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PEZ Asks: “What Now For Christopher Froome?”

Ed’s Opinion: There has been many words written on ‘FroomeGate’ since his adverse drug control result was announced (leaked). Ed Hood has been quietly watching it all unfold, now after taking a deep breath and with medical advice and hindsight, he clears the air with his view on Chris Froome and salbutamol. ‘Ed froomigates the salbutamol story’.

Will it be ‘thumbs-up’ for Chris?

My journalism tutor at college always used to tell us; “remember the man from Mars.” Meaning don’t assume your reader knows the background to the story. So, for those of you just back from The Red Planet, here’s the story so far.

On September 7th 2017 after Stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, Christopher Froome of Great Britain and Team Sky provided a urine sample as race leader per UCi protocol. Contrary to what some of the Media is reporting, he did not ‘fail a drugs test’ rather he recorded an AAF – an Adverse Analytical Finding – for the drug salbutamol.

Santo Toribio de Liebana - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Chris - Christopher FROOME (GBR / Team Sky)  - Alberto CONTADOR VELASCO (Spain / Team Trek Segafredo) pictured during La Vuelta ciclista a Espana 2017 (2.UWT) stage 18 from Suances - Santo Toribio de Liebana (169 km) - photo Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2017
Vuelta’17 stage 18: Froome’s bad asthma day

This substance is routinely used by asthma sufferers, it’s not a proscribed substance but there is a maximum permissible level of 1,000ng/ml acceptable in an athlete’s urine. Froome’s sample was found to be double, yes double this amount. Opinion PEZ has canvassed suggests that the limit set allows ‘head room’ if an athlete takes a puff or two too many in his inhaler.

Two points here, under WADA/UCi jurisdiction the substance should only be taken from an inhaler, not in tablet form or by injection – and Froome does suffer from asthma. There has been photographic evidence in the past of Froome ‘having a quick puff’ on his inhaler in race situations.

Spanish TV coverage of ‘FroomeGate’ (Froome in English)

There’s a school of thought which believes the permissible threshold concept is not viable given variables in climatic conditions and the fact that no two human beings are identical in their needs for and reaction to the drug. At this point those on the other side of the fence respond by asking how come no other asthma sufferer in the race had a problem?

The Draconians would further argue that ‘a test is a test’ and to have double the permissible dose in ones system under ‘strict liability’ – ie it’s ultimately the rider’s responsibility for what goes into his body – means he should be suspended, period. However, because it’s an AAF rather than a failed test the Monaco-based millionaire does have the opportunity to explain the levels of salbutamol found in his system.

Vuelta’17 stage 18 summary

‘But hang on’ we hear you say, ‘before we go any further,’ does this stuff actually aid performance? If taken in tablet form or injected, ‘yes’. That’s why there’s a maximum limit set. We’re not experts but the opinions we’ve gleaned from people who know what they’re talking about is that it will improve oxygen uptake.

WADA explains the consequences of going over the threshold like this:

  1. ‘the presence in urine of salbutamol in excess of 1000 ng/mL or formoterol in excess of 40 ng/mL is presumed not to be an intended therapeutic use of the substance and will be considered as an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) unless the Athlete proves, through a controlled pharmacokinetic study, that the abnormal result was the consequence of the use of the therapeutic dose (by inhalation) up to the maximum dose indicated above.’
  • The problem Froome has, is that he would have to record similar results to those of his Stage 18 result under the above mentioned laboratory conditions. But given that he was two weeks into a Grand Tour in a stage over varied terrain, in race conditions it’ll be very difficult to replicate. Italy’s twice World Junior Road Race Champion, Diego Ulissi fell foul of the very same threshold two years ago and jumped through the necessary lab hoops but was still handed a ban – as was four time Moldovan Champion, Alexandr Pliuschin for a similar infraction.

    Tough job to prove in the lab

    The current state of play then is that until Froome undergoes the aforementioned testing, he’s in limbo. No doubt his freshly recruited legal team will be searching for technicalities to invalidate his damning sample rather than have to face the test which Ulissi did to no avail. And in that part of the sentence, ‘freshly recruited’ lies the devil in the detail which perplexes me. Froome was informed on September 20th (the same day as he took bronze in the World Time Trial Championship) of his test result but is only now getting a legal team together – why did he not do this back in September?

    Additionally, since he was informed of the test result he’s raced for big appearance fees in the Far East and only recently agreed to a rumored 2,000,000 Euros start money to ride the Giro, controversial Jerusalem start and all. For a man with a potential suspension, Grand Tour loss and reputation depth charging hanging over him, he has been, as we say in Scotland, ‘neither up nor doon.’

    Foto LaPresse/Fabio Ferrari 29/11/2017 Milano (Italia) Sport Ciclismo Presentazione del Giro d'Italia 2018 Nella foto: Photo LaPresse/Fabio Ferrari November 29, 2017 Milan(Italy) Sport Cycling "Giro d'Italia 2018" Presentation In the pic:
    2018 Giro ride (and money) in danger?

    We have to hope that this doesn’t mean that the matter would have been ‘buried’ had not the French Le Monde and English Guardian newspapers not gone public with it last week? Out in Media and Social Media land there’s a huge variation in opinion, from the inevitable calls for Clint Eastwood to get back in the saddle and ‘Hang Him High’ from the tallest oak in the forest to those who believe that we should all ‘chill’, calm down and ‘believe’.

    2017 Vuelta a España stage 18 was a tough day for everyone

    Paul Kimmage hasn’t bought into the latter school of thought and reckons Froome is making a fool of us all. And I must confess to wondering how a man who tells his team doctor that he’s so ill going into Stage 18 that he needs additional medication can then put 21 seconds into Vincenzo Nibali in the finale?

    Perhaps those who ask for ‘belief’ would have had more acceptance were this not Team Sky’s third pharmaceutical-related scandal of 2017 after the Fancy Bears TUE revelations and JiffyGate?

    Froome must now look for a ‘technicality’; a favorable lab test; a ‘dehydration’ argument or perhaps his legal team will have more success with the Ulissi defense that the inhaler was delivering too much salbutamol?

    But last word to William Fotheringham in Sunday’s Observer newspaper; ‘Team Sky credibility has sunk to rock bottom. Whatever the outcome, this is another nail in that particular coffin.’ Quite.

    Chris Froome’s full interview with Sky’s Orla Chennaoui

    # Feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments at the bottom. #

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by our contributors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of PezCyclingNews.com or its employees. Although we do try our best, PezCyclingNews.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by our contributors.

    It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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