At the end of a trying day, Chris Froome defended himself against the now public adverse analytical finding (AAF) for excessive amounts of asthma medicine salbutamol that threatens to see his Vuelta a España victory annulled.
On September 7, 2017, Froome dropped his main rival Vincenzo Nibali on the final ascent to Alto de Santo Toribio de Liébana of stage 18, recouping 21 of the 42 seconds he lost on the previous stage to extend his race lead to 1:37.
But his urine sample taken that day showed twice the allowed limit of the asthma drug salbutamol, a result confirmed by the B-sample analysis. In the video interview by the BBC, Froome seemed confident in defending himself to the UCI.
"I can understand a lot of people’s reactions, especially given the history of the sport. I think this is obviously a very different case. This is not a positive test," Froome stated.
"As it stands the UCI have asked me for more information regarding my use of salbutamol, which is a very common medicine used for treating asthma. I think all the asthmatics out there will know what salbutamol is.
"Obviously I've only been too happy to try and help the UCI fill in the blanks there and to give all that information up, along with the team, to try and get to the bottom of what happened here.
"I've certainly shared everything I have with the UCI and told them exactly - I have a clear routine when I use my inhaler and how many times I use it. I've given all that information to the UCI to help get to the bottom of this."
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The WADA rules limit the use of salbutamol to inhalation delivery only - oral and injectable use is banned both in and out of competition. WADA also strictly controls how much athletes can inhale, the maximum dose is 1600 micrograms per 24-hour period, or 800mcg in a 12-hour span. The 1000ng/mL limit for urine was set after scientific studies looking at athletes using the maximum dose, but values can vary depending on an athlete's metabolism and level of hydration. Froome's urine level was 2000ng/mL.
As a Specified Substance, Froome's AAF does not trigger a provisional suspension under UCI rules, although Froome is currently in the off-season period and not competing. He was notified of the AAF on September 20, the day of the UCI Road World Championships time trial. He has not raced since that day, with the exception of exhibition criteriums.
He will now have to prove to the UCI that he exceeded the urine limits through use of his inhaler at or below the recommended maximum dose.
Froome said he is not thinking about losing his Vuelta a Espana title or missing the 2018 Giro d'Italia, a race he has stated his intent to compete in.
"As it stands right now, I'm just going to focus on the process and try and give the authorities all the relevant information and make sure that I give myself the best chance in this case. I'm certainly not going to speculate about the outcome," Froome said.
When asked if the case tainted his legacy, Froome insisted he has not broken any rules.
"I do understand this comes as a big shock to a lot of people," he said. "I certainly haven't broken any rules here. I haven't taken more than the permissible amount. I'm sure at the end of the day the truth will be told."
It is the third time a Grand Tour winner has tested positive during the race, after Alberto Contador's 2010 Tour de France positive for clenbuterol and Floyd Landis' testosterone positive from the 2006 Tour de France. Lance Armstrong was stripped of all six of his Tour de France victories after admitting to having doped throughout his career.
But Froome drew distinctions between himself and the sport's sordid past, saying, "Obviously the sport is coming from a place with a very dark background and I've tried to do everything throughout my career to try to show the sport has turned around.
"Certainly in my case now I certainly don't feel there as if there was any wrongdoing. There are very clear limits as to how much salbutamol an athlete is able to take. It doesn't require a TUE, and you have to remember I've been a professional cyclist now, treating my symptoms and racing with asthma for 10 years now, this is my 10th season as a professional cyclist, I know what those rules are, I know what those limits are, and I've never gone over those limits."
Froome also explained why, in a post-race interview on the day his sample was over the limit for salbutamol, he told the journalist that he felt fine when asked, because of his previous day's time loss, if he had been ill.
"You have to take a bit of a step back here and remember that during a Grand Tour, I'm in the leaders jersey an I'm being tested every day, but more than that, I'm racing against guys who are looking for any kind of weakness. I'm not going to openly admit three quarters of the way through a Grand Tour, 'I'm suffering with something here guys, I've got a weakness', because obviously all my rivals will come out the next day absolutely swinging. That's part of the race, I need to try and disguise any kind of weakness at that points.
"The mere fact that journalists were asking me 'are you sick, are you battling something?' it meant they could see I was having problems breathing after the stage. I think it was clear to everyone I was very symptomatic at that time."
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