Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway) struck out at the UCI following Sunday’s final stage of the Tour of Utah, saying that the international governing body refused to grant him a therapeutic use exemption for medication to treat respiratory issues that have plagued him since the 2014 Tour de France.
The 43-year-old American finished the seven-day Tour of Utah in fifth overall after placing second in 2013 and 2014. Horner suffered asthma attacks during both the mountain stages on Saturday and Sunday and had to claw his way back to the lead group each time, hampering his ability to drop the other general classification contenders or stick with overall winner Joe Dombrowski during the summit finish on Saturday.
After the conclusion of Sunday’s final stage in Park City, a visibly frustrated Horner told Cyclingnews that the UCI had denied his request for asthma medication despite recommendations from two doctors.
“I sent in for a [therapeutic use exemption] after the Philly and Arlington races [in June],” Horner said. “I still had asthma and I sent in a TUE request, and the UCI, without sending any doctor to look at me, wouldn’t approve my TUE even though I was five, six weeks from the next race.
“If you were on a [WorldTour] team and had a doctor, it would be approved within one week,” he said. “But because I don’t, they fucking denied me and now I have to race all these races sick and unhealthy.”
People’s livelihoods are on the line, Horner said, and if a doctor says a rider needs medication for health reasons and to do his job, the UCI has a responsibility to prove the rider doesn’t need it before they simply deny the TUE.
“The UCI needs to start looking after riders,” he said. “If they can send a doping control officer all the way over the world to my house once a month, they can send a doctor, or you could pay a local doctor to give his opinion.
“I have two doctors who say I’m sick, and I’ve sent [the TUE request] in with a big window before the next race, so you can clearly see it’s not for doping reasons, and they still denied me. And then I have to come here sick and unhealthy and hurt myself even more.”
During Saturday’s Queen stage, which finished with the Little Cottonwood climb to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Horner fought breathing problems at the beginning of the ascent and had to drop back to get it under control. When he made it back to the yellow jersey group of race leader Michael Woods (Optum Pro Cycling), Dombrowski was already up the road. During Sunday’s climb up Empire Pass, Horner was initially dropped but then bridged back to the leaders with Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider Lachlan Morton. Horner eventually finished fifth on the stage in a group that came in 20 seconds behind winner Lachlan Norris (Drapac).
“I had asthma attacks like unbelievable,” he said. “And all I’m doing is getting hurt every race I go to. Every race I have to suffer like a pig to make it. I have incredibly good form, but I can’t breathe."
Horner, who said he’s had only two TUEs throughout his long career, said because he is racing on a Continental team with a small budget and no team doctor, he’s been spending a lot of his own money to try and get his respiratory problems under control.
“I’m spending all that to get all the approved things, to get the doctors’ things that show I’m sick,” he said. “I send the papers in that show I’m sick, and they deny it. And, man, they deny it without even having a doctor look at me. So with some back alley voodoo magic bullshit they’re like, ‘Nah, you don’t qualify.’”
Cyclingnews put Horner’s accusations directly to the UCI. The governing body were quick to respond, telling the website that, “all TUE requests are submitted to the UCI via ADAMS, and examined by three members of the TUE Committee. Based on the documentation provided by the rider and the WADA Guidelines for TUEs, the panel found that not all the requirements had been satisfied and therefore the TUE demand had to be denied. The UCI TUE Committee is made up of six members, most of them independent of the UCI and of National Federations, renowned for their expertise in sports medicine.”
Horner believes the TUE request was denied because he’s not racing the big events in Europe this year, and it’s simply easier for the governing body to say no than it is to invest the time and money to process the request with due diligence.
“It’s ridiculous that the UCI never looks after us when we’re in trouble,” he said. “They only want to look after us when they make money. They’ll approve a TUE from any ProTour rider on the planet when a doctor sends it in, but when an independent pro himself sends it in they deny it and they take too much time and they waste time.
“They cost me doing the Tour of Spain last year because they wasted time, and they’ve cost me a result here at Tour of Utah, not to mention how much damage I have to do to my body because they won’t do their fucking jobs.”
A report earlier this year in Le Journal du Dimanche claimed the UCI granted 2013 and 2015 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) a TUE to fight a respiratory infection before the Tour de Romandie without going through proper protocols.
The WADA code states that applications for a TUE must be reviewed by a committee that “should include at least three physicians with experience in the care and treatment of athletes and a sound knowledge of clinical, sports and exercise medicine.”
The French newspaper reported that former UCI scientific adviser Dr. Mario Zorzoli did not consult with a TUE committee before approving Froome’s request for an exemption to use the glucocorticosteroid prednisolone during the Tour de Romandie, although WADA later said no rules were broken for the high-profile rider.
“The UCI has taken it from one extreme, where they used to just allow whatever you needed, to now they won’t allow anything, unless of course it’s a [WorldTour] doctor nagging them,” Horner said.