Defending Vuelta a Espana champion Chris Horner has been pulled from the start list of the Spanish grand tour due to low levels of cortisol. (Not high levels of sangria or presence of tapas in blood stream.)
While free to race according to the UCI regulations, his Lampre-Merida team is a member of the MPCC (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible) which mandates that riders with low cortisol should be recovering on a couch.
That’s tremendously sad news for the 42 year old Horner but an impressive show of ethics from his Lampre-Merida squad. More than a few teams would have made excuses and started Horner anyway. Hats off to team manager Brent Copeland for playing by the rules and showing leadership.
That said, here at Twisted Spoke we have to question the handling of Horner’s illness, his medical treatment and race schedule. In our view the team put a questionable priority on the Tour of Utah and thus risked his participation in the far bigger race, the Vuelta a Espana.
Horner has been suffering with bronchitis since the Tour de France and eventually resorted to an oral course of cortisone. Copeland admitted they were rolling the dice with this treatment. “He did the test yesterday, the levels were too low. I think this shows just how much we respect the MPCC rules and what they believe in. It’s unfortunate but we all knew that there was a risk with the treatment.”
Yes, Horner knew the odds might not be in his favor. “I knew the risk with the medication, but it was the only way to be healthy,” he said. “Those are the rules. I don’t disagree with the rules. I knew the risk taking the oral cortisone. I had my fingers crossed, and that I wouldn’t have any problems, but with the health checks, it wasn’t possible.”
Was it “the only way to be healthy?”
From our perspective — and we’re not Horner or Copeland or a doctor — his best shot at recovering from bronchitis was to sit out the Tour of Utah — a race where he eventually finished second overall to Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp).
It seemed crazy to take a 42 year old athlete who’d been hacking up his lungs for over a month and throw him in a climbers race at high altitude that’s billed as “America’s Toughest Race.
The fact is, Horner has been gobbling antibiotics since Le Grand Shindig, a total of three rounds. That’s a lot of powerful pharmaceuticals to dump in your system.
Horner was more than aware that wasn’t a particularly good idea. “From 10 days before the Tour until now, I’m sure there’s been some kind of antibiotics in my system the whole time. So whatever I got I can’t seem to clear up.” said Horner in Utah. “Not a good idea to race your bike in the Tour de France and then come here and still try and get healthy. It’s a little bit hard, but it comes with the job sometimes.”
Maybe the job would have been for his Lampre-Merida team to say “whoa, Chris, we know you want to tune up for the Vuelta but enough with the antibiotics and oral cortisone. Your immune system is crushed, your body is stressed to the max, you gotta take a real break.”
That didn’t happen.
“I was hoping to be here at a 100 percent, but clearly I am not. There is nothing more I can do. I did everything right, with training, diet, commitment, but it’s just not meant to be,” said Horner. I have to move on.”
Horner was philosophical about the end of his ride in the Vuelta. “Of course I’m sad about this news. I was willing to try to defend the 2013 title, Vuelta was my main target in the season, the team signed my with the aim of being competitive in the Spanish race, but I accept the decision linked to the MPCC’s rules,” said Horner.
The saddest part is that it appears to us that Horner lost his shot at the Vuelta a Espana somewhere in Utah.