Emphasising that it supports the philosophy of the MPCC anti-doping movement, the LottoNL-Jumbo team has nevertheless said that it is withdrawing from that group due to a disagreement over the rule requiring riders with low cortisol levels to take a break from competition.
The squad had first-hand experience of this situation prior to the Giro d’Italia, with the Kiwi rider George Bennett being blocked from competing.
Pre-race cortisol tests detected that his levels were low and, as per MPCC rules, the team was unable to keep him on its roster for the race.
However Bennett said on May 28 that tests had determined that his low levels were caused by his ‘legal, declared and prescribed’ asthma and allergy medication.
The team issued a long statement on Wednesday explaining why it was withdrawing from the body with immediate effect.
“Bennett underwent several additional tests, which proved that he was kept out of the Giro unjustly. This, as well as advice from external experts, shows that the MPCC procedure is not a 100% accurate. There has been a lot of contact between the team and the MPCC. Within the MPCC, it was impossible to realise an adjustment of procedures regarding the measurement of cortisol levels before the general meeting in October, this to prevent riders from unjustly being kept from racing.
“Team LottoNL-Jumbo cannot conform to a procedure that is not a 100% accurate. The team supports the MPCC’s standpoints and, for this reason, regrets this difficult decision.”
Wednesday’s release states that almost two years ago a number of team physicians at the MPCC’s general meeting sought an examination by external experts in order to determine if a too-low cortisol level is always unhealthy.
The MPCC’s policy is that it is, and that the exclusion from races is a health measure imposed in order to protect riders.
Low cortisol levels can be caused by a number of factors including the use of corticosteroids.
According to LottoNL-Jumbo, a medical expert approached by the MPCC gave a conclusion about the current procedure used. The team states that the expert believes that the practice of relying on the levels determined on a single morning “is lacking precision and can lead to false positive results, after which healthy riders are unjustly being kept out of races. He advises additional tests once a low cortisol level is measured.”
The team states that the experts it appointed also reached the same conclusion. “Additional tests proved that there was never an unhealthy situation, nor the abuse of external corticosteroids within our team.”
According to LottoNL-Jumbo’s managing director Richard Plugge, the team is supportive of the battle against corticosteroids in cycling. “However, a low cortisol level is not always the result of substance abuse, and a low cortisol level certainly does not always mean an unhealthy situation,” he said.
“For this reason, we, as well as other teams/ team physicians and riders, are of the opinion that the procedure surrounding the monitoring of low cortisol levels should be adapted, to prevent riders unjustly being kept out of races and teams suffering unnecessary image loss and sportive damage.
“We know that the procedure is not a 100% accurate, as should be the case in such procedures. Two of our riders have been kept from racing unjustly (Vuelta 2013 and Giro 2015) due to this inaccuracy. Knowing the flaws in this system, we cannot justify a rider being excluded from entering a race any longer.”