Chris Froome battles to save career after adverse test for asthma drug

Chris Froome is fighting to save his career after an adverse test for asthma drug salbutamol.
Chris Froome battles to save career after adverse test for asthma drug

Froome could lose his La Vuelta title and World Road Championships medals and miss most of next season.

A urine sample Froome gave during La Vuelta was found to contain twice the permitted concentration of the drug and, unless he can prove there was no fault on his part, he is likely to lose his title and be unable to defend the Tour de France next July or chase a third straight Grand Tour win at May’s Giro d’Italia.

The adverse analytical finding occurred in a routine test after the Vuelta’s 18th stage on September 7 — a day that saw Froome respond to a disappointing ride the day before by stretching his lead over rival Vincenzo Nibali on the last climb.

Conducted by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, the independent body set up by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the test found the concentration of salbutamol in Froome’s urine sample was 2,000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL), double the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) limit of 1,000 ng/mL.

Salbutamol, which is also marketed as Ventolin, is widely used by asthma sufferers, most commonly in an inhaler, to relax the muscles in the airway. A member of the beta-2 agonist family of drugs, salbutamol is banned by WADA when taken intravenously or in pill form — as research suggests large doses administered like this can boost performance — but asthma sufferers are allowed to take up 1,600 micrograms over 24 hours, without exceeding 800 micrograms (mcg) every 12 hours. A typical dosage, or puff, is 100 mcg.

In a statement issued by Team Sky, 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.”

Froome, who records his salbutamol use on his doping control forms, was informed of the adverse finding on September 20, the day he capped a superb season with a bronze-medal ride in the Road World Championships time trial.

In a statement, the UCI said Froome’s B sample — athletes’ anti-doping samples are split into A and B samples as a fail-safe precaution — had been analysed and it confirmed the results of the initial test. The Swiss-based body added that under its rules Froome is not subject to a mandatory suspension. The next stage in the process will be for Froome and Team Sky to come up with a scientifically-backed explanation for why the September 7 sample contained too much salbutamol and the 20 other tests he gave during the race did not.

Team principal 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.”

The debate will focus on when Froome took his last dose of the drug, how dehydrated he was and if anything else he was taking or eating may have had an impact.

In a message posted on his twitter account yesterday, Froome wrote: “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.”

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