LottoNL-Jumbo has left the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), citing reservations about the accuracy of the body's voluntary cortisol tests. The announcement comes after LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett was prevented from starting the Giro d’Italia when he returned a low cortisol level in an MPCC test before the race. It was the second time one of the team’s riders had missed out on a Grand Tour in such circumstances, with Theo Bos having been withheld from the Vuelta a España in 2013 due to his low cortisol levels.
The MPCC’s tests are an additional measure designed to counteract the abuse of corticosteroids in cycling, as a low cortisol reading can be indicative of their use. According to the MPCC’s rules on corticosteroids, which are more stringent than those found in the WADA code, riders who require treatment with cortisone may not race for eight days and may only return to competitive action when their cortisol levels return to within pre-established parameters.
In the cases of Bos and Bennett, however, LottoNL-Jumbo (formerly Belkin) claimed that its riders had been wrongly withheld from racing, blaming asthma medication for the low cortisol level in each instance and insisting that their participation did not pose a health risk.
While LottoNL-Jumbo said it lauded the principle behind the MPCC’s cortisol testing – “The team endorses the MPCC’s standpoints and applauds the movement’s philosophy” – it added that it felt obliged to leave the organisation with immediate effect as there can be no alteration of the cortisol threshold until the MPCC’s annual general meeting in Paris in October.
“Within the MPCC, it was impossible to realise an adjustment of procedures regarding the measurement of cortisol levels before the general meeting in October,” the statement read. “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.”
In its statement, LottoNL-Jumbo went on to claim that an unnamed independent expert had deemed the MPCC’s current cortisol procedure to be lacking in precision as it relies on a cortisol reading from just one day. Team manager Richard Plugge called for the introduction of an alternative means of monitoring cortisol levels.
“Our team supports the battle against the abuse of 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,” Plugge 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 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.”
In its statement announcing Bennett's withdrawal from the Giro, LottoNL-Jumbo had confirmed that the control was carried out by UCI testers. "Today the team received an email from the UCI that low cortisol levels were measured in the regular UCI pre-race test last Thursday. According to the UCI Bennett is allowed to start in the Giro," LottoNL-Jumbo's statement of May 8 said, before noting that, in accordance with MPCC regulations, the New Zealander had been pulled from the Giro line-up due to his low cortisol levels.
LottoNL-Jumbo is the third team to leave the MPCC in 2015 after one of its riders fell foul of the additional, voluntary measures, and the departure marks a significant blow for the movement. Lampre-Merida left the MPCC this spring due to a disagreement over Diego Ulissi’s status following his return from a doping suspension, while Bardiani-CSF departed last week having refused to withhold one of its riders who returned a low cortisol level before the Giro.
LottoNL-Jumbo’s departure means that there are now just nine WorldTour teams left in the MPCC – Ag2r-La Mondiale, Astana, Cannondale-Garmin, FDJ, Giant-Alpecin, IAM Cycling, Orica-GreenEdge, Katusha and Lotto-Soudal.
Contacted by Cyclingnews, MPCC president Roger Legeay said that the movement would issue a statement on LottoNL-Jumbo’s decision later on Wednesday.