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The Froome TUE palava: Every side letting the fans down

Chris Froome won the 2016 Tour in a relative canter. But was it a boring race? (Image: Team Sky).
Expert
23rd June, 2014
4
1198 Reads

Many would have never heard of a TUE until last week, other than the one that brings you closer to FRI, but in the past seven days or so ‘therapeutic use exemption’ has entered the lexicon of cycling fans the world over.

Reaction to the news that Sky applied for and received an exemption for glucorticosteroids on Chris Froome’s behalf just before the Tour du Romandie back in late April has been mixed.

Some feel that the whole affair is little more than a storm in a teacup, that Sky followed the letter of the law and that’s that. Others feel that the affair is indicative of a step backwards, demanding a clarification of the role of the UCI in the matter.

Others still believe that if a rider is ill enough to require medication that would otherwise be banned, the rider in question should not be racing in the first place, and that, as a result, the rules need to be reevaluated and altered to ensure that what is clearly a grey area is eradicated from the sport.

This grey area is further clouded by the fact that several ProTour teams have signed up to join the Movement For Credible Cycling (MPCC), a union whose members oppose the granting of TUEs.

According to Wikipedia, the MPCC was created in 2007 by seven WorldTour teams to “defend the idea of a clean cycling, in particular according to the strict code of ethics established by UCI.”

Of the 18 current ProTour squads, 11 are members: Ag2r, Astana, Giant-Shimano, Katusha, Belkin, Lampre-Merida, FDJ, Lotto Belisol, Europcar, Garmin Sharp and Orica-GreenEDGE.

Team Sky declined to join, saying that “The MPCC is a voluntary organisation and we’ve made the choice, like others have, not to be a member.”

Exactly why Sky decided not to join has never been explained, and indeed no other non-member team has ever felt the need to clarify their reasoning.

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Team Sky are rumored to believe that the MPCC’s policy on teams recruiting riders that have received bans for doping is not stringent enough, with their own zero-tolerance policy well publicised.

However, most cycling fans seem to be asking exactly why TUEs should be allowed at all, and it is a question worth considering precisely because of the situation we now have at hand.

Froome was allowed to use a daily dose of 40mg of the drug, a derivative of cortisone, in the Tour du Romandie that he went on to win.

There’s some debate as to whether glucocorticoids actually can improve athletic performance, however there was a Swiss study that was published in the August 15th issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by the American Thoracic Society that claimed use of such drugs can increase VO2 max in athletes working at altitude.

The athletes studied were also found to have experienced “fewer altitude-related discomforts”.

This, one may presume, is why these drugs are banned, but in Froome’s case it seems clear that the TUE was sought to help him with a chest infection. But that does not answer the question as to why Sky would not see the use of TUEs as an ethical digression from their famed anti-doping policy?

Perhaps because Froome is said to have also requested a TUE back in 2013?

Either way, Team Sky came out at the end of April to request a ban on still-legal drug, Tramadol that has been shown to improve performance and was rumoured to be being abused by some in the pro peloton.

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“None of our riders should ride while using Tramadol – that’s the policy of this team,” read a Sky statement at the time.

“Team Sky do not give it to riders while racing or training, either as a pre-emptive measure or to manage existing pain.

“We believe that its side effects, such as dizziness and drowsiness, could cause issues for the safety of all riders.”

The phrase “to manage existing pain” is the one that stands out here. If the team has a policy on one drug for its enabling a rider to manage existing pain – one that is legal, we should remember (though it should not be) – why another policy for another drug that is actually banned?

Sky may say they followed the letter of the law, but in this day and age these kind of decisions are the ones that have cycling fans feeling perturbed.

Journalist David Walsh has further muddied the waters by claiming that Team Sky had a previous belief that TUEs should “not be sought for riders in competition.”

Confused? You are not alone.

The UCI are not helping matters in any way by simply stating that the doctor who granted the TUE at very short notice, Dr Mario Zorzoli, was acting well within the WADA guidelines when he made the decision.

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Normally, a TUE is only granted 30 days prior to competition and must be processed by at least three doctors, but in “exceptional circumstances”, any time prior to an event.

According to WADA’s TUE guidelines, this may happen when “a normally healthy Athlete suddenly affected by a significant medical condition some days prior to an event, and unable to request a TUE within the allotted time to enable the TUEC to grant the TUE, may be considered as an “exceptional circumstance.”

So again, the doctor in question, Sky and Froome all acted according to the letter of the law, but the UCI’s brusque statement regarding the matter simply serves to remind us of their heavy handed techniques under the presidencies of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.

Many feel that the TUE and the “exceptional circumstance” clause are not compatible with the spirit of the sport, as the MPCC members also believe.

A report in Le Journal du Dimanche yesterday claimed that even WADA is upset with the UCI, demanding a clarification over exactly what happened in the Froome case, and requiring guidelines to ensure it does not happen again. Le Journal claims the UCI does not even have a panel of three doctors to examine TUE requests, and that the onus to grant TUEs, whether they come outside or within the 30 day limit, is at the sole discretion of Dr Zorzoli.

Surely the UCI isn’t going all cowboy on matters of the use of drugs in our sport once again?

Either way, this is a fine old mess. However, a quick conclusion to it is not what is required, but a reasoned and thorough investigation as to the use of TUEs and a decision once and for all by the UCI and WADA as to whether they are justifiable.