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by Shane Stokes
May 29, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Commenting almost three weeks after he was blocked from starting the Giro d’Italia due to low cortisol levels, the New Zealand rider George Bennett has issued a long statement about the situation, maintaining his innocence and faulting the current MPCC ruling in relation to the test.
The MPCC is an anti-doping organisation that the majority of WorldTour and Pro Continental teams are members of. It has a number of strict rules including one saying that riders with low cortisol levels must be rested from competition and thus cannot take part in races until two weeks have elapsed.
Low cortisol levels can be due to the use of cortisone, but can also have other causes.
Bennett states that he is completely against doping in the sport and asserts that the current system is not functioning correctly. The 25 year old LottoNL-Jumbo rider adds that he feels his name is unjustly blackened.
“I have not said anything to the press since…every rider in my situation would claim they have nothing to hide and I know words don’t go very far in a sport with such a tainted history,” he writes in a long entry about the matter on his personal blog. “Instead I wanted to wait and come to you with the proof.
“The following story is not to convince you that I’ve done nothing untoward, this has already been done through the independent testing undergone over the last few weeks which has shown that my low cortisol level was caused by my 100% legal, declared and prescribed allergy/asthma medication.
“The next few paragraphs are to help me vent my frustration at a flawed system, to show my appreciation for those around me and to tell my side of the story.”
Bennett describes the way in which he discovered that he would not be able to ride the Giro d’Italia, saying that he had just started a massage when a team director told him that he needed to speak with the squad in the team bus.
He says that the team told him he would be unable to compete in the race due to the low cortisol levels, but that the team also told him that it stood 100 percent behind him and believed he had done nothing wrong.
Bennett states the team’s stated support changed his reaction from panic to anger, saying that his build-up over the previous three months ‘was going to be p*ssed away by politics.’
“I guess though, I was more angered about the hit to my reputation,” he continues. “I have always been vocal about anti-doping in our sport and especially about guys pushing the limits with things like cortisone, TUE’s, glandular medication… the grey areas. I was talking to a friend about it and told him that when this happened to other riders in the past, my instant thoughts were “those cheating b*stards have been smashing cortisone”. He replied, ‘Yeah but in your case it is different and people don’t think that.’
“Why though? “because I don’t win races like the other guys who have had the same problem?”…my counter argument to him was to look at Lloyd Mondory…he tested positive for EPO and didn’t win anything.”
Bennett states that he contacted his manager Andrew McQuaid when the situation emerged. The Irishman flew to him in Italy and stressed the importance of staying off the internet and not replying to those online making assertions about the case.
He continues on to speak about the MPCC, saying that he does appreciate what the body does.
“I love the idea of banning Tramadol in races. I also think getting rid of cortisone use from our sport would change things too,” he states. “However until now I didn’t realise the flaws of their testing system. If I was on any of the 10 teams at the Giro that are not part of the MPCC, I would be riding the Giro today, not writing this article at home.
“For all I know I might have been under the cortisol limit ten times in my career to date and not even known about it.”
By way of example, Bennett states that he had coffee with a professional in Girona in recent days and that the rider told him that his normal haematocrit level is 44, but that it jumped to 51 during the off season after a period of time at altitude.
“If that was 15 years ago he would have been stood down for a period and everyone would assume he was using EPO,” he states. “In a few years time I hope someone returns a low cortisol reading and says ‘thankfully this wasn’t in 2015 or I would be stood down.’
“At the same time how do we stop cortisone use in our sport? I don’t know the answer to that at the moment but I know a few guys like me taking the fall to stop guys that are genuinely abusing cortisone is not the answer.”
Bennett describes how he had to do follow up tests with a cortisol specialist. He says these involved continuously providing urine samples for 48 hours after the test plus undergoing regular blood tests.
Following those tests, he said he knuckled down to training again, clocking up 19 hours in three days and also buying an altitude tent to be ready for the Tour of Belgium.
“I hope the work I have done is not lost. I’m still light. I’m still strong and I’m very motivated.”
He winds down his blog entry by saying that his considers the past few weeks to be some of the toughest he has faced but that the support of his friends, his family, his team and others have helped greatly.
“Life goes on and I guess the option is to sink or swim,” he concludes. “I have every intention to swim, even if at this moment it feels like it’s against a strong current. However to continue with the ocean/swimming theme, tides can turn very fast.
“So there’s a quick insight into my nightmare. I’m sure there will still be people who have their minds set on the causes for my low cortisol. But I truly couldn’t care for their opinions anymore. I hope we can all learn something from this…I sure have.”
Click here to read the full blog entry.