International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson has vowed to close a potential doping loophole that could be exploited by would-be cheats. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini

Leeds, United Kingdom – International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson has vowed to close a potential doping loophole that could be exploited by would-be cheats.

Tour de France winner Chris Froome caused a stir at the Tour de Romandie when he asked for, and received, an emergency therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for a banned corticosteroid due to exercise-induced asthma.

Froome took prednisolone tablets the day the week-long Tour de Romandie started on April 29.

That incident led some people to accuse Froome's Team Sky of backtracking on a previous no-tolerance policy to doping products while the British rider's use of an inhaler during the Tour de Romandie also created controversy.

A French newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, even claimed the UCI had bent their own rules to let Froome take the medicine.

Cookson insisted there was nothing untoward but said the ability to apply for last-minute TUEs from UCI chief medical officer Dr Mario Zorzoli needed to be removed.

“It was in accordance with regulations,” Briton Cookson said of his compatriot's TUE use.

“The TUE was issued, as Wada (World Anti-doping Agency) confirmed a couple of days later, entirely correctly. It was not put before the committee because it was a regular matter.

“The TUE committee for the UCI was only being used for cases of a complex or potentially controversial nature, but what I've said since that came to light is maybe they're all of a controversial nature and maybe we then need to look at continuous improvements of our processes.

“Let's put all of our TUE requests before a panel of our TUE experts, and that's what were going to do in future.”

Although Froome's use was within the rules, it did bring up the question of why such a short term request to use a banned substance can actually be made.

“It's exactly because of those sort of questions that we did need to strengthen our processes and that's why we've said from now on we won't just have one doctor doing that,” said Cookson.

“We'll have our panel involved because we did need to reinforce that process, I think it's fair to say.”

It has been claimed that Sky had made it a team policy never to apply for TUEs and that they had gone back on that when Froome needed one.

But team manager Dave Brailsford gave an empassioned defence to their actions.

“We set out to try to win this race with a British rider and try to ride it clean, and we've achieved that,” he said on Thursday at a Sky press conference in Leeds.

“I think it's the key thing, there's no doubt about it, we race clean, we won this race with two different riders (Bradley Wiggins and Froome) clean and that's what we'll continue to do.

“We're a clean team, we play by the rules, we operate by the rules and that's what we'll continue to do.

“We're happy that Wada's happy with us and we're happy that the UCI's happy with us. We've won this race twice clean and we'll continue to do that.”

Cookson said the fact that the UCI has set up an independent anti-doping body to test riders at events, such as the Tour de France, and the imposition of biological passports shows that they are battling the scourge of doping.

And he insisted there will no longer be any accusations of collusion to sweep doping under the carpet, as was levied at his predecessor Pat McQuaid.

“We are coming to a situation where we are getting ahead of the game, we're closer to cheats than we've ever been.

“The history of the (Lance) Armstrong era has shown that sooner or later we do get ahead of people. If you are involved in doping, the message that I give out to anybody is we are going to get you.

“It might take a few months, it might take a few years.

“There may well always be people who try and cheat in any walk of life, but our job is to get more effective at catching them to make sure that everyone is treated the same to make sure our processes are impartial, independent and run with integrity.” – Sapa-AFP