A new revelation by an ex-pro confirms how some racers abuse TUEs to gain an edge in performance.
Lieuwe Westra, a former Dutch pro who retired after 2016, revealed in a new book that he faked injuries in order to get therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for banned products during his professional career.
Westra, 35, explained how he pretended to have injuries and other ailments in order to obtain a TUE to use banned cortisone injections during competition. The powerful painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug is banned under WADA rules, but it is allowed through TUE use under a doctor’s orders.
“In my first year as a pro it became clear to me that no victories were achieved purely through hard work,” Westra wrote in his book, The Beast, the cycling life of Lieuwe Westra, which is slated for release next week in Holland.
“If you wanted to ride with the top, you have to push the line.”
Westra raced with Vacansoleil-DCM from 2009 to 2013, when the team folded. He then rode for Astana from 2014 to 2016. A strong time trialist, he won 13 races during his career, including stages at Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour of California, and the Volta a Catalunya.
“I received the TUE because of a ‘fake’ injury, like a swollen knee,” Westra wrote. “I shot it into my body in order to ride faster and win prizes.” Westra did not reveal names of doctors or others who might have assisted him in using the faked TUEs.
Vacansoleil-DCM is already folded, but Astana offered a strong denial of the report over the weekend. Westra raced the final three years of his career with the Kazakh team.
“We’re shocked to read about Lieuwe Westra and his use of drugs in the period he had a contract with Astana Pro Team, as the team never provided him with any of the medicines that are mentioned in the media today,” the team said in a statement.
“We’re shocked about the news and we want to make clear that at Astana Pro Team forbidden drugs are never and will never be provided to any rider.
“In case that the use of prohibited drugs really took place, Astana Team reserves the right to demand financial compensation from the rider, since the use of doping is strictly prohibited by the internal regulations of the team, which is signed by each rider.”
Westra’s admissions came just as 45-year-old Karsten Kroon, another ex-pro Dutch rider, admitted last week that he used doping products during “part” of his racing career from 1997 to 2014.
What’s more interesting is how Westra admitted that he played the TUE system to gain access to banned drugs.
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, “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.
The issue of TUEs continues to be controversial. The cycling group MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) has taken a strong stance against TUEs, and its members will not allow its riders to race if they require one.
Westra’s book, due to be released next week, might provide more details of who might have collaborated with him.