Chris Froome hoping medical study will discredit drugs test
Cyclist facing anti-doping charge, but report calls into question efficacy of salbutamol test
Chris Froome: The 32-year-old is competing in the Giro d’Italia with Team Sky as he bids to win a historic third successive Grand Tour. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Chris Froome’s battle to rescue his reputation after a failed drugs test looks bound for the court of arbitration for sport as it emerged that a study calling into question the efficacy of the test will form a key part of his defence.
The 32-year-old is competing in the Giro d’Italia with Team Sky as he bids to win a historic third successive Grand Tour. He won last year’s Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.
In December the Guardian and Le Monde revealed a urine test submitted after stage 18 of the Vuelta showed excessive levels of the asthma drug salbutamol, and Froome could yet be stripped of that title if he is found to have committed an anti-doping violation.
In terms of Froome’s legacy, what happens on the roads in Italy over the next 2½ weeks of the Giro could be secondary to the recent publication of a study entitled “Futility of current urine salbutamol doping control”.
The report, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, claims it is not feasible to determine a dosage level of salbutamol based on the results of a single “untimed” urine sample.
Froome’s failed test recorded a level of salbutamol at 2,000ng/ml, double the amount permitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). Under new Wada rules there is an allowance made for specific gravity, in effect to take into account of possible dehydration and urine concentration. It is understood Froome’s reading has been recalibrated to 1,429ng/ml, which is still an adverse analytical finding and could lead to an anti-doping rule violation.
The report, by researchers at the Centre for Human Drug Research in Leiden, the Netherlands, claims on a maximum dosage of salbutamol, as many as 15.4 per cent of tests could return a false positive. It states: “the current threshold inadvertently leads to incorrect assumptions of violation, whereas many violations will go unnoticed,” and says that the testing should be reconsidered.
Wada is standing by the test. A spokesman said: “Wada has conducted several studies on salbutamol and continues to conduct studies on beta-2 agonists. We believe the current threshold is solid considering the scientific literature published on salbutamol over the past 20 years. Based on the published and unpublished information in our possession, we see no reason to change the salbutamol threshold.”