On May 21, Martin Maes got the call from the UCI that every athlete dreads. After the perfect start to the Enduro World Series season, Martin had failed anti-doping tests at the first two rounds of the year and was facing some serious sanctions. The drug turned out to be probenecid, classed by WADA as a masking agent, but a substance Maes claimed had been prescribed to him by a doctor at the NZ Enduro to address a serious infection in his injured leg.
Martin tried to fight his case but although they acknowledge the 'non-intentional' nature of his failed drug test, the authorities wouldn't grant him a retroactive TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption). He was handed a 90 day sentence and stripped of two wins. He's on the ground in Italy at this weekend's EWS though, knowing he can't race but wanting to show his face and address any questions people may have. We had plenty, and here's what Martin had to say.
What happened with the crash itself that led to the injury? Martin:
I clipped my pedal on the first day of the NZ Enduro, which resulted in a cut. It was pouring down that day so I kept racing and I guess it got infected so I got in touch with Dr Jerram after the first day of racing. He cleaned the wound as well as he could, put in three or four stitches that day and gave me a small dose of antibiotics to help fight the infection.
48 hours later, on Sunday, I woke up and I got to a point where I couldn't even walk any more with my leg. The wound was surrounded with a lot of red, it wasn't normal and wasn't getting better.
I decided to go back to the event and see Dr Jerram again and he was pretty stoked that I went back to him and showed him the infection because it was getting worse by the hour.
He opened a few stitches, cleaned the infected wound and prescribed me a very high dose of antibiotics combined with probenecid, which was going to help me fight infection. It's a good combination to prescribe with the antibiotics because it helps them go to my blood and it helps my stomach handle the antibiotics as well. It was about 6 or 7 grams of antibiotics a day so it was the highest dose I could possibly have.
What procedures do you normally go through when you're given a prescription to ensure it's not on the WADA prohibited list? Martin:
I've never faced such a situation. Mark Maurissen, my team manager, tried to check on the Wada list that day but there was no signal where we were so we ended up not checking, that was the huge mistake.
At the same time, we 100% trusted the doctor and when you go to the doctor most of the time you just trust him and you don't check every medicine that is prescribed to you. We obviously did ask and he did tell us that it was all fine. There were two doctors and they guaranteed us there was no issue about it.
Dr. Jerram said it was a potential loss of limb situation and you had to take it for your own safety. Did you realise it was that serious at the time? Martin:
Yeah we realised. We got to the point where I couldn't put my leg on the floor and I couldn't feel my leg anymore. It was getting worse and worse and my body temperature was getting higher and higher and I knew it wasn't going a good way. The doctor had to do something and I was actually happy, he saved my leg and 24 to 36 hours after I could use it again.
So looking back on it is there anything differently you would have done in that 48 hour period? Martin:
Erm no. We did everything.
So when was the time you knew something was up, was it when the test results came back? Martin:
That was May 21, the Sunday after Madeira. This is a situation I never thought I'd face in my life because I train a lot and just do my best on the bike to perform and doping goes against my education so yeah, it was a huge surprise.
I don't even remember the next 20 or 30 minutes, I was just lost and gone. At the time, I didn't know what it was, I didn't think of the probenecid that I had in my body a few days before the first EWS. I didn't think of it, I was just lost and gone. Then my team manager got the same call as me by the UCI and he called me straight up and said, “Martin, you remember, you were on the high dose of antibiotics and then the probenecid." Originally we thought the probenecid was an antibiotic and that's the big mistake.
So was this the first time you've been drug tested in the EWS? Martin:
No, no I've been tested so many times through my career. All the downhill appearances that I did in the past, every time I got a good result as a junior in Fort William, World Champs in Vallnord, Olargues last year in the EWS, Lenzerheide, La Bresse, obviously, so I’ve been tested maybe ten times since I turned professional.
So how did you go about fighting your case? Martin:
We did everything with the support of my manager and all my team have been behind me since the first hours. We took a lawyer as well to help defend our case because it just felt unfair and we wanted to fight the positive test.
Even though the probenecid doesn't have any performance enhancing effects, it's a masking agent, unfortunately they came back to us last Thursday to say they weren't going to change anything. It was heartbreaking, especially after such a long preparation during the winter and such a good start to the season in New Zealand, in Tasmania and going straight back to Madeira and winning again. It was a perfect start to the season and that's what hurts right now. All the effort and energy that I put on my bike, I felt like I was much stronger and smarter and it was going to be a great season, I was sure of it. When you put that much effort in, it's just heartbreaking. It just felt, and it still feels, unfair.
What reasons did the UCI give for not counting it as a TUE? Martin:
We did apply for the retrospective TUE, unfortunately it hasn't been accepted for whatever the reason is.
They wouldn't give you a reason? Martin:
Yes, there is an alternative to probenecid and that's why it got declined but unfortunately Dr Jerram didn't know any other option and that was a very unfortunate thing as well. The UCI recognised the usage of probenecid was purely for medicine reasons and it's very annoying the TUE did not get approved.
Did you have the option to go to a Sport’s Tribunal? Why did you choose not to do that? Martin:
I had the choice but we asked the UCI last Thursday when we got the response from them about the three month ban and all the results and they told us it was the smallest option they could offer us. So we accepted it and hoped for the best. GT Factory Racing worked a lot for the statement to make it as clear as possible.
So what are your plans while you're away from racing? Martin:
Well obviously I'm going to turn my frustration into my training. I will work harder than I've ever done, do everything to come back as strongly as possible. I will be back in Northstar, mid-August, after Whistler, just a week before World Champs in Mont Sainte Anne.
The biggest goal this season now is World Champs. I was so close last year, 0.2 behind Loic and I'm going to spend a bit more time on my downhill bike and try and prepare as best as possible for Mont Sainte Anne.
Why did you decide to go to Italy despite this ruling and knowing you couldn't race? Martin:
Because I have nothing to hide. This is my case and I accept the decision of the UCI and I'm not guilty, I didn't do anything wrong, I just made a stupid mistake not to check on the WADA list after the probenecid was prescribed to me.
There is the chance to speak to media and explain in more detail what happened if they want more information. If anyone has questions, I've got the answers. GT Factory Racing and myself have got nothing to hide, we just want to explain the situation to people and that there were circumstances. Shit happens as they say!
Could more be done to educate riders and prevent the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs? Martin:
I think so yes. I think with my case, people will hear about it and I think next time everyone is going to be a little bit more vigilant about what they put in their body.
We've made a mistake, we didn't check and we should have checked even though we didn't have reception that day. It was a stupid mistake and we’ve got to accept it, put it behind us, move forward and I'm going to get ready for when I can get back racing. I just want to keep racing at the end of the day, that's what I love to do.
Is there anything else you want to say to fans or people who have followed this case today? Martin:
I just really want to thank all the riders that have supported me, both EWS and downhill riders. I've already got so many messages showing their support and that's the best I could hear today and it feels so good that people understand the situation I was in and the situation I am still in. It's extremely frustrating but we move forward. I just want to thank everyone in the sport and I'm super stoked read all the support form them.
• Martin Maes Tests Positive for Masking Agent at EWS Rotorua & Tasmania, Receives 90 Day 'Non-Intentional' Suspension