The Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) organisation has temporarily suspended Astana after the UCI WorldTour team allowed Lars Boom to enter the Tour de France despite an abnormally low cortisol level.
Dutch rider Boom (pictured) returned the low cortisol reading on Thursday, two days before the start of the Tour de France. Low cortisol can indicate cortisone doping, but can also be a result of illness, and is not held as conclusive proof by the sport’s authorities. There is no evidence of Boom committing any doping violation.
The results came back after the Tour deadline for squad changes, meaning Astana faced the prospect of entering the race a rider down without Boom. Astana rider Vincenzo Nibali is the reigning Tour de France champion.
The MPCC is a group of teams which hold themselves to stricter anti-doping guidelines than the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Under article nine of its regulations, riders showing a low cortisol level are required to sit out competitions for eight days.
A statement from the MPCC read: “In the wake of the choice of Astana to allow Lars Boom to take the start of the Tour de France and thus not to respect the article nine of the MPCC’s rules, unanimously the board of directors of MPCC take cognisance of this decision and temporarily suspend Team Astana of its movement, waiting for the next meeting of the board of directors according to its statute. In virtue of this decision, team Astana will no longer be subject to the unscheduled cortisol levels controls conducted by MPCC from this day on.
“We shall remind that cortisol levels controls are part of the health protection of the rider, because a collapse cortisol level can have serious consequences for the high-level athlete. Since 2009, more than 1,400 cortisol levels controls have been conducted on the riders belonging to teams’ members of MPCC. During this period, only eight deductions were displaying abnormal low cortisol levels.”
The MPCC now has less than half of the WorldTour teams as members. Lampre-Merida, Bardiani-CSF and LottoNL-Jumbo have left in recent months, with the latter two teams doing so amid controversy over cortisol tests. Dutch squad LottoNL-Jumbo questioned the accuracy of the test after its rider George Bennett was forced out of the Giro d’Italia with low cortisol levels, while an unnamed rider from Italian team Bardiani was ruled out of the race on similar grounds.
In May, the UCI revealed that Astana retained its elite WorldTour licence because it had stayed clear of doping scandals this season. The UCI in April announced that Astana would keep its licence after requesting in February that the licence be withdrawn amid anti-doping infringements surrounding the squad. UCI president Brian Cookson in December stated that the Astana case represented a “very serious situation” for the sport as the UCI Licence Commission granted the team a licence for 2015, but effectively placed it on probation.
Astana is currently being monitored by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL), under the supervision of the Licence Commission, with instances of non-compliance in relation to doping opening up the prospect of its WorldTour status being revoked. Astana has pledged to eradicate the flaws highlighted by an ISSUL report – namely a lack of resources in the coaching staff and poor management culture.