Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome is fighting to save his reputation after a potential anti-doping violation could lead to the Team Sky cyclist being stripped of his 2017 Vuelta a Espana title and banned from next year’s Tour.
The 32-year-old issued a statement on Wednesday to confirm that he will “provide whatever information [the UCI] requires”, and added that the governing body are “absolutely right to examine test results” that returned two-times the level of Salbutamol allowed in a urine sample.
While the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] allows the use of Salbutamol – meaning Froome will not serve an immediate suspension – it does regulate the dosage allowed in 12 and 24-hour periods. Froome’s A and B tests following stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta exceeded this limit, requiring both he and Team Sky to explain why the results are double the Wada threshold.
Here’s what we know so far.
Froome provided the urine sample on 7 September after stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana. He would go on to win the grand tour three days later, adding to his Tour de France victory earlier in the year to become the first British cyclist to achieve the feat.
The UCI informed Froome of the drugs test results on 20 September, 10 days after the Vuelta finished. The case was kept confidential by all parties until the morning of Wednesday 13 December – nearly three months after Froome and Team Sky learned of the results – and while they claimed that they were releasing the information for full transparency, it only came after The Guardian and French newspaper Le Mondre has investigated the matter.
Salbutamol is a substance that is inhaled through the use of an inhaler to relieve symptoms of asthma and other lung conditions such as coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and feeling breathless. It relaxes the muscles of the airways into the lungs, widening the airways and making it easier to breathe.
Salbutamol can also be taken via ingestion through a tablet, capsule or syrup, but it is only available on prescription. It can be taken by adults and children of all ages, and is a type of ‘reliever’ inhaler that provides quick relief rather than a long-term solution.
The World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] permits without the need for a Therapeutic Usage Exemption [TUE] as long as it’s limited to inhaling 1,600 micrograms over a period of 24 hours and no more than 800 micrograms in 12 hours.
Yes, but only to the above limits. If a urine sample returns a level of more than 1,000 nanograms per millimetre, it will be deemed a potential anti-doping violation unless the cyclist can confirm that they did not take more than the regulated dosage in the specified timescale. Cyclists can also only use Salbutamol through inhalation, and must prove that any Adverse Analytical Finding [AAF] was the consequence of the use of the therapeutic dose up to the maximum allowed.
Froome has already agreed to help the UCI after issuing a statement through Team Sky. UCI will investigate the case, and determine whether the 32-year-old has a sufficient explanation for why he had double the threshold of Salbutamol in his system while competing at La Vuelta – along with ensuring that he did not exceed the dosage allowed inside 12 and 24-hour periods.
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.”
Yes. If the UCI decide to uphold the ruling and Froome either fails or decides not to challenge the test result, a lengthy ban could be issued. Previous cases involving Salbutamol were sufficient explanations were not given have resulted in suspensions. In 2007, Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi was banned for 12 months after providing a sample of 1,320ng/ml, while in 2014 another Italian rider in Diego Ilissi was given a nine-month ban for returning a result of 1,920ng/ml – both of which were under Froome’s results.
However, Italian Leonardo Piepoli avoided any ban when reportedly returning levels of salbutamol similar to those by Froome, having successfully explained the reasons for the abnormal test.
Froome issued a statement on Wednesday that read: “It is well known that I have asthma and I know exactly what the rules are. I use an inhaler to manage my symptoms (always within the permissible limits) and I know for sure that I will be tested every day I wear the race leader’s jersey.
“My asthma got worse at the Vuelta so I followed the team doctor’s advice to increase my Salbutamol dosage. As always, I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose.
“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.”
He later added on Twitter: “Thank you for all the messages of support this morning. I am confident that we will get to the bottom of this. Unfortunately I can't share any more information than I already have until the enquiry is complete.”
Dave Brailsford said: “There are complex medical and physiological issues which affect the metabolism and excretion of Salbutamol. We’re committed to establishing the facts and understanding exactly what happened on this occasion.
“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.”
Chris Froome has vowed to provide whatever information is required by the UCI about his use of medication for asthma during the 2017 Vuelta a Espana after a urine test revealed a concentration of Salbutamol double the WADA threshold.