Froome case a scandal and double standards

Tony Martin, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome with their Olympic time trial medals on the podium at London 2012

Tony Martin won time trial silver at London 2012, with Bradley Wiggins taking gold and Chris Froome bronze

The handling of Chris Froome’s adverse drugs test by cycling authorities is a “scandal” and a “double standard” is being applied, says four-time world time trial champion Tony Martin.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome had double the allowed level of legal asthma drug salbutamol in his urine during September’s Vuelta a Espana win.

German Martin said the Briton should have been suspended for the subsequent World Championships in September, where Froome went on to win two bronze medals in the individual and team time trials.

“I am totally angry,” said Martin. “There is definitely a double standard being applied.”

Katusha-Alpecin rider Martin, 32, suggested other cyclists would have been suspended immediately.

However, under governing body UCI’s anti-doping rules, the presence of specified substances like salbutamol in a sample does not result in a mandatory provisional suspension and the body has asked Froome for more detail.

Froome, who became only the third man to win the Tour and Vuelta in the same season this year, was notified of the adverse analytical finding, from a test on 7 September, on 20 September – the same day he won individual time trial bronze at the World Championships.

The 32-year-old was also part of the Team Sky squad that won bronze in the team time trial race on 17 September.

“He and his team are given time by the UCI to explain it all, I do not know of any similar case in the recent past,” said Martin, who finished ninth in the individual time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“That is a scandal, and he should at least not have been allowed to appear in the World Championships.”

No riders were treated differently – Cookson

Martin added he had the “impression that there is wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes” and questioned whether Team Sky and Froome enjoy a “special status”.

When asked by BBC Sport if he was made aware of Froome’s adverse test while he was UCI president, Brian Cookson denied he had any “role or influence” in the case.

The former British Cycling president, whose four-year tenure ended on 21 September when he lost the election to David Lappartient, added that under procedures he introduced, anti-doping matters were handled by the independent Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation and the Legal Anti Doping Service.

“As UCI President I therefore had no role or influence in any individual case,” said Cookson,

“I had then, and still have today, confidence in the integrity of all those involved, that they would always follow the correct procedures in every case, and that no rider was treated in any way differently from any other.”

Martin added that the UCI’s actions were a “major blow to the difficult anti-doping fight” he said he is leading alongside the likes of compatriot and team-mate Marcel Kittel.

“We need a consequent and transparent approach by the UCI. What is going on here is inconsequent, not transparent, unprofessional and unfair,” he said.

BBC Sport has approached the UCI for comment.

Giro not warned about Froome’s adverse test

Last month, Froome announced his intention to race in the 2018 Giro d’Italia in an attempt to win a third Grand Tour in a row.

Giro organisers RCS Sport said it was not warned about Froome’s adverse test and learned of it through the UCI press release on Wednesday.

A statement read: “Chris Froome’s decision to participate in the 2018 Giro d’Italia was his own, taken along with his team’s management, and is a choice that RCS Sport, as organiser of the Giro d’Italia appreciated; no money has been paid to the rider by RCS Sport.

“Both RCS Sport and the Giro d’Italia’s race direction reaffirm their full support of the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) and will respect whatever decisions are to be taken in the future.”

Meanwhile, Froome, who has suffered with asthma since childhood, said that he is “sad” over misconceptions about athletes and salbutamol use.

Top athletes are more likely to have asthma than the general population because of the large volumes of air they breathe in when exercising at high intensity over long periods of time.

“My hope is that this doesn’t prevent asthmatic athletes from using their inhalers in emergency situations for fear of being judged,” Froome posted on Twitter.

“It is not something to be ashamed of.”

The story so far

Froome is facing questions after returning an adverse result for legal asthma drug salbutamol during his Vuelta a Espana victory.

The urine test, taken on 7 September, showed Froome’s levels of salbutamol were at 2,000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml), compared to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) threshold of 1,000 ng/ml.

The use of salbutamol is permitted, without the need of a therapeutic use exemption (TUE), but only within certain doses. Froome and Team Sky insist he did not inhale more than the permissible dose.

Because there are legitimate reasons why Froome was taking salbutamol, he has not been suspended and is providing more detail to the UCI. He could face a series of laboratory tests to try to replicate and explain his adverse drugs test.

He could be banned if he fails to explain the finding and, if so, he faces being stripped of his Vuelta title and two World Championship bronze medals, while he could also miss next year’s Giro d’Italia and be unable to defend his Tour title in July.

Froome has told the BBC there was “no wrongdoing” and says his legacy will not be tainted.

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Chris Froome: Team Sky rider says legacy will not be tainted by ‘adverse’ drugs test

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‘I certainly haven’t broken any rules’

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome says his legacy will not be tainted after returning an “adverse” drugs test at the Vuelta a Espana.

The Team Sky rider, 32, had double the allowed level of legal asthma drug Salbutamol in his urine.

In an interview with the BBC in Mallorca, Froome said he “knows the rules” and there was “no wrongdoing”.

“I understand this comes as a big shock to people,” he said. “I certainly haven’t broken any rules here.”

Cycling’s world governing body the UCI wants more details from the team but says Froome is not suspended.

The use of Salbutamol is permitted, without the need of a therapeutic use exemption (TUE), but only within certain doses.

Froome says he increased his dosage but it was within the legal limits, adding that he was “only too happy” to help the UCI “fill in the blanks”.

Asked whether he felt his legacy was permanently tainted, Froome said: “No.”

He added: “I can understand a lot of people’s reactions, especially given the history of the sport. This is not a positive test.

“The sport is coming from a very dark background and I have tried to do everything through my career to show that the sport has turned around.”

‘I have done this for 10 years now’

Froome says he took his team doctor’s advice to up his inhaler use after his asthma symptoms got worse during the Vuelta.

He became the first Briton to win the three-week race around Spain and it followed his Tour de France victory in July.

He was notified of the “adverse analytical finding” on 20 September 2017.

The urine test, taken on 7 September, showed levels of the drug, Salbutamol, which is commonly taken for asthma, were at 2,000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml).

That compares to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) threshold of 1,000 ng/ml.

“I have been a professional cyclist now, treating my symptoms and racing with asthma, for 10 years,” said Froome.

“I know what those rules are, I know what those limits are and I have never been over those limits.

“I have got a very clear routine when I use my inhaler and how many times. I have given all that information to the UCI to help get to the bottom of it.”


Chris Froome became the first British winner of the Vuelta a Espana this year

‘I need to disguise my weaknesses’

Froome was named in leaked medical records by the Russian hackers Fancy Bears as one of the athletes to use TUEs during competition.

The documents claimed he was given the exemption for the asthma drug prednisolone in May 2013 and April 2014.

Earlier this year, the rider admitted he rejected a TUE for his asthma during his Tour de France win in 2015.

Froome said journalists could see he was struggling after stages during the Vuelta, but told them he was fine in order to “disguise any kind of weaknesses from his rivals”.

“I am racing against guys who are looking for any kind of weakness,” he added.

“I am not going to admit through a Grand Tour that ‘yes. I am suffering with something’, because the next day my rivals will come out absolutely swinging.”

What now for Froome? – analysis

Dan Roan, BBC sports editor

The greatest cyclist in the world and arguably Britain’s most successful current sports star now faces a fight to salvage his reputation.

Froome’s domination and his use of medication to treat his asthma has meant he has been repeatedly been forced to insist he is clean, and infamously faced abuse from some roadside spectators during the 2015 Tour de France. He has also been a vocal critic of “abuse” of TUEs.

Some are surprised at Froome’s announcement two weeks ago that he was riding next summer’s Giro d’Italia when he knew that this situation could mean he may be banned. But others will remain confident he can satisfactorily explain the elevated levels of Salbutamol, and continue a career that has earned him a £4m-a-year contract with Team Sky. Certainly, there will be much at stake when the UCI rules.

This could also be yet another blow to Team Sky, too. A UK Anti-Doping investigation into a mystery delivery to former rider Sir Bradley Wiggins was damaging enough, but this could be much, much worse. Not just for Froome and his team, but for the whole of the sport too.


More controversy around Team Sky

Last week former UCI chief Brian Cookson said Team Sky should have its reputation “reinstated” following unproven doping allegations and questions over its use of TUEs.

“I don’t think anyone should be surprised when a professional sports team pushes the rules right to the very limit,” Cookson said.

In November, UK Anti-Doping completed its investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at Team Sky and British Cycling.

The 14-month inquiry was looking into claims a ‘mystery’ medical package delivered for Sir Bradley Wiggins at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011.

Ukad said it had been “unable” to prove the package contained a banned substance.

Wiggins had sought TUEs to use banned anti-inflammatory drug triamcinoclone for allergies and respiratory issues before the 2011 Tour de France, his 2012 Tour win and the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

Wiggins, British Cycling and Team Sky always denied any wrongdoing.

Previous Salbutamol use in cycling?

The NHS say, Salbutamol is used to relieve symptoms of asthma such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless. It relaxes the muscles of the airways into the lungs which makes it easier to breathe.

It comes in an inhaler, but can also be given as tablets, capsules or syrup and several studies have suggested there is no enhancement in performance for an athlete using it.

However, Wada introduced strict dosage regulations for 2017 for several asthma drugs – including Salbutamol – over concerns about the increase in use among athletes.

Italian rider Diego Ulissi got a nine-month ban in 2014 for having 1920ng/ml in his test results and countryman Alessandro Petacchi was banned for a year for a reading of 1320ng/ml in 2007.

But riders have also been able to successfully explain adverse analytic findings. Leonardo Piepoli avoided a ban in 2007.

Should Froome not be able to similarly successfully explain the anomaly, he could be stripped of his Vuelta title and may be unable to ride in May’s Giro d’Italia – as he seeks to become just the third rider to win three successive Grand Tours – or defend his Tour de France title in July.

What happens to Froome next?

Dr Tom Bassindale, an anti-doping scientist at Sheffield Hallam University, now expects Froome to have laboratory tests to try to explain the abnormal result.

But he said he was surprised that such a common drug as Salbutamol had caused this issue.

“The regulations allow the athlete to go through a controlled experiment where he will replicate the dosage taken and try so show why his body might have a different physiological make-up which gave the result,” he told BBC Sport.

“I wouldn’t anticipate a few extra puffs on an inhaler would have any performance-enhancing effect. It can have similar effects to drinking coffee – your heart beats faster, it can give you a boost like caffeine.”

Dr Bassindale said there are a number of reasons why the test result could have been so high – but the main explanation in athletes would be dehydration.

“When the body is dehydrated, it can increase the concentration of the drug in the system,” he said.

“Hours out riding a bike through the mountains might have that effect. But, having said that, Froome has been a professional athlete for some time and hasn’t had any issue like this before.”

Why do so many elite athletes have asthma?

Analysis – Philippa Roxby, BBC health reporter

Top athletes are more likely to have asthma than the general population.

This is down to the large volumes of air they breathe in through their mouths when exercising at high intensity over long periods of time.

When the air is cold and dry, this can trigger asthma-related symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest, also known as exercise-induced asthma. Cyclists are particularly at risk because of the high aerobic element of the sport. Air pollution getting into the airways out on the road can also be a trigger.

Research suggests that around 35-40% of British Olympic cyclists use an inhaler, compared with 21% of the Olympic team as a whole and 9% of the general population.

If asthma is already diagnosed in elite athletes, then intensive exercise can make it worse – but if it is properly treated, the condition should not prove a disadvantage.

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Rowe commits future to Wales

Dani Rowe has begun training with the Welsh Cycling team

Dani Rowe has begun training with the Welsh Cycling team

Olympic gold medallist Dani Rowe hopes to compete for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, having previously represented England.

As Dani King, she won team pursuit gold at London 2012 but has focused on the road since 2014.

The 27-year-old married Welshman Matthew Rowe, brother of Team Sky rider Luke, in October.

“I’m hoping to be considered for selection for Team Wales for the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” Rowe tweeted.

“Wales is a country that has produced so many incredible cyclists and, if selected, I hope I can continue to do the country proud.”

Rowe, a three-time world champion on the track, will be riding for the Woawdeals Pro Cycling team, formerly known as WM3 Pro Cycling, for the 2018 season.

It is possible that Rowe could double up on track and road for Wales at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, which start on 4 April.

“My connections with Wales and Welsh Cycling go back to 2009 when I started to be coached by Courtney Rowe – the father of my husband Matt,” Rowe said.

“I have therefore had a strong affinity and love for the country where I now live and call home, for the whole of my professional cycling career.”


As Dani King, she competed for England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

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