The decision to pull Horner from Lampre-Merida's Vuelta lineup was a "completely voluntary decision," the team said in a statement.     Photo: Brendan A Ryan/Flickr

Chris Horner Pulled from Vuelta a Espana

Defending champ and oldest winner sidelined by his team

When he won last year's Vuelta a España at the age of 41, Chris Horner also became the oldest champion of one of the three Grand Tours. He was all set to compete again this year, but his team, Lampre-Merida, has just announced that he will be replaced by Grand Tour newcomer Valerio Conti.

Simply put, this is a real damper for Horner's illustrious cycling career. He's competing successfully well beyond the prime age for most cyclists, and this decision takes away Horner's shot at defending his title very close to the time for retirement. But the reasoning behind removing Horner from the 2014 Vuelta, which begins Saturday, is more complicated.

Team Lampre-Merida is a voluntary member of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), a group that enforces stricter anti-doping policies than the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Among MPCC's rules are stipulations on what levels of cortisol are healthy for competing cyclists. Earlier this year, Horner suffered from bronchitis, and UCI authorized him for cortisone treatment. The treatment lowered Horner's cortisol level to a point that was too low for MPCC's standards, though UCI would have allowed him to race. 

"I must accept the situation without regrets," Horner said in a Lampre-Merida statement. The statement also emphasized that the team's membership in MPCC is completely voluntary, and the decision to remove Horner from the Vuelta roster "reaffirms [Horner's] adherence to the principles underlying the MPCC organization … [despite] this being an important appointment for the athlete after an investment had been made on behalf of the team."