Chris Froome could be banned from Tour de France after being asked to explain drug usage during Vuelta a Espana win

Froome's urine sample after stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana tour produced twice the allowed limit of Salbutamol, which Team Sky claim he took to treat his Asthma

Jack de Menezes
Wednesday 13 December 2017 08:10
Chris Froome under investigation for drug usage

Chris Froome could be banned from next year’s Tour de France after Team Sky were asked by the Union Cycliste Internationale [UCI] to explain why the four-time Tour de France winner had more than the allowed dosage of Salbutamol in his body during the Vuelta a Espana on 7 September this year.

Team Sky issued a statement on Wednesday morning to confirm that Froome will assist the UCI with their investigation and “provide whatever information it requires”, with the British team deciding to make the news public following the recent high-profile investigation surrounding Sir Bradley Wiggins and enquiries into the matter from The Guardian and French newspaper Le Mondre.

If Froome is unable to sufficiently explain the test result or challenge the findings, he would have to forfeit the title that he won in Spain three months ago under the rules of the UCI. Furthermore, if the test result is upheld, Froome could face a lengthy ban that may rule him out of next year’s Tour de France – where he will attempt to win a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey – as well as the Giro d’Italia, which he has already committed to.

A previous case involving Salbutamol involved Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi, who was given a 12-month ban for excessive Salbutamol levels in 2007 and stripped of his five stage victories on the Giro.

The UCI has also confirmed that Froome was informed about the Adverse Analytical Finding [AAF] on 20 September, 10 days after La Vuelta finished, and that his B sample returned a similar finding. However, Froome will not be immediately suspended as Salbutamol is permitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] within certain limits. A UCI statement read: “As a matter of principle, and whilst not required by the World Anti-Doping Code, the UCI systematically reports potential anti-doping rule violations via its website when a mandatory provisional suspension applies.

“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.”

As always, I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose

Chris Froome

Froome, who suffers from asthma, uses an inhaler to take Salbutamol in order to ease symptoms brought on by the condition, and the substance is permitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] 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.

Following a urine test after stage 18 of La Vuelta – a grand tour that Froome won this year – Froome’s levels of Salbutamol exceeded that threshold, resulting in the two-time Olympic bronze medallist being asked to provide information to confirm that he had not inhaled more than the allowed dosage. Froome’s sample contained a concentration of 2,000 nanograms per millilitre of Salbutamol, twice the Wada threshold, but it was the only one of Froome’s 21 urine tests during the tour that needed further explanation.

Froome was notified of the test result 10 days after winning the Vuelta a Espana

“It is well known that I have asthma and I know exactly what the rules are,” Froome said in a statement. “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.”

Team Sky insist that Froome did not exceed the allowed dosage during the tour, and also that he declared his use of the medication as he is required to do. They add that the test results do not mean that rules have been broken by Froome or Team Sky, and they also offered an explanation as to why the 32-year-old may have produced increased Salbutamol levels.

“There is considerable evidence to show that there are significant and unpredictable variations in the way Salbutamol is metabolised and excreted,” Team Sky said. “As a result, the use of permissible dosages of Salbutamol can sometimes result in elevated urinary concentrations, which require explanation. A wide range of factors can affect the concentrations, including the interaction of Salbutamol with food or other medications, dehydration and the timing of Salbutamol usage before the test.”

Froome won the the Vuelta a Espana last September (AFP/Getty)

Sir Dave Brailsford, team principal of Team Sky, added: “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.”