Chris Froome has penned a piece for Le Monde attempting to explain why he was cleared of any wrongdoing following an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for Salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta a Espana. Education First manager Jonathan Vaughters has been among those to express concern for how the Team Sky rider will be treated by roadside fans during the Tour de France after significant booing at last night’s team presentation.
Team Sky recognise that the complexities of Froome’s case are likely to have been drowned out for many people by simpler, more headline-worthy pronouncements – such as Bernard Hinault’s suggestion that other riders go on strike if Froome starts the race.
Presumably keen to win people over, Froome writes: “I know the French public are fair minded. I know many of you will not have been following the detail of the case so I wanted to set out the facts very simply so you can reach your own judgments.
“I have suffered with asthma since childhood and, like millions of asthmatics, I use a Salbutamol inhaler to help manage the symptoms. Towards the end of the Vuelta I experienced acute worsening of my asthma and increased the number of puffs under medical guidance. I know exactly what the rules are and how many puffs I am allowed to take. I also know I am going to be tested at the end of every stage when I am in the leader’s jersey – indeed, I was tested 23 times during the Vuelta. And it is also worth pointing out that there is no performance benefit from using an asthma inhaler. It is purely a medical treatment.”
Froome says that it is possible to take the same amount of Salbutamol every day and to have very different readings. “There doesn’t seem to be a reliable correlation between what you inhale and what you excrete. We also know that a reading can be significantly affected by dehydration. I was not twice the limit as has been reported. Rather, I was just under 20% over, after dehydration was taken into account.”
He then draws people’s attention to the recent comments made by Ken Fitch, the man responsible for Wada’s Salbutamol test, who says he made a ‘terrible blunder’ when calculating the threshold for an abnormal finding.
Expressing frustration at how long things have taken, Froome also manages to find a positive in the famously drawn-out nature of the case. “The time it has taken should give everyone confidence of just how thoroughly [the World Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI] have done their job,” he says.
The impact of Froome’s words remains to be seen. The public reception for Team Sky at the team presentation would imply he faces an additional uphill struggle on top of all of those in the route book.
Vaughters told the Guardian that if he were at Team Sky, he would be concerned.
Referencing Tour organiser ASO’s aborted attempt to exclude Froome before the UCI announced its decision, he said: “Reading comments on social media from people saying, ‘Since justice wasn’t served, by the UCI and Wada, we’ll serve it from the side of the road’, that’s basically an outright threat. And it does feel ASO fired things up when it’s their responsibility to protect them.”
Elaborating on his concerns, he added: “The amount of vitriol and anger directed at Sky is pretty impressive. The barriers need to go further down the mountain climbs, but you can’t barrier 200 kilometres of open road.”
In his Le Monde message, Froome bemoans the fact that his test result was leaked, saying: “Every year, other athletes are notified of AAFs, explain them and have the issue dropped. The difference in my case is that this confidential process was unfortunately leaked and became public.”
Vaughters goes further, saying: “In this case, it was public, which is really unfortunate and whoever leaked it — because somebody inside the UCI leaked it — it’s just nasty, vindictive behaviour to do that.
“It doesn’t actually allow the system to work in the way that it should in a case involving a restricted substance, as opposed to a banned substance.”
However, he believes that now that it has all played out in public, it would be best if Wada’s reasoning became common knowledge too.
“It shouldn’t have been leaked in the first place, but it was, so live with it and now release all the information. Both sides should come to an agreement and release all the pertinent information.”