More controversy for Team Sky as news just came out that four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome had twice the permissible amount of salbutamol (Ventolin/Proventil) in his system during the Vuelta a España in September.
The UCI and his team revealed on Wednesday that an anti-doping test that the British Team Sky rider took in Spain on September 7 showed more than the allowable level of 1,000 ng/ml of the asthma drug in his body. In fact, Team Sky gave more information, saying the test returned a value of 2,000 ng/ml—twice the allowed limit. The team claims Froome had taken the medicine because he suffered from asthma toward the end of the race, which he went on to win.
Froome and the team insist that he took no more than the amount allowed under the rules.The UCI has asked Froome to provide more information but, in accordance with World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, has not suspended him.
Salbutamol, better known as its brand name products Ventolin and Proventil, is a brochodilator used for treating acute asthma symptoms. No Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) is required for small inhaled doses but the UCI requires one for larger doses. A TUE is also required for the tablet form of the medication. It is considered a stimulant in small doses and can have an anabolic, muscle-building effect in larger doses (bodybuilders commonly abuse high doses of the drug).
Salbutamol is a “specified substance” under the WADA Code, which means there are allowed thresholds and reduced bans for the substance compared to substances that are outright banned and which come with the automatic imposition of a four year ban.
Inhaled salbutamol: maximum 1600 micrograms over 24 hours, not to exceed 800 micrograms every 12 hours;
The presence in urine of salbutamol in excess of 1000 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.
– WADA banned list
- In 2008 Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was given a 12-month ban and stripped of five stage wins in the 2007 Giro d’Italia for exceeding the limit of salbutamol use. That’s despite having a TUE for salbutamol.
- Diego Ulissi scored 1900ng/mL during the 2014 Giro d’Italia and got a nine month ban.
- Alexandr Pliuschin got a nine month ban in 2015
New Questions for Team Sky
Froome was notified of the test on September 20, the day he finished third in the world time-trial championship in Bergen, Norway. He’s been out of competition since then, but has announced his intention to try to win at least two of the three big tours in 2018.
Sky’s aim for next year was to have Froome put together a record-tying fifth Tour de France title after his victories in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The test is bound to raise new questions about British cycling following the scandal surrounding Bradley Wiggins and his use therapeutic use exemptions.
If Froome were to receive a 9-month ban, as historically has been the case in similar incidents of exceeding salbutamol limits, that would remove him from the roster for the 2018 Tour de France. If Team Sky cannot satisfy the UCI then Froome will also be stripped of his Vuelta title. This will definitely be a story to watch in the coming months.