Froome faces tough questions after positive Vuelta tests
Cyclist found to have double the permissible limit of asthma drug
Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome could potentially be stripped of his Vuelta a Espana title after a urine test he gave during the race in September showed excessive levels of an asthma medication.
The 32-year-old Briton, who rides for Team Sky, says he has done nothing wrong and would provide "whatever information" world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, requires.
Froome became the first British rider to win the Vuelta and the first man to claim a Tour de France/Vuelta double in the same season since the Spanish race was moved to a date after the Tour. Regarded as one of cycling’s greats, Froome is a favourite to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award for the first time in December.
His spectacular year is now under a cloud, however, and he and his Sky team will need to convince the UCI that there was nothing sinister about the amount of Salbutamol that showed up in his urine sample after Stage 18 on September 7.
Salbutamol is permitted as a legal asthma drug by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), and the UCI said Froome’s failed urine test did not necessitate a mandatory provisional suspension. But riders have been banned for excessive use of it in the past, notably Italian Alessandro Petacchi, who was given a 12-month ban and stripped of his five-stage victories in the 2007 Giro d’Italia.
The UCI said in a statement it had notified Froome on September 20 of an "adverse analytical finding" from his sample, which had double the permissible limit of Salbutamol.
Team Sky issued a statement in which Froome said he had followed medical advice and taken an increased dosage of his medication after his asthma, a condition he has suffered from throughout his career, became worse during the race.
"As always, I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose," Froome said. "I take my leadership position in my sport very seriously. The UCI is absolutely right to examine test results and, together with the team, I will provide whatever information it requires."
Earlier in 2017 Froome, who prides himself on racing clean, said he had refused a therapeutic use exemption to treat his asthma on the way to winning the 2015 Tour de France.
The UCI said analysis of the rider’s B sample from the Vuelta test had confirmed the results of the A sample and proceedings were being conducted in line with its antidoping rules.
In Petacchi’s case, the Court of Arbitration for Sport found the Italian rider had not intended to cheat but he had not exercised "utmost caution" in the use of his treatment. Limited levels of Salbutamol are permitted by Wada rules without the need for a therapeutic use exemption.
Sky said analysis of Froome’s sample showed the presence of the treatment at a concentration of 2,000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml), compared with the Wada threshold of 1,000ng/ml.
Team Sky said the test finding did not mean any rule had been broken, as there were a range of "complex medical and physiological issues" that could have led to the result.
"We’re committed to establishing the facts and understanding exactly what happened," Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said.
"I have the utmost confidence that Chris followed the medical guidance in managing his asthma symptoms, staying within the permissible dose for Salbutamol. Of course, we will do whatever we can to help address these questions."
The disclosure comes at the end of a year in which Team Sky have been dogged by allegations of "wrongdoing" over the use of therapeutic use exemptions and its medical record-keeping after the "jiffybag" controversy at the Criterium du Dauphine race in 2011. The team doctor received a package on behalf of Bradley Wiggins at the race, the contents of which have remained a source of speculation despite Team Sky stating it was a flu treatment. An investigation by UK Anti-Doping concluded it had been unable to prove what was in the package.