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JERUSALEM (VN) — Ex-pro Lieuwe Westra made headlines this week with admissions that he used TUEs to gain an edge during his racing career that ended in 2016.
The former pro’s comments reveal how some riders can bend the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) rules. Westra’s allegations come as part of a new autobiography, and his admissions that he used cortisone and other products sent ripples across the peloton.
EF-Drapac’s Michael Woods isn’t having any of it. The Canadian posted a strong reply on Twitter calling out Westra and said Thursday he wanted to make it clear that fans shouldn’t assume that TUE abuses are rampant in the peloton.
“It was something that pissed me off,” Woods said Thursday morning before a training ride. “When a guy like Lieuwe Westra comes out and said he did what he did and it wasn’t wrong, I think it sends the wrong message. I want people to know, particularly Canadians who are coming into the sport, that you can compete clean.”
In interviews in the Dutch media to promote his new book, Westra outlined how he faked injuries to get a TUE to use cortisone, a powerful painkiller that is otherwise banned without a doctor’s prescription. Westra also said he used heavy doses of Tramadol and caffeine, two products that are not banned but come with some controversy.
What ticked off Woods — who starts the Giro d’Italia on Friday for Team EF Education First-Drapac with ambitions of a stage win — was that Westra insists he didn’t do anything wrong. The Dutch rider, who raced from 2009-2016, said he pushed the rules but insists he did not break them.
“You can do it the right way. There is a wrong way,” Woods said. “I am not here to judge him for what his past transgressions were. I don’t want it to be shown that what he did was right. I don’t like how he said what he did wasn’t wrong. That’s the only reason I came out and said anything.”
Woods said he doesn’t typically like to stand on a soapbox and point fingers at others. For example, Woods demurred when asked about the ongoing Salbutamol case involving star Chris Froome, saying, “it’s a tough question, because technically we’re not even supposed to even know about it because it was leaked. I cannot comment until after we have all the information.”
Westra’s comments, however, struck a nerve with the rising Canadian star, and he wanted to make a statement.
“There are so many things I don’t like commenting on because you don’t know the full story,” he said. “And I don’t like commenting on guys who have come out with their own admissions of what they might have done. I cannot judge guys who came into the sport when they were 19 back in the nineties. I don’t know what that situation was like. I didn’t come into the sport with wide-eyes and had mentors who were telling me that doping was the only way.
“I came into the sport when I was 29 when I joined this team. I was much secure in who I was and who I am,” he said. “And coming into the sport that is so much cleaner. I am confident it is a much cleaner peloton.”
TUE abuses have long been rumored to be a favorite shortcut for would-be cheaters trying to cut corners as improved doping controls and the implementation of the biological passport have tightened the noose on banned substances.
The issue has driven headlines over the past year after leaks revealed that Sky’s Bradley Wiggins used TUEs to gain access to use triamcinolone, a powerful corticoid that helps to shed weight. Wiggins used a TUE under the argument he needed it to treat allergies in order to take the drug on key instances ahead of major races, including his 2012 Tour de France victory. Wiggins denied any wrongdoing, and told BBC this spring that, “not any time in my career did we cross the ethical line.”
The UCI has revamped its TUE-issuing rules — which now require a panel of three doctors to approve exemptions — and the number of TUEs issued has dropped dramatically since 2009, when Salbutamol was taken off the WADA banned list. In 2009, 239 TUEs were issued. After Salbutamol was removed, that number dropped to 97 in 2010. In 2017, 20 TUEs were approved.
When Woods was asked if he has ever used a TUE, he replied no.
“I have used some inhalers for some asthma in the past,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t think a drug like cortisone, you should not be messing around with that.”
The advocacy group MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) has strict guidelines that go beyond the existing WADA rules on several key issues. Only seven of the 18 WorldTour teams are part of the MPCC, with Woods’ squad among them.
For example, MPCC calls for riders from its membership to sit out from competition for eight days if they require a TUE for cortisone for legitimate medical treatment. The group also requires its members to voluntarily stand down if they return an adverse analytical finding even if WADA rules do not require it.
That issue is a big talking point during this Giro as Chris Froome, whose Sky team is not a member of MPCC, continues to race as rules allow as his Salbutamol case plays out.
On Wednesday, defending Giro champion Tom Dumoulin pointed out the contradiction by saying he would not be allowed to race the Giro under the same circumstances as Froome because his Sunweb team is part of the MPCC.
“It’s his decision to be here,” Dumoulin said of Froome. “Like I said, my team is part of the MPCC, and if I would be in the same situation, I would not be here. That is his decision and it’s not up to me to have an opinion about it.”