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Tour de France

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl embraces use of controversial ketones with official agreement

Products are a subject of debate within sport.

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The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team has shrugged off the controversy surrounding the use of ketones, announcing a multi-year agreement with a supplier prior to the start of the Tour de France.

The Belgian squad has said that it will work with the company KetoneAid, who will supply it with their nutritional products.

“The world’s number 1 team for 2021 has been using KetoneAid’s drinks for some time as part of our nutrition plan, with the riders and support staff all impressed by the quality of their products,” it said in a media release. “Our team has a long tradition of being on the forefront of developments in cycling technology and sports science and is very happy to reach an agreement with KetoneAid, which enables us to further integrate their products into our rider’s everyday nutrition plans.”

Ketones have long been in the grey area of products, legal in use while also being controversial. The anti-doping MPCC (Mouvement Pour Un Cyclisme Crédible/Movement for a Credible Cycling) organisation has repeatedly called for them to be banned.

In December 2020 it said that “ketones can enhance performance but can also damage the health of the riders because of the potential side effect. This substance is a problem per se, and will continue to be so in the future if no decision is taken.”

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The MPCC lists nine men’s WorldTour teams amongst its membership, namely Ag2r Citroën, Bora-Hansgrohe, Cofidis, EF Education-EasyPost, Groupama-FDJ, Intermarché Wanty Gobert, Israel Start Up Nation, Lotto-Soudal and Team DSM. It also counts 15 Pro Continental squads, 13 Continental teams, five women’s WorldTour teams and eight women’s Continental teams as members.

Each voluntarily undertake a number of stricter ethical measures than non-member teams, including the non-use of ketones.

The UCI issued what it termed a “notice of non-recommendation” in 2021, calling on riders and teams not to utilise the products, although they did not go as far as to ban their use. The UCI’s medical director Xavier Bigard expressed concerns that the digestive system could suffer side effects.

“The danger of these secondary effects is limited, but they do exist,” he told l’Equipe in December 2021. “And as long as there is this potential for side effects and there is no improvement in performance, I do not see why we would recommend its use. Therefore, we issued a notice of non-recommendation.”

The UCI conducted a study which suggested there was no scientific evidence that ketones improve performance.

Notwithstanding that, French riders Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet and Guillaume Martin are amongst those who have called for ketones to be banned.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, criticized UK Sport’s reported trials of the products in July 2020.

‘Treating athletes as performance guinea pigs is why we pushed so hard for independence in regulation [of sports’ bodies] because the self-interest of these sports organizations is to win,” he told The Mail then. “And sometimes they are unfortunately willing to cross the line when it comes to athletes’ health and safety.”

However the World Anti-Doping Agency has declined to prohibit their use. It said last year that the WADA List Expert Group has considered that they do not meet the necessary criteria to be on the black list.

Aside from Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Jumbo-Visma and Lotto Soudal have said in the past that they use ketones.