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UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — Lars Boom will start the 2015 Tour de France on Saturday despite low levels of cortisol that run afoul with MPCC, a volunteer advocacy group that Astana joined in 2013.
Astana manager Alexander Vinokourov told reporters just hours before start of the opening time trial that the Kazakh-backed team will put Boom in the race in defiance of MPCC (Mouvement pour Cyclisme Credible) rules.
“Boom will take the start,” Reuters quoted Vinokourov on Saturday.
In an official statement released Saturday, Astana officials confirmed Boom would start, but did not clarify if it was exiting MPCC. Its decision to start with Boom will likely prompt MPCC to kick them out. MPCC rules are stricter than anti-doping regulations from the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and teams voluntarily agree to comply to stricter ethical guidelines.
Astana said Boom’s low cortisol levels were triggered by the use of asthma medication.
“Team medical staff have advised that Boom’s low cortisol result is the consequence of a long-standing and well-known application of anti-asthma therapy by the athlete and is not a violation of UCI rules and regulations,” the Astana statement read. “Team medical staff have advised that there is no danger to the rider’s health or safety to start the 2015 Tour de France.”
UCI president Brian Cookson told AFP that Boom is not in violation of any UCI rules.
“Lars Boom has not broken any UCI or WADA rules. The issue of cortisol and cortisone has been referred to WADA’s scientific experts and, at the present moment, they have not recommended we or anyone else take action to include that within our rules,” Cookson told AFP. “It’s not included in the WADA rules, so I can say that Lars Boom is free to start the Tour de France. Under UCI rules, he hasn’t broken any rules.”
The story broiled overnight as Astana debated on what to do, putting the Kazakh-backed team in a quandary. Astana, which struggled to retain its WorldTour license for 2015 following a pair of EPO positives involving the Iglinsky brothers last year, did not want to lose such an important rider as Boom, who would be a key helper for defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali in the first week.
The question of cortisol is on the cutting-edge of sport science. Low levels can suggest, but not prove, the possible use of corticoids, which can be allowed in special cases with a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). Cortisol levels can naturally decline, but low levels typically reveal the use of corticoids.
In pre-Tour health screenings Thursday, Boom tested for low levels. Though not against UCI rules, the MPCC requires an eight-day rest for riders to allow cortisol to return to normal levels. The test results were revealed late Friday, hours after the pre-Tour sport director’s meeting. UCI rules do not allow roster changes in the final start list after the meeting.
Late Friday night, Astana was still holding out hope that Alessandro Vanotti could replace Boom, allowing Astana to remain in MPCC. Vanotti was spotted by VeloNews contributor Dane Cash in the Milano airport, but the UCI said it was too late to allow roster changes.
“As per UCI regulations, teams cannot change their starting lists after the directeur sportif meeting has taken place,” a UCI statement read. “The UCI is committed to applying its regulations consistently, and will therefore not authorize any team to change its starting list now.”
Other riders recently have been caught out in similar situations, including Chris Horner before last year’s Vuelta a España, while George Bennett was left out of the Giro this year. Astana joins WorldTour teams such as Lampre-Merida and LottoNL-Jumbo who have left the volunteer organization.
Gregor Brown, Andrew Hood, Caley Fretz, and Dan Cavallari contributed to this story.