crappy diet and poor accommodations. Only those at the very highest levels had anything resembling the luxuries of even some of the lower paid riders and teams today. What those guys Baseball players & bike racers were doing back then was compensation, the same way long-distance truck drivers compensate for a lack of sleep, lousy living conditions and lifestyle.

    Sure, if you’ve been out drinking all night, and carousing with women into the early hours of the morning, you may need to pop a couple of black beauties, or yellow jackets, to make the race. :) I seriously doubt anybody in Moto GP 1 or 2, world superbike, supersport racing etc. is getting away with that kind of thing today, with big money sponsors looking over their shoulders. I imagine most of these guys take care of themselves very much like other top-level athletes in other sports. Getting good food, plenty of rest, supplements and only taking a prescribed amount of stimulants like caffeine, that a nutrition specialist has calculated is correct for their body weight and metabolism, after actual testing of its effects on their metabolic rates during practice and training sessions. At least when it comes to top-level riders today.

    In motorcycle racing you need to be very relaxed and smooth, in control while still remaining loose with a level of body fluidity beyond anything a racecar driver requires. That is not a state which amphetamine type stimulants help maintain. Those kind of things make you jittery, twitchy to the degree you start over correcting and making concentration and judgment errors. Perhaps some of the Ritalin type drugs might be of use, but do so you would need to do testing with those drugs before the season to see how they would effect the rider long-term, and they would have to be calculated and given at precisely the right time. I doubt there are many riders who would be willing to experiment on themselves in this way and risk their careers not to mention their lives for the small advantages that might be gained. Though admittedly I don’t know, I’m not aware of any top level athletes actually using such drugs, maybe you know something I don’t

    As someone who’s done their fair share of drugs in my youth, and someone with several decades of sport bike riding experience under my belt, at speeds in excess of 170 mph, I would never take any kind of powerful stimulant and get on a bike and try to attack corners. My own adrenaline was always more than enough stimulant for me. Nor would I take a psychostimulant like Adderall. I’ve never tried it, but the idea of playing around with my motor functions while riding a motorcycle has no appeal for me whatsoever. Suppressing impulses might be good while you’re doing your homework or standing in front of home plate, but on the track that impulse you suppress might be the one that keeps you alive, ya dig?

    But who knows, maybe if riders had nasal injectors shooting a combination of cocaine, MDA, adrena-chrome and gunpowder into their sinuses cavities on demand, like something I saw on an early episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, maybe they would be able to pull out unbelievable last laps laying down patches of rubber through the corners on one wheel using their foot as a flaming outrigger… but again I think you’d need some intensive off-season testing to make such a setup work reliably, and I think the life expectancy of your average saddle jockey would greatly depreciate. :)

    I know one thing for sure, Joey Dunlop (may he RIP) would never approve.

  • x

    Have I missed any NFL players being investigated? Or, is there too much money in that business?

    On topic…these were points were good:

    1. natural herbs
    2. peeing after each race
    3. performance-enabling
    4. why on earth would you want any extra stimulant while astride a 240 hp motorcycle.

  • DareN

    Very crafty what you are trying to create – enhance vs. enable… So, the rider who is in a lot of pain and UNABLE to ride, by taking drugs ENHANCES his current (in)ability to ride. IMO,those riders present clear danger to everybody else,especially by the end of the race when you can usually see a dramatic drop in performance when the drugs stop working. What say you?

  • miket1012

    Is it possible that the reason that they allow the use of pain killers in motogp, even if they could be performance enhancing, is that the show must go on?

    Motogp could be in trouble if half the field couldn’t ride through the pain so wouldn’t compete.

    Motogp, after all, isn’t just a sport, it’s also entertainment for the veiwers.

    On a side note wouldn’t it be great if there was one sport/ event in the olympics such as one 100m race where all performance enhancing drugs, technology etc were allowed. How fast/good would they be?
    If you entered this event you wouldn’t be eligible for any other sport of course.

  • miket1012

    what is the big issue of doping in sports?

    is it about the image of said sport?
    If you allow people to get away with doping you are effectively encouraging it. Amateurs and pros alike.

    Is it about making it fair?
    Only competitors that can afford the drugs will get the advantage.

    Is it about protecting the competitiors from possible side effects of the drugs that they are taking?