Tom Boonen has expressed his support for the Chris Froome amid speculation that the Team Sky rider might be excluded from this year’s Tour de France should the case resulting from his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol not be resolved in time.
"To call salbutamol doping is ridiculous," Boonen is quoted as saying in Humo. "My daughter has to puff every day and something wrong can happen. I get the impression that Team Sky riders have already been declared guilty."
The ex-pro’s comments contrast with those of fellow Belgian, Tim Wellens.
Commenting on the Froome case in January, Wellens said: “I’m against inhalers. I don’t want to improve my breathing by 7 per cent in that way. And I believe that once you start using an inhaler, afterwards you don’t know how to live without one.
“I refuse to be dependent on this kind of thing. Therefore, I’m clearly against them. But lots of people use them. If the public knew how many riders use an inhaler … it’s enormous.”
On that point, he and Boonen are in agreement – although not perhaps on how such riders should be treated.
"So far, there is little hard evidence against Team Sky," said Boonen. "I’m really against cheats, they should be suspended for life, but you would be surprised to know how many athletes with respiratory problems need salbutamol to do their sport. Are we going to treat them all as EPO users?”
A 2014 study carried out by John Dickinson, head of the respiratory clinic at the University of Kent, found that a third of Team Sky’s riders suffered from asthma to some degree. He also tested all 33 UK-based swimmers from the British Swimming squad and 70 per cent were found to suffer.
Dickinson explained: “It depends which respiratory consultant you talk to on whether you put these athletes on a spectrum of asthma, or whether you think that’s purely down to them exercising really hard in a certain environment, and if you take them out of that environment they’re fine. It’s a grey zone. But my argument is it’s a form of asthma.”
Speaking to the Guardian during the Ruta del Sol earlier in the season, Froome said the level of support expressed by the peloton was “touching”.
However, a number have also echoed comments made by Romain Bardet who suggested that Froome should voluntarily withdraw from racing pending the resolution of his case.