Wellens became ill during stage 14 to Rodez, and despite showing signs of improvement overnight, he was forced to get into his team’s car in the early part of the stage to Le Puy-en-Velay, citing further deterioration in his condition.
It was reported that the Belgian had suffered an allergy, but his team’s doctor Servaas Bingé informed Cycling Weekly that they are currently classing the problem as an illness, until medical tests prove otherwise.
The team wouldn’t specify what drug had been offered to Wellens, but the 26-year-old did not want to be given a TUE which would have allowed him to be treated with an otherwise banned substance.
“That was his choice, yes,” Bingé said when asked if it was true Wellens refused a TUE. “I think he just wanted to be fair. He’s a fair athlete and I thank him for that.
“I think this is a major mental flip with young athletes and it is a good thing.”
Watch: Tour de France stage 15 highlights
TUEs have been in the spotlight over the past year after the Russian hacking group, the Fancy Bears, leaked the medical records of a number of athletes, including high-profile British cyclists Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
The latter came under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that he had been granted three TUEs before Grand Tours whilst at Team Sky; meanwhile, Olympic team sprint champion Callum Skinner published his entire NHS medical records after he had also taken a TUE to treat his asthma.
Put to Bingé that Wellens may have declined a TUE as he didn’t want to be the subject of negative press like Wiggins was, he responded: “I think so. It’s a choice that every rider can make for himself and we won’t push them.”
Bingé described Wellens’ condition: “It started yesterday during the stage. He felt a little bit cold, a little bit of pain in his throat and his muscles were aching.
“We did a proper check on him yesterday evening and he had no fever. He had a very good night’s sleep and this morning he felt OK and we let him start.
“But in the first minutes he wasn’t feeling good enough. At this moment it is an illness, a respiratory infection. There is always a thin line to balance on when it comes to a rider’s immunity.
“He has to recover first and then we will check if it was an allergy with the medical specialists in Belgium.”