Quick summary: Britain’s star cyclist and quadruple Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, tested positive for twice the permitted limit of the asthma drug, Salbutamol, when he won the Vuelta a Espana in September. This could cause him to lose his title. It could also mean a 12-month ban from the sport.
What is Salbutamol?: Salbutamol is a drug taken for asthma, breathlessness, coughing, and wheezing. It relaxes the muscles in the breathing airways. Some use it to increase stamina, so the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) created a limit that is enforced through urine tests. Froome uses the drug for asthma.
Why this matters to triathletes: WADA is an international body that enforces doping rules in sports. Some triathletes use inhalers. As you’ll see below, there are issues that could affect accuracy in drug tests.
Is urine testing foolproof?: WADA’s limit for Salbutamol is 1,000 nanograms per millilitre of urine. Under normal circumstances, the limit correlates to 16 100 microgram inhaler puffs within a 24 hour period, or eight puffs in 12 hours.
Froome’s team, Team Sky, argues that urine testing may not be a reliable way to detect forbidden dosages of the drug. “There is considerable evidence to show that there are significant and unpredictable variations in the way Salbutamol is metabolised and excreted. 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’s side of the story: Froome’s asthma became worse during September’s race. He said he increased his dosage with the blessing of his doctor, and he did not break any rules and go over the limit. In fact, Salbutamol testing is a fact of life in every major race. Team Sky confirmed that he declared his use of the medication.
The verdict: The Guardian, who initially broke the story, investigated the case and spoke to doctors and other experts. While experts don’t necessarily say whether Froome is guilty, they say it will be hard for Team Sky and Froome to prove his innocence. This is a developing story, so stay tuned for updates.