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Are TUEs a problem in cycling? Diabetic pro team says no

Therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) are "literally a matter of life and death" for Team Novo Nordisk...

Following months of controversy over professional cyclists' use of banned substances via therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) you'd be forgiven for assuming that we'd be better off disallowing them.

One cycling team in particular would be quick to jump to the defense of TUEs though. For Team Novo Nordisk TUE use is "literally a matter of life or death."

The cyclists who ride for the American team all have one thing in common; they're all diabetic.

"It's pretty simple," Stephen Clancy, a 24-year old Novo Nordisk rider from Limerick, Ireland, told the Guardian. "We don't abuse TUEs. We don't get performance gains. For us it is literally a matter of life or death: if we don’t take them we will die."

The team's TUE certificate is for insulin, while they also have the all-clear from the UCI to overstep the organisation's 'no needles policy.' Interestingly, that needle license even extends to race days, so should a Novo Nordisk rider be alerted that their blood sugar levels are too high, they can whip out a pen or pump and inject themselves in the peloton.

"When we started in 2012 there were some startled faces during races, but mostly they think it's pretty cool and impressive," Clancy said.

It's difficult to argue with the necessity of TUEs with regards to team Novo Nordisk. Clancy says that "I think it would be unfair if someone said I shouldn’t be granted one for a lifelong condition." However that hasn't stopped many critics arguing that TUEs should be banned. One of those critics was cyclo-cross legend Sven Nys.

He told the Cycling Independent Reform Commission report that "I think they should eliminate all [TUEs], even those for asthma. A top athlete is someone who has all his capabilities without any need for assistance.”

German cyclists Andre Greipel was also outspoken on the issue, saying "if you have trouble with your illness, then you should not ride a bike [professionally]."

The team's founder, fellow diabetic and keen cyclist, Phil Southerland disagrees that the TUEs should be banned. He suggests there is much more scope within the current set-up to deal with drug cheats rather than stripping away the dreams of cyclists with illnesses. He suggests that the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible (MPCC) - which is a voluntary code for cycling teams - is a good place to start.

>Read more: The drug used by Bradley Wiggins should be banned, says David Millar

"As a starting point it would be great to see every team join the MPCC," Southerland says. "It's a little disheartening not every pro team is on there. It would be great to see Sky and Movistar join because the MPCCC is about doing things the right way and keeping the image of cycling to a standard that we all want it to be at.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Wiggins. He has been a damn good athlete for a long time,” says Southerland diplomatically. “Everything he did was legal but I think when an athlete applies for a TUE just ahead of a major race for a corticosteroid, we have got to have a closer look.”

>Read more: Cycling could help reduce cost of diabetes on NHS

Team cyclist Clancy also defended the use of TUEs by saying that if they were banned, "aside from health reasons, you are going to tear away someone’s dreams." And it's the dreams of the riders that both Clancy and Southerland want to protect.

It's not only his team's ability that Southerland admires, it's their strength and resilience too.

“When 12 of the 18 guys in the team this year were diagnosed," Southerland said. "They were told by their doctors you’ll never race a bike again – that it’s just not possible with diabetes. Fortunately we had 12 stubborn kids who didn’t listen to their doctors.”

And the search for more diabetic cyclists with big dreams goes on.

>Read more: How cycling saved a 62-year old 20-stone diabetic's life

“We are constantly scouring the planet for talent,” says Southerland. “Stephen, for instance, was working in a bike shop when we got him to try out for our development team. We have a lot of good youngsters coming through but it is a big challenge to field an all-diabetic team because there just aren’t many athletes out there."

Despite the low numbers, Southerland and co. are ambitious. The dream is to make it to the 2021 Tour de France, which will be particularly poignant for the team as that will be the 100 year anniversary of the invention of insulin.

"The only thing we really need is time,” he says. “It takes time to develop athletes. It takes time to develop champions. We are not going to risk breaking them. But at the same time nothing is going to break us.”



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Man of Lard | 7 years ago
1 like

Surely insulin was discovered in 1921 - it's been there for a lot longer than 100 years...


Columbus didn't invent America in 1492, he discovered it (from a narrow European point of view) and many people had been living there minding their own business for millennia before that (and glossing over the Vikings in Newfoundland in the 11th century too)

Jackson | 7 years ago
1 like

Of course this is fine. The only people who could argue against this are the Wiggins crowd who'll say if they're allowed to keep themselves alive using insulin, why can't Wiggins get his shady doctor to charge him up with triamcinolone to fix his allergy to grand tours?

Leviathan replied to Jackson | 7 years ago

Jackson wrote:

Of course this is fine. The only people who could argue against this are the Wiggins crowd who'll say if they're allowed to keep themselves alive using insulin, why can't Wiggins get his shady doctor to charge him up with triamcinolone to fix his allergy to grand tours?

Straw man much. Wiggin's 'Crowd' have never claimed anything like this. "Shady doctor," you don't seem to be very impartial, somewhat undermines your point. 

Rapha Nadal | 7 years ago

I'll never forget having "doper" screamed at me from a group of cyclists who passed me when I was taking my insulin mid ride!

Needless to say; I caught them and dropped them mercilessly after I'd administered my doping products 

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