By Gregor Brown
Defending Vuelta a España champion, Chris Horner will not start the race on Saturday due to low cortisol levels.
Team Lampre-Merida announced this morning that it pulled the American from its roster after UCI blood tests showed he had a low level of cortisol as a result of being given oral cortisone to treat lingering bronchitis after the Tour de France.
As Lampre-Merida is a member of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), it follows the group's stricter anti-doping rules - and Horner's cortisol level was below that specified by the MPCC.
"It has been necessary for a change of programme," read a team press release this morning. "Even though Horner would be allowed to start the race as far as the UCI is concerned, the team are obliged to respect the rules and the regulations of the MPCC organisation on complete voluntary decision."
Italian Valerio Conti will take Horner's spot and make his grand tour debut.
Horner's difficult season
Horner made history last year when he became the oldest grand tour winner by winning the Vuelta at 41 years old. This April, his season was put in doubt after a hit and run training accident that left him with a punctured lung and fractured ribs. He missed the Giro d'Italia, but returned in time for the Tour de France. Now, however, a low cortisol reading has ended his Vuelta ride.
Team Manager Brent Copeland told Cycling Weekly: "We respect the MPCC regulation and therefore he cannot start after the therapy he had in Utah for bronchitis he's been battling with."
"After the finish of Tour de France and after the Tour of Utah where the athlete was still suffering from bronchitis, Chris Horner underwent two examinations by two specialists for his bronchitis as he had been suffering since the beginning of the Tour de France as well as during the Tour of Utah, both specialists agreed that a treatment of cortisone by oral means was the only way to resolve this problem," Lampre's head doctor, Carlo Guardascione said.
"All the necessary steps were taken to request a TUE (therapeutical use exemption), this authorisation was given by UCI commission for the athlete to proceed with this therapy on the 15.08.2014. Physiologically this treatment can cause a lowering of the cortisol together with other factors such as jet lag after his travel from United States where he had a time difference of nine hours."
After blood tests for the start of the Vuelta a España, Horner showed cortisol below the MPCC minimum and the team pulled him.
"Of course, I'm sad about this news," Horner explained. "I was willing to try to defend the 2013 title, the Vuelta was my main target in the season, the team signed me with the aim of being competitive in the Spanish race, but I accept the decision linked to the MPCC's rules.
"This bad bronchitis caused me a lot of problems, I've been suffering for it for weeks and this treatment could have allowed me to solve the problem. UCI gave authorisation for the treatment, I could race according UCI rules, but my team is member of MPCC, I understand it and we all must accept this situation without regrets".
Last year, Europcar broke from MPCC's rules and allowed Pierre Rolland to continue to race with low cortisol levels. Like Lampre with Horner, team Belkin pulled Theo Bos before the start the 2013 Vuelta a España for low levels of the hormone. Both riders were allowed to continue racing later.
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