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Hedge-blog: Chris Froome and his TUE

1st July 2014

Chris Froome was interviewed by Paul Kimmage in the Irish Independent, and the first part of the interview was published on Sunday 29th June 2014.

It's an interesting read, and the interview covers a lot of topics. 

Paul Kimmage asks about Froome's performance on Mont Ventoux last year, and they discuss the way he left Contador behind. Paul Kimmage says, '[An observation he made] is totally based on Contador who - and I've said this for a long time - is a cheat. You are beating people who have cheated, which is a fantastic thing to do if it's legitimate. And that's the question: Is it legitimate? This is the question that's being raised.'

It's refreshing to hear Kimmage talk about Contador in such a straightforward way.

But this post is about the issue of a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) which Froome obtained this year during the Tour of Romandy.

The story of Froome's TUE has been running in the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. It was a TUE for prednisone, a glucocortisteroid which is normally banned in competition, unless a dispensation is granted.

Kimmage explains the background. 'The abuse of glucocortisteroids has been rampant in cycling for years and Froome's team had earned plaudits for stating that they would withdraw riders from competition rather than apply for TUEs. What was going on? Had that policy, like many of the others, suddenly changed?'

In the exchange with Kimmage, Froome says that Team Sky followed the rules set out by the UCI, and the use of the medication was legitimate.

Kimmage establishes that Froome did not ride the Liege-Bastogne-Liege because of a chest infection. 48 hours later, at the Tour of Romandy, the infection was pretty much finished. 'I did the prologue and my chest closed up completely and that's when [the team doctor Richard Usher] said, 'Okay, listen, we know you're fit to race but you're coughing like a dog. You need to take this (prednisone) to clear your chest.'

The team applied for the TUE, and there was no question of Froome pulling out of the race because 'I was fit, I had done a great prologue. I was ready, I wasn't ill - it was an asthmatic response - the closed airways, the continuous coughing.'

Kimmage: 'So this is the issue: Do you recognise that the use of these drugs, which are quite strong and performance-enhancing, should be reserved for when you are ill?'

The exchange continues, and then Kimmage explains, 'And the criticism has come because your team are on the record as saying that they would not apply for TUEs and would set a standard.'

Froome's response is '...that was something I only found out about afterwards from David Walsh.' He says there has been a 'miscommunication' somewhere.

Kimmage then suggests that the right thing to do would have been to take Froome out of the race, to set the standard others can look up to. Froome replies, 'OK.'

Froome then asks Kimmage, 'Do we sacrifice winning a race like the Tour de France, even when we are following the rules? Or do we go further than following the rules and pull out of the race?'

'Well the Tour de France is a big price to pay, I admit,' replies Kimmage, rather disappointingly. However, he later tells the story of Jonathan Vaughters who needed a cortisone injection for a wasp sting in the eye, when he was only a couple of days from Paris, but was pulled from the race instead.

So should Team Sky follow the UCI rules, or their own stated policies? The right answer must be that they should do what they've said they'll do. If they promised not to apply for TUEs, then they shouldn't. If they want to change the policy, they should announce the change, and defend the reasons for it. What they shouldn't do is ignore their own policies out of expediency - because then how can you trust anything else they say?

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