PARIS, June 15, 2014 (AFP) — The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has been accused of giving Tour de France champion Chris Froome an unfair advantage in the Tour of Romandie in April by allowing him to use a steroid-based drug.
According to the French Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, Froome, who went on to win the race in Switzerland, was suffering from a respiratory infection and was granted permission to use the steroid to treat the illness under the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) rule.
The request, for a TUE that would allow Froome to take 40mg per day of the oral corticosteroid prednisolone, came from Tour de France winner Froome’s Sky team doctor, Alan Farrell, and was approved “solely by the UCI medical director Mario Zorzoli,” the paper claimed.
WADA code states that applications for a TUE must be reviewed by a committee that “should include at least three (3) physicians with experience in the care and treatment of athletes and a sound knowledge of clinical, sports and exercise medicine.”
In the days before Romandie, Froome withdrew from Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with the team citing “a mild chest infection.” Froome went on to win the overall at Romandie one week later.
Corticosteroids taken orally, or by intravenous or intramuscular injection, are forbidden during competition without a TUE.
Under normal circumstances, a team must apply for a TUE 21 days ahead of use. But, according to UCI rules, a TUE can be fast-tracked, or retroactively applied for, if the condition is considered “acute.”
Froome was permitted to take up to 40mg of the drug prenisolone, administered in tablet form.
But, according to Dr Gerard Guillaume, cited by the Journal du Dimanche as an expert: “The rules state that taking steroids by mouth is prohibited during competition, and that if a cyclist displays a condition requiring such a treatment, he is clearly not fit to take part and that any request for a TUE must be considered by a group of experts.”
WADA code also dictates that “the majority of the members of any TUEC should be free of conflicts of interest or political responsibility in the Anti-Doping Organization.”
Team Sky rejected the allegations and dismissed accusations of favoritism due to the fact that UCI president Brian Cookson’s son, Oliver, is on Team Sky’s staff.
“That’s ridiculous,” snapped team boss Dave Brailsford. Cookson was president of British Cycling before his election as UCI president last year and Brailsford said: “I’ve worked with Brian for 16 years at British Cycling and no one has ever said anything. His son works with us, but I don’t think that raises any questions.”
Brailsofrd added, “Dr Zorzoli, the UCI doctor, told us what we could and couldn’t, we’ve always stayed within the rules, so we’ve got nothing to hide.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency is apparently studying the case, the paper said.
The UCI issued a statement Sunday, absolving itself of any wrongdoing.
“Christopher Froome’s TUE for oral use of glucocorticosteroids was granted on April 29, 2014, based on duly documented medical history and in compliance with the applicable UCI Regulations and the relevant WADA guidelines,” the statement read. “The TUE was granted for a limited period, following the usual procedure. The process was fully transparent as it is UCI’s policy to systematically record all TUEs on ADAMS. WADA was therefore informed throughout the process.
“The UCI wishes to emphasise that under the applicable rules – which are consistent with the WADA Code and the WADA TUE Standard and Guidelines – any rider with the same symptoms as Christopher Froome would have received a similar TUE.”
The UCI also addressed the insinuations of favoritism, saying, “The UCI would like to express its profound disappointment with the speculations that have been made suggesting its President could have any influence on the granting of TUEs. The UCI President and the UCI Administration have absolutely no involvement with decisions on TUEs. Insinuating that Brian Cookson’s son’s employment with Team Sky could have something to do with the decision to grant the TUE is an unfounded allegation which will be dealt with seriously.”
The accusations of collusion, and potential unfair performance-enhancement, are the second round of controversy during the week that Froome has raced the Critérium du Dauphiné. On stage 2, Froome was seen using an inhaler to treat asthma, something he had never before publicly disclosed, including in his new autobiography, The Climb, which came out earlier this month.
“It’s completely allowed, you don’t need a TUE for it,” Froome said. “It’s a bit of a surprise everyone is talking about it now.”
Sky confirmed that Froome has been using the inhaler since he was a teenager and that sometimes in races he administers Salbutamol.
According to UCI rules, a rider may use up to 1600mg of Salbutamol a day without a TUE. It warns, however, “please pay attention to the substance.” Only 54mg of Formoterol may be taken a day without a TUE. Terbutaline and other medications require a TUE no matter how much one uses.
“I do have exercise-induced asthma,” Froome said. “I don’t use [the inhaler] every time I race. Normally, only when I have a big effort coming up. It’s completely allowed by the UCI and I have done all my tests for my asthmatic problems. A lot of people see the interviews, I’m coughing afterwards.”
Froome won the opening time trial, and then the stage 2 summit finish, at the Dauphiné, and led the race for several days before a crash on Friday’s stage 6 left him bloodied and battered; he finished the race 12th overall and won the points competition.