The Froome TUE Palava: Every side letting the fans down

this article originally appeared on The Roar


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 on cycling websites and forums.

Some feel that the whole affair is little more than a storm in a teacup and 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 then 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 gray 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 opposes the granting of TUEs.

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.” [Wikipedia]

Of the current ProTour squads, 11 of the 18 are members, those being 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 not to join either.

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 being well publicized.

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 that use of such drugs can increase VO2 max at athletes working at altitude.

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

This, one may presume, if 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 a still legal drug that has been shown to improve performance and that was rumored to be being abused by some in the pro peloton, Tramadol.

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

“Team Sky do not give it to riders whilst 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 drung for its enabling a rider to manage existing pain – one that is legal, we should remember (though of course it should not be) – why another policy for another drug that is actually banned?

Sky may say that 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 belied 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 that granted the TUE at very short notice, Dr. Mario Zorzoli, was acting well within the WADA guidelines when he made the decision.

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.

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.” [WADA TUE guidelines]

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

Quite clearly many feel that the TUE and the ‘exceptional circumstance’ clause are not compatible with the spirit of the sport, as the MPCC members believe also.

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 that it does not happen again. Le Journal claims that 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 of 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?

And then, finally, we have the MPCC itself. Sky are rumoured to have been unhappy with what they see as the MPCC’s lenient attitude to its member teams employing ex-dopers in management and rider positions, something I agree wholeheartedly with. The MPCC is chock full with teams that have former dopers on them, such as Vaughters and his gaggle of phoenix, Astana which is headed by Vonokourov, Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEdge with Matt White.

Everybody has an agenda and they all have a voice. Everyone, we could argue, except the humble cycling fan.

Yet again the powers that be, the managers and the riders themselves deliver us another fine old mess. A quick conclusion to all this is not however 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 in cycling.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

4 thoughts

  1. Well, that was a lot of words to describe a very simple situation- SKY broke the spirit if not the letter fo the anti-doping rules. End of. They obviously found and exploited a loophole that very likely gave their man an unfair advantage in a key race. SKY is well within their rights to join or not join the MPCC without justification, but they are just hypocritical in calling for the ban of Tramadol while giving a rider Steroids just prior to a key race. If Froome was that sick, give him the meds, sit him down, have him recover and bring him back for the next race. Simple. SKY are slipprier than a bucket full of oil covered eels, and this, combined with the inhaler issue, the Dr Linders issue and the unexplained benching of Henao reinforces that they are quite Machiavellian and happy to bend the rules to favour their position when convenient. They make it easy to support Contador, Valverde, Nibali and anyone else not in SKY Black in the TdFrance and any other race…

    1. Is this a storm in a teacup, or does anyone think Froome genuinely fails the “smell” test. For me he is clean at present…

      It seems to me the sport has bigger problems. Lance got his. So the sport is doing its normal “problem solved” impression.

      Now the impetus behind others things seems to have gone cold.

      But what happened to..
      – The danish investigation which threatened to depose Riis (who does not pass the smell test for me)
      – The italian investigation – that amongst other things was about money laundering of riders , put you in jail kind of things.
      – Things like Landis said Rihs now BMC was aware and funded his doping at Phonak. Surely there are things need following up here. Denials aside, why would Landis say it risking a law suit, if it were not true? And If money came for doping, there must be unexplained money transfers?
      – What of the other managers of Bruyneels generation most of whom must have been involved ..
      – What of the blood bag plasticisers found in contadors blood..

      Considering some Like stephen roche are welcomed with open arms that an itallian judge said was doping, there are all sorts of double standards at play, for me Hincapie was a core part of the team who should never have ridden his last TdF, but he is home free.

      I wonder also whether Lance has the money claimed for him. I actually wonder whether despite career earnings of 200mil+ whether he actually has more than 20 left, which case the law suits will bankrupt him.
      Now it seems to me that Landis became at his most dangerous when losing everything. It may be that lance is the same. He must know where some bodies are buried. A bankrupt lance or even Bruyneel is certainly a threat to a Weisel and othersWith nothing to lose and all to gain by starting his very own “whistleblow” on all of the dirty tricks in cycling and who did them.

      Sorry about the rant, but I cannot help but feel – the furore about TUE (although founded) may be letting more serious things pass by.

      1. agreed Mike, and good rant! it’s business as usual and the carpet has a very large bump in it, that much has beens wept under it. does anything ever change? why is Riis still in a team car, directing pro riders, or indeed any riders? Roche, yep i hear you. the guy that got me into the sport. i wrote about it all here, if you are interested…

  2. as usual Sky getting singled out. Someone leaked Froome’s TUE – how many other TUE’s are issued that didn’t get leaked? And Henao?. They think something looks odd…. so what would we all prefer them to do? keep quiet about it? hope it goes away? or investigate it under the guidance of the UCI and WADA, and put the guy out to grass until they are clearer what’s going on. They certainly could have done with him riding this summer (the knee injury has fixed that now anyway). Just because they don’t give journos access to all their data (and why would one team give the competition access to this?) . And to call them out for not joining a club that has a team run by Vino as a member is laughable.
    … and before anyone says it, I’m not a Sky ‘fan’, just a Brit who follows UK cyclists whoever they ride for (Cav, Cummings, Yates Bros etc etc) . Sky aren’t even particularly British these days, but I guess that tag got attached with all the London 2012 hoopla and Brailsford’s joint roles. Winning the TdF for a couple of years means you’re on the top of the pedestal to be shot at. Sky ain’t perfect but they don’t seem to me to be any better or worse than most teams but they certainly aren’t liked, and I can’t see much other than jealousy as the reason…

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