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by Shane Stokes
July 4, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
UTRECHT, The Netherlands (CT) – The Tour de France has not yet started but the under-fire Astana team has already found itself centre stage and in the spotlight after it decided to defy the rules of the MPCC anti-doping movement and keep Lars Boom on its roster.
The Dutchman, who signed for the team after winning last year’s cobblestone stage, underwent the compulsory medical screening carried out by the UCI on Friday on all of the Tour entrants. One of those tests was for cortisol levels, and it was determined that this measurement was below the minimum threshold specified by the MPCC as being necessary for health.
The body produces cortisol as part of its usual endocrine system. While there can be more than one cause of low levels, they can be indicative of the use of external corticoids.
The news about Boom’s issue emerged late on Friday evening. Astana indicated then that it was seeking dispensation from the UCI to allow another rider, Valerio Agnoli, to begin the race instead. However the UCI turned down this late request, as per its rules.
As a result of that Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov indicated on Saturday morning that the team would continue with Boom.
Since then, the team issued a statement explaining how the situation arose.
“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.”
It noted that under the MPCC rules any rider deemed by that organisation to have low cortisol levels had to undergo an eight day break from competition. Because of that, Boom would be required to rest if the MPCC regulations were followed.
“Astana Pro Team asked the UCI to allow a replacement rider in place of Boom, and received confirmation from the UCI that as a low cortisol result is no risk to the health of the rider, therefore there are no valid grounds for a late substitution.”
Because of that, it has taken the decision to press ahead with its original roster rather than start with one rider less than the usual nine. The team is trying to win the Tour de France again with Nibali and regards Boom as an important part of that plan.
Unlike the MPCC, the UCI doesn’t have a rule about low cortisol levels. However as Astana signed up to the MPCC, it must comply or risk suspension or expulsion from that organisation.
The MPCC has long faced claims that some teams join it to benefit from the good public relations image being part of the organisation can provide.
When Astana was under scrutiny over the five positive tests which cropped up last year between the WorldTour and Continental squads, its membership of the MPCC was one of the factors mentioned by the UCI’s Licence Commission in its decision to allow the team to continue with its licence.
The team remains under continuous assessment. As a result, today’s decision to go against MPCC regulations may be part of any later consideration of its licence.