Lampre-Merida found itself in a “difficult” situation Friday morning when it heard about Chris Horner’s cortisol levels on the eve of his Vuelta a Espana title defense. The team had to pull him off its roster for the grand tour because it follows stricter anti-doping rules set up by the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC), even if cycling’s rules allowed him to race.
“Does it make sense or not?” Lampre team manager Brent Copeland said to VeloNews. “We have to respect with what we signed up for. When we signed up with MPCC, we agreed with what they are doing, so agreeing with that is respecting what they put down. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s difficult to call.”
The 42-year-old from Oregon has been sick since the Tour de France. Though he was riding well in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah earlier in August, Horner was coughing often and could not shake his bronchitis.
After the Tour of Utah ended, the team and Horner took the various steps to acquire a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) from the UCI that allowed Horner to start cortisone therapy. The team doctor said Friday morning, however, that the therapy and possibly jet lag lowered his cortisol hormone values.
Lampre knew it was a risk that Horner could not start the Vuelta but wanted to see him get over his bronchitis. When the blood test returned low values, Lampre had to respect the MPCC’s rules — even if the UCI would have allowed him to race. The TUE he had acquired would have allowed him to continue using cortisone until Monday.
“The bad publicity of pulling him out at the last minute? We’re not worried about it,” Copeland said. “It depends on how someone looks at it. The way I look at it is that the team shows once again that we respect the organization that we signed up with.”
The voluntary organization began in 2007 in the wake of the Operación Puerto doping scandal, but gathered speed after the Lance Armstrong case in 2012. It strengthens cycling’s anti-doping rules with its own additional layer of protection. Its cortisol level test is in place to stop riders abusing TUEs to take cortisone, but in Horner’s case, he was trying to shake a bad cold.
“It’s a difficult one to call, but as a team we signed up with the MPCC,” added Copeland. “We will follow the rules and we can’t do much about it.”
The MPCC has members from the first, second and third division. However, of the 18 UCI WorldTour first division teams, only 11 are members. Seven teams — Tinkoff-Saxo, BMC Racing, Sky, Trek Factory Racing, Movistar, Cannondale, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step — have not joined.
“Each one runs the team how they want to, I can’t judge it,” Copeland added. “We sat down with our medical staff when the MPCC started, and everyone agreed with what they are trying to do. When this happens, you can’t go against it even if you feel you are in the right and your rider should take part.”
Besides cortisol testing, the MPCC’s other rules include:
— Prohibit a rider from racing after the positive result of the first analysis or A sample.
— Don’t sign a rider who has had a ban of more than six months during the two years following his ban. An exception is given to whereabouts cases.
— If a rider needs corticosteroids, then pull him from competition for eight days.
— An internal control following a positive test within the team.
— If a team has more than one positive case from the past 12 months, withdraw it and assess the situation.
Copeland said Horner is “frustrated more than upset.” The cyclist was hit by a car while training in April, suffered a punctured lung and broken ribs, and had to skip the Giro d’Italia. Bronchitis, and using cortisone, has now sidelined him ahead of the Vuelta a España, which begins with Saturday’s 12.6-kilometer team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera.
“Of course I’m sad about this news,” Horner said in a team press release. “I was willing to try to defend the 2013 title. [The] Vuelta was my main target in the season, the team signed me with the aim of being competitive in the Spanish race, but I accept the decision linked to the MPCC’s rules. … UCI gave authorization for the treatment, I could race according to UCI rules, but my team is a member of MPCC. I understand it and we all must accept this situation without regrets.”