Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) made light of the effects of a wasp sting to ride back into the overall lead at the Vuelta a España on Wednesday, but twelve years on from Jonathan Vaughters’ infamous abandon at the 2001 Tour de France, the incident has reopened debate over the use of cortisone in such situations.
A picture of Nibali’s swollen face made the front page of Gazzetta dello Sport, with the Italian newspaper’s report maintaining that the Sicilian was unable to treat the sting with cortisone due to Astana’s membership of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), which imposes more stringent rules than the UCI regarding therapeutic use exemptions for cortisone.
“We will leave the movement,” Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli said, according to Gazzetta, while Alexandre Vinokourov was described as having been “sent into a fury” by the news that Nibali would be unable to treat the sting with anything stronger than an antihistamine.
Contacted by Cyclingnews on Thursday, however, MPCC president Roger Legeay said that the regulations governing the use of glucorticosteroids are laid down by the UCI rather than expressly by the MPCC, and he explained that he had advised Astana team doctor Raquel Ortolano on the matter ahead of the previous day’s time trial.
Legeay could certainly empathise with Astana’s dilemma, given that he was the manager of the Credit Agricole team when the decision was taken not to create a false prescription in order to treat Jonathan Vaughters’ allergic reaction to a bee sting at the 2001 Tour.
“The doctor from the Astana team called me to talk about the situation and, of course, it was a problem that I knew all too well from Jonathan Vaughters in 2001, when we didn’t treat him and he had to abandon the Tour as a consequence,” Legeay said. “In this instance, the decision was also taken not to use cortisone and from what I saw in the press, they respected that. The Astana doctor told me that they would respect the rules and that’s what they did. It was the right decision from all concerned.”
Asked whether these rules were laid down by the UCI – as Nibali said in his post-stage press conference – or the MPCC – as suggested by the Gazzetta piece – Legeay said that the decision not to treat the sting with cortisone was in keeping with the regulations of both organizations.
“But it’s not a question of blaming the UCI, the MPCC or Astana,” Legeay continued. “If the question is whether the rider needed to be treated with cortisone or not for the wasp sting, then the answer is perhaps ‘no’ seeing as he was able to ride a good time trial and take the red jersey without resorting to using cortisone.
“On the other hand, we have had the same situation before with Jonathan Vaughters where he had to abandon the Tour because of a wasp sting, so it’s something that without doubt will have to be put back on the table, with both the MPCC and the UCI too.”
The Pellizotti question
Martinelli’s reported threat to leave the MPCC gains added significance when considered in the context of Astana’s acquisition of Franco Pellizotti from Androni-Venezuela for the 2014 season.
Pellizotti served a two-year ban from May 2010 to May 2012 after irregularities were found in his biological passport, and according to MPCC rules, the Italian cannot ride for an MPCC-affiliated team for a further two years – that is, until 2 May, 2014.
When Pellizoti’s arrival was announced in August, Martinelli told Cyclingnews that he would “come up with a solution to this real problem in the next few days” but unless Astana leaves the MPCC or the MPCC alters its code, it appears that Pellizotti will have to remain on the sidelines from the beginning of next season until just before the start of the Giro d’Italia.
“The last formal information that we have at the MPCC came from Alexandre Vinokourov, who told us in August that they hadn’t signed Pellizotti yet,” Legeay told Cyclingnews on Thursday. “Of course they can sign Pellizotti now or at any time but with the MPCC, the rule is clear – a suspended rider can’t race for a further two years, so he has to wait until May 2nd, 2014 to race for them.
“We have a good rapport with Astana and with every team in the MPCC. Of course, there can come a day for any team when it has problems with a regulation and is annoyed by it, and that’s a shame, but these regulations are necessary for us in order to have credible cycling. For instance, if WADA moved to applying four-year bans, then the additional two years requested by the MPCC would no longer be required.”