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Chris Froome faces ban and losing Vuelta title after failed drugs test

Team Sky star had twice the permitted level of anti-asthma drug Salbutamol in his system

Team Sky’s Chris Froome could be stripped of the Vuelta title he won in September and faces a potentially lengthy ban after testing positive for excessive levels of an anti-asthma drug during the Spanish race.

News of the failed drugs test was broken by the Guardian and French newspaper Le Monde following a joint investigation, and has subsequently been confirmed by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and by Team Sky.

The anti-doping control, conducted on 7 September after Stage 18 of the Vuelta, found that the 32-year-old had twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug, Salbutamol, in his urine.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) permits athletes to use the drug provided the level does not exceed 1,000 nanograms per millilitre. No therapeutic use exemption (TUE) is required.

But Froome, who in July secured his fourth Tour de France victory in five years before going on to claim victory in Spain, returned a reading of 2,000 nanograms per millilitre.

Both the rider, who used the drug with an inhaler to treat his asthma, and Team Sky are adamant he did not exceed the dose permitted under WADA rules, which is a maximum of 1,600 micrograms (mcg) over a period of 24 hours and no more than 800mcg over 12 hours.

Froome was notified of the adverse analytical finding on 20 September. Later that day he won the bronze medal in the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway.

Analysis of his B sample confirmed the results of the A sample, and the UCI said that “the proceedings are being conducted in line with the UCI anti-doping rules.”

It added: “Pursuant to article 7.9.1. of the UCI anti-doping rules, the presence of a specified substance such as Salbutamol in a sample does not result in the imposition of such mandatory provisional suspension against the rider.”

In a statement, Team Sky said that due to Froome’s asthma getting worse in the final week of the Vuelta, he increased his dosage of Salbutamol on the advice of the team doctor, but within the permitted level.

It added: “The notification of the test finding does not mean that any rule has been broken. The finding triggers requests from the UCI which are aimed at establishing what caused the elevated concentration of Salbutamol and to ensure that no more than the permissible doses of Salbutamol were inhaled.”

Froome said: “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.”

He added: “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.”

Sir Dave Brailsford, team principal at Team Sky, 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.”

That Froome uses an inhaler to treat his asthma has been public knowledge for several years. In 2014, he was shown using one during Stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

He said at the time: "I have had an inhaler since childhood, I have exercise induced asthma. It is ok. I didn't need a TUE.

"I don’t use (the inhaler) every time I race, normally only when I have a big effort coming up.

"Given sports history, people are obviously looking for a reason. There's no reason to make a big deal out. It's completely allowed by the UCI.

"It's a bit of a surprise everyone is talking about it," he added.

The attention that today’s news will bring is less surprising, with Froome at the very top of the sport having won four Tour de France titles and now the Vuelta.

He has said he plans to ride the Giro d’Italia in May as he seeks a third consecutive victory in a Grand Tour, before attempting to win the Tour de France for a record-equalling fifth time.

All of those plans are now in doubt, as is the question of whether Froome will keep his Vuelta title and even if he is found not to be at fault, he could still be handed a ban.

Meanwhile the news alone of the failed test will not only damage Froome’s reputation but also further tarnish the image of Team Sky in the wake of the recent UK Anti-doping investigation.

> Ukad confirms Team Sky and British Cycling will not face charges over Jiffy bag delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins at 2011 Criterium du Dauphine

Riders including Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi in 2014 have received bans in the past for excessive levels of Salbutamol after failing to satisfy the authorities that they remained within the permitted dosage.

Petacchi, who was found to have a reading of 1,320 nanograms per millilitre at the Giro d’Italia in 2007, was banned for a year, although the Court of Arbitration for Sport was clear that he did not intend to cheat.

Ulissi, with a result of 1,920 nanograms per millilitre at the 2014 Giro d’Italia, got a nine-month ban.

However, Leonardo Piepoli, who tested positive for the drug during the same edition of the Giro d’Italia as Petacchi with 1,800 nanograms per millilitre, escaped sanction.

Last year, Simon Yates missed the Tour de France after he was banned for four months after testing positive for excessive levels of another anti-asthma drug, Terbutaline.

The doctor at his Orica-GreenEdge team had failed to apply for a TUE to permit the British rider to use the drug, and while the UCI ruled that it was a non-intentional anti-doping rule violation, it still imposed the ban.

> Simon Yates "ashamed and embarrassed" at doping ban

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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80 comments

Avatar
daturaman replied to Yorkshire wallet | 6 years ago
1 like

Yorkshire wallet wrote:

I thought they established that asthma medication, well this type, didn't give any performance advantage?

There have been a couple of studies that claimed it did enhance performance but then still more studies that contradict it. I'm paraphrasing the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salbutamol#Doping

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds replied to Yorkshire wallet | 6 years ago
1 like

Yorkshire wallet wrote:

I thought they established that asthma medication, well this type, didn't give any performance advantage?

Quite, the whole  point of allowing it is to bring you into line with someone who does not have asthema. Physical exertion doesn't restrict your breathing if you don't have asthema, in CF and many others case it does.

Avatar
Rich_cb | 6 years ago
1 like

According to the guardian article there seems to have been a previous case when a rider was significantly over the limit and escaped sanction.

2 other riders received bans.

I don't really know how Sky can prove he only stuck to the recommended dosage?

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PRSboy | 6 years ago
1 like

But can he still win SPOTY?

Avatar
simonmb | 6 years ago
6 likes

I'm just baffled that so many procyclists appear to suffer from asthma 

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SoBinary replied to simonmb | 6 years ago
4 likes

simonmb wrote:

I'm just baffled that so many procyclists appear to suffer from asthma 

Very common in high end athletes - not just cyclists.

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Jackson | 6 years ago
6 likes

If Froome going positive in the middle of a grand tour isn't going to change your mind about Sky, then its time to admit nothing will.
It's all very well to say "oh but they push the rules to the limit", but they can't then complain when they're caught 100% over the line.

Avatar
Yorkshire wallet | 6 years ago
4 likes

The anti-Froome guy on here will be shooting his load right now.

Damn you Froome, just when people were starting to believe again.

Avatar
Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
3 likes

Somewhere in the world a laptop is being stolen...

I'm no Dr, I'll happily admit that, but I find this a bit troubling:

"In a statement, Team Sky said that due to Froome’s asthma getting worse in the final week of the Vuelta, he increased his dosage of Salbutamol on the advice of the team doctor, but within the permitted level."

Surely, if an activity is aggrevating a medical condition then the best course of action would be to pack it in and retire from the race?  Not increase the dosage of your meds?  I totally get the mindset of an athlete in a winning position but this does not strike me as sound medical advice.

Avatar
don simon fbpe replied to Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
1 like

Rapha Nadal wrote:

Somewhere in the world a laptop is being stolen...

I'm no Dr, I'll happily admit that, but I find this a bit troubling:

"In a statement, Team Sky said that due to Froome’s asthma getting worse in the final week of the Vuelta, he increased his dosage of Salbutamol on the advice of the team doctor, but within the permitted level."

Surely, if an activity is aggrevating a medical condition then the best course of action would be to pack it in and retire from the race?  Not increase the dosage of your meds?  I totally get the mindset of an athlete in a winning position but this does not strike me as sound medical advice.

History says that the money and the winning will trump good medical advice. A recent case was Phil Jones getting 6 pain killing injections before the England game. Tantamount to physical abuse.

His asthma getting worse probably means that his breathing was getting a little more laboured and extra dosage may have helped. But in essence, yes, he should probably been told to get off the bike as he'd be getting into dodgy territory on the old doping scale.

Hopefully nothing will be found an there will be no case to answer which will clearly prove innocence.

Avatar
psling replied to don simon fbpe | 6 years ago
3 likes

don simon wrote:

Hopefully nothing will be found an there will be no case to answer which will clearly prove innocence.

 

 

What has been said cannot be unsaid...

Avatar
McVittees replied to Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
7 likes

Rapha Nadal wrote:

Surely, if an activity is aggrevating a medical condition then the best course of action would be to pack it in and retire from the race?  Not increase the dosage of your meds?  I totally get the mindset of an athlete in a winning position but this does not strike me as sound medical advice.

Asthma is something you live with.  If I'm wheezing and need three puffs instead of one, I don't just pack in the ride and get off the bike.  Thats not how it works.

I believe Froome is a rider of integrity but I doubt Team Sky's doctors / managements ethics.  I can see a scenario where they crossed into a grey area believing a particular level of dosage wouldn't register in a test so advised Chris to go over the recommended limit.

Avatar
Rapha Nadal replied to McVittees | 6 years ago
1 like

McVittees wrote:

Rapha Nadal wrote:

Surely, if an activity is aggrevating a medical condition then the best course of action would be to pack it in and retire from the race?  Not increase the dosage of your meds?  I totally get the mindset of an athlete in a winning position but this does not strike me as sound medical advice.

Asthma is something you live with.  If I'm wheezing and need three puffs instead of one, I don't just pack in the ride and get off the bike.  Thats not how it works.

I believe Froome is a rider of integrity but I doubt Team Sky's doctors / managements ethics.  I can see a scenario where they crossed into a grey area believing a particular level of dosage wouldn't register in a test so advised Chris to go over the recommended limit.

Yeah, I get that as I'm Type 1 diabetic and just have to get on with it much in the same way as you have to. 

However, neither you nor I are professional cyclists (I assume) who have a calendar/season/future major races to prepare for and we can have the next week off if we feel a bit under the weather.  For the longer term rider health, and race plans, I would be of the opinion that a rider should be pulled from the race if he's requiring a boost in meds or struggling because of a condition.

To be honest; I thought it'd be the hidden motor that got him, not this!

Avatar
alansmurphy replied to Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
2 likes

Rapha Nadal wrote:

 

Yeah, I get that as I'm Type 1 diabetic and just have to get on with it much in the same way as you have to. 

However, neither you nor I are professional cyclists (I assume) who have a calendar/season/future major races to prepare for and we can have the next week off if we feel a bit under the weather.  For the longer term rider health, and race plans, I would be of the opinion that a rider should be pulled from the race if he's requiring a boost in meds or struggling because of a condition.

To be honest; I thought it'd be the hidden motor that got him, not this!

 

I'm T1 too and though not a pro, certainly push the limits. I had been super-careful leading up to my Ventoux trip and I'm not quite sure what got me be I awoke in the hotel about 4am doused in sweat, lying on the floor, facing the wrong way. I was in a total mess. It didn't stop me though, I fuelled up and carried on a little gingerly, I'm sure you can relate to how my body felt before I even started.

 

The point being, hidden somewhere in there, that if you have a long term condition you learn to live with it but also don;t want to succumb to it. So if Froome usually had lets say 8 puffs a day that usually returned 800 in order to stay below the limit, maybe he had 10 anticipating it would take him to the limit. The problem being it isn't an exact science. I've started a ride with sugars around 10mmol expecting the ride to reduce the levels but the body can go into 'shock' and start pulling sugar stores and increasing them...

Avatar
Rapha Nadal replied to alansmurphy | 6 years ago
0 likes

alansmurphy wrote:

Rapha Nadal wrote:

 

Yeah, I get that as I'm Type 1 diabetic and just have to get on with it much in the same way as you have to. 

However, neither you nor I are professional cyclists (I assume) who have a calendar/season/future major races to prepare for and we can have the next week off if we feel a bit under the weather.  For the longer term rider health, and race plans, I would be of the opinion that a rider should be pulled from the race if he's requiring a boost in meds or struggling because of a condition.

To be honest; I thought it'd be the hidden motor that got him, not this!

 

I'm T1 too and though not a pro, certainly push the limits. I had been super-careful leading up to my Ventoux trip and I'm not quite sure what got me be I awoke in the hotel about 4am doused in sweat, lying on the floor, facing the wrong way. I was in a total mess. It didn't stop me though, I fuelled up and carried on a little gingerly, I'm sure you can relate to how my body felt before I even started.

 

The point being, hidden somewhere in there, that if you have a long term condition you learn to live with it but also don;t want to succumb to it. So if Froome usually had lets say 8 puffs a day that usually returned 800 in order to stay below the limit, maybe he had 10 anticipating it would take him to the limit. The problem being it isn't an exact science. I've started a ride with sugars around 10mmol expecting the ride to reduce the levels but the body can go into 'shock' and start pulling sugar stores and increasing them...

I've been waiting for you to arrive...

What you're describing there is a hypo (not meant to be patronising btw).  And a bad one at that.  Imagine if that had occured on Ventoux.  I can't remember the last time I had a severe hypo (T1 for 33 years now) to the levels you've outlined but I sure as hell wouldn't go riding up Ventoux straight after!  Funny how the body wakes you in a time of crisis though, isn't it.  When I was younger, my Dad found me UNDER my bed one nght after a particularly bad hypo!

Indeed, and as said previously, we learn to live with our conditions and get on with it.  However, there comes a point where comon sense should prevail over a Dr just telling you to increase a dosage of a particular medicine instead of retiring from a race on medical grounds - quite literally no shame in doing that.  Tim Wellens did it in this years Tour if a recall correctly.  I don't feel that it's the right advice for a medically trained and, one assumes, qualified person to be giving.  I'm sure that team Dr still has a duty of care to patients in his/her care.

 

Avatar
Bluebug replied to Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
0 likes

Rapha Nadal wrote:

alansmurphy wrote:

Rapha Nadal wrote:

 

Yeah, I get that as I'm Type 1 diabetic and just have to get on with it much in the same way as you have to. 

However, neither you nor I are professional cyclists (I assume) who have a calendar/season/future major races to prepare for and we can have the next week off if we feel a bit under the weather.  For the longer term rider health, and race plans, I would be of the opinion that a rider should be pulled from the race if he's requiring a boost in meds or struggling because of a condition.

To be honest; I thought it'd be the hidden motor that got him, not this!

 

I'm T1 too and though not a pro, certainly push the limits. I had been super-careful leading up to my Ventoux trip and I'm not quite sure what got me be I awoke in the hotel about 4am doused in sweat, lying on the floor, facing the wrong way. I was in a total mess. It didn't stop me though, I fuelled up and carried on a little gingerly, I'm sure you can relate to how my body felt before I even started.

 

The point being, hidden somewhere in there, that if you have a long term condition you learn to live with it but also don;t want to succumb to it. So if Froome usually had lets say 8 puffs a day that usually returned 800 in order to stay below the limit, maybe he had 10 anticipating it would take him to the limit. The problem being it isn't an exact science. I've started a ride with sugars around 10mmol expecting the ride to reduce the levels but the body can go into 'shock' and start pulling sugar stores and increasing them...

I've been waiting for you to arrive...

What you're describing there is a hypo (not meant to be patronising btw).  And a bad one at that.  Imagine if that had occured on Ventoux.  I can't remember the last time I had a severe hypo (T1 for 33 years now) to the levels you've outlined but I sure as hell wouldn't go riding up Ventoux straight after!  Funny how the body wakes you in a time of crisis though, isn't it.  When I was younger, my Dad found me UNDER my bed one nght after a particularly bad hypo!

Indeed, and as said previously, we learn to live with our conditions and get on with it.  However, there comes a point where comon sense should prevail over a Dr just telling you to increase a dosage of a particular medicine instead of retiring from a race on medical grounds - quite literally no shame in doing that.  Tim Wellens did it in this years Tour if a recall correctly.  I don't feel that it's the right advice for a medically trained and, one assumes, qualified person to be giving.  I'm sure that team Dr still has a duty of care to patients in his/her care.

If you look at American sports - baseball, football and basketball - you will see that the team doctors first allegiance is suppose to be to the team owner not the athletes.  In fact some of them have been caught allegedly over prescribing prescription pain killers to keep players on the pitch/field when injured leading to the players being addicted and then overdosing.

It is also why in football in England that Eve Carneiro got sexually insulted by José Mourinho as she put  the health of the individual players first rather than the team peformance.

Avatar
alansmurphy replied to Rapha Nadal | 6 years ago
0 likes
Rapha Nadal wrote:

alansmurphy wrote:

Rapha Nadal wrote:

 

Yeah, I get that as I'm Type 1 diabetic and just have to get on with it much in the same way as you have to. 

However, neither you nor I are professional cyclists (I assume) who have a calendar/season/future major races to prepare for and we can have the next week off if we feel a bit under the weather.  For the longer term rider health, and race plans, I would be of the opinion that a rider should be pulled from the race if he's requiring a boost in meds or struggling because of a condition.

To be honest; I thought it'd be the hidden motor that got him, not this!

 

I'm T1 too and though not a pro, certainly push the limits. I had been super-careful leading up to my Ventoux trip and I'm not quite sure what got me be I awoke in the hotel about 4am doused in sweat, lying on the floor, facing the wrong way. I was in a total mess. It didn't stop me though, I fuelled up and carried on a little gingerly, I'm sure you can relate to how my body felt before I even started.

 

The point being, hidden somewhere in there, that if you have a long term condition you learn to live with it but also don;t want to succumb to it. So if Froome usually had lets say 8 puffs a day that usually returned 800 in order to stay below the limit, maybe he had 10 anticipating it would take him to the limit. The problem being it isn't an exact science. I've started a ride with sugars around 10mmol expecting the ride to reduce the levels but the body can go into 'shock' and start pulling sugar stores and increasing them...

I've been waiting for you to arrive...

What you're describing there is a hypo (not meant to be patronising btw).  And a bad one at that.  Imagine if that had occured on Ventoux.  I can't remember the last time I had a severe hypo (T1 for 33 years now) to the levels you've outlined but I sure as hell wouldn't go riding up Ventoux straight after!  Funny how the body wakes you in a time of crisis though, isn't it.  When I was younger, my Dad found me UNDER my bed one nght after a particularly bad hypo!

Indeed, and as said previously, we learn to live with our conditions and get on with it.  However, there comes a point where comon sense should prevail over a Dr just telling you to increase a dosage of a particular medicine instead of retiring from a race on medical grounds - quite literally no shame in doing that.  Tim Wellens did it in this years Tour if a recall correctly.  I don't feel that it's the right advice for a medically trained and, one assumes, qualified person to be giving.  I'm sure that team Dr still has a duty of care to patients in his/her care.

 

Your control must beat mine hands down. With 3 young kids (going back a decade) and a wife working nights unspent many years in a 'comfort' zone running high. This has meant neuropathy in the feet and sight issues and I'm now targeted to keep between 4-6mmol which is a ridiculously small window, I spend a considerable amount of time on the hypo limit I'm afraid. Probably stupid riding up but it was the final day of the trip, whether it contributed to my demise on the descent who knows, still wouldn't change it.

I suppose my point was that if Froome has dealt with this a long time he'll have coping strategies as anyone with a LTC will. If he's been advised to take x% more or a supplementary drug that has had an impact it's likely to be bad luck or a genuine mistake. If he was being tested every day and all others are correct you have to wonder, if they were trying to cheat, how they cocked up so massively!

Avatar
tonyleatham replied to McVittees | 6 years ago
3 likes

McVittees wrote:

 

Asthma is something you live with.  If I'm wheezing and need three puffs instead of one, I don't just pack in the ride and get off the bike.  Thats not how it works.

This

Avatar
mingmong replied to tonyleatham | 6 years ago
2 likes

tonyleatham wrote:

McVittees wrote:

 

Asthma is something you live with.  If I'm wheezing and need three puffs instead of one, I don't just pack in the ride and get off the bike.  Thats not how it works.

This

 

+1

Avatar
EddyBerckx replied to mingmong | 6 years ago
0 likes

mingmong wrote:

tonyleatham wrote:

McVittees wrote:

 

Asthma is something you live with.  If I'm wheezing and need three puffs instead of one, I don't just pack in the ride and get off the bike.  Thats not how it works.

This

 

+1

 

+2

 

 

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