Chris Froome – What’s it all about?
18 December 2017 by Jason Torrance
When it was announced by the International Cycling Union that Chris Froome had produced an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol, it came as an unsurprising surprise. In terms of doping history, cycling is arguably the most tarnished sport in history. We have almost come to expect elite-level riders to test positive and it comes as more of a shock if there is not a positive finding at the Tour de France than if there is. However, in Chris Froome, cycling seemed to have a new golden boy, the elite of the elite around whom cycling could start to rebuild its reputation. And then this. So what has happened and what could happen?
On 7 September 2017, after a stage of the Vuelta a Espana, Froome provided a urine sample. On 20 September 2017 he was notified that his urine sample had been tested and produced an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol. Salbutamol is listed in S3 of the 2017 Prohibited List as a beta-2 agonist. However, salbutamol is what is known as a “threshold substance”, with S3 providing:
- 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.
It is well known that Chris Froome is an asthmatic, and therefore regularly uses salbutamol inhalers. It is not his use of the inhaler that is the problem – it is the level of salbutamol found in Froome’s sample, suggesting that he used it more than he is permitted to do for therapeutic reasons. As stated above, if the amount of salbutamol present in a urine sample is greater than 1000 ng/mL, it is presumed that the use was not for therapeutic use. Froome’s was double this, at 2000 ng/mL. However, that is not to say that his usage was not for therapeutic reasons.
The next stage for Froome will be to conduct pharmacokinetic studies to determine if his use of the inhaler at the time was permitted and has simply produced an unexpectedly high reading. For this, he will need to provide as much detail in respect of his use of the inhaler during the 24 hours prior to his test. He will then be required to replicate this use to determine whether it is consistent with the levels of salbutamol found in his sample. Of course, there are varying factors, probably the greatest being that his adverse analytical finding occurred midway through a Grand Tour event, and indeed one of the steepest climbs of the race. Replicating such conditions will be almost impossible. Furthermore, if he had suffered from an asthma attack and therefore increased his normal inhaler usage this would account for higher-than-normal levels.
It will only be once the results of the pharmacokinetic study have been received and expert scientific opinion provided based upon Froome’s explanation that we will know whether his usage of salbutomal is consistent with therapeutic use and therefore whether Froome will be charged with an anti-doping rule violation. If he were, it would be another huge blow for cycling.
If you are an athlete or athlete support personnel and find yourself in a similar situation, Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP can help in this very niche area of the law. We can advise athletes and athlete support personnel throughout the course of anti-doping proceedings and provide expert representation. For expert advice on anti-doping, please contact us.
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