• Team Sky rider denies he is willing to accept six-month ban • Froome still committed to finding reason for failed test at Vuelta
Chris Froome has denied he is ready to accept a six-month ban from cycling by admitting negligence following his failed drug test last year.
The four-times Tour de France winner reacted to a claim in an Italian newspaper that he was preparing to accept the six-month sanction as a plea bargain on the advice of his wife, Michelle, who is also his manager. The article suggested he would agree to an “acceptance of consequences” deal in order to avoid the case reaching an independent anti-doping trial.
It is not unheard of to include six mountain passes over 1,000 meters in a grand tour stage, but squeezing those into 105.8 kilometers complicates life for some and opens up opportunities for others.
Of the nine summit finishes the Vuelta a España named, the final one could be the most challenging. It will certainly be decisive with only a flat sprint stage in Madrid on Sunday.
In Andorra, the principality nestled in the mountains between Spain and France, the stage will climb 4,000 meters. The first “small” pass over the Comella is followed by Beixalis, Ordino, again Beixalis and Comella, and a summit finish to Coll del la Gallina.
Guillén told AS Saturday that the idea is “nothing is resolved until [la Gallina] and that it can change everything.”
The Vuelta experimented with a similar stage in 2016 but used it near the end of the second week. After one kilometer, Team Sky’s Chris Froome found himself isolated without teammates. Rivals Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador attacked. He never saw them again and lost the Vuelta over the short 118.5 kilometers.
Froome said this year that he learned “two aspects” from 2016 that he took forward: “have numbers at the front so my teammates can control and, my reasonability, making sure important rivals don’t go clear without me following.”
MADRID (AFP) — This year’s Vuelta a Espana is set to be decided in the mountains with nine summit finishes included in the route unveiled on Saturday.
The race will start with an 8km individual time trial in the southern port city of Malaga on August 25 and will spend eight days in the south of Spain before journeying through the mountainous terrain close to the Atlantic coast and heading into the Pyrenees for a decisive final stretch.
The race will conclude in the capital Madrid on Sunday, September 16.
“We want the mountains to be key in deciding the Vuelta,” said La Vuelta director Javier Guillen.
Last year’s race was won by Chris Froome, as he became just the third rider in history to win the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France in the same year. But it was revealed last month that Froome — the first British winner of the race — had given an adverse doping test during the Vuelta.
If the 32-year-old does take part, he will see summit finishes at Les Praeres in Asturias and at Balcon de Bizkaia in the Basque Country for the first time in the history of the race. Though a start at La Vuelta is unlikely for the Briton, as is already slated to attempt the Giro-Tour double in 2018.
The Vuelta will also return to Lagos de Covadonga in the Picos de Europa, where Colombian Nairo Quintana took the leader’s red jersey in 2016 before holding it all the way to the end.
After the first stage, the only other time trial will be on the 16th stage, a 32.7km effort from Santillana del Mar to Torrelavega. That could be seen as a measure taken to prevent a rider like Froome from wrapping up overall victory early on, although Froome won the only individual time trial last year and did the same in 2016 when he finished second to Quintana.
The overall winner may not be decided until the penultimate stage in Andorra, before riders head to Madrid for the traditional finish. The final stage is only 105.8km but finishes atop the Col de la Gallina.
2018 La Vuelta a Espana route
August 25: Stage 1 Malaga – Malaga, 8km ITT
August 26: Stage 2 Marbella – Caminito del Rey, 163.9km
August 27: Stage 3 Mijas – Alhaurin de la Torre, 182.5km
August 28: Stage 4 Velez-Malaga – Alfacar, 162km
August 29: Stage 5 Granada – Roquetas de Mar, 188km
August 30: Stage 6 Huercal-Overa – San Javier, 153km
August 31: Stage 7 Puerto Lumbreras – Pozo Alcon, 182km
September 1: Stage 8 Linares – Almaden, 195.5km
September 2: Stage 9 Talavera de la Reina – La Covatilla, 195km
September 3: Rest day
September 4: Stage 10 Salamanca – Fermoselle, Bermillo de Sayago, 172.5km
September 5: Stage 11 Mombuey – Luintra, 208.8km
September 6: Stage 12 Mondonedo – Faro de Estaca de Bares, Manon, 177.5km
September 7: Stage 13 Candas – La Camperona, 175.5km
September 8: Stage 14 Cistierna – Nava, 167km
September 9: Stage 15 Ribera de Arriba – Lagos de Covadonga, 185.5km
September 10: Rest day
September 11: Stage 16 Santillana del Mar – Torrelavega, 32.7km ITT
September 12: Stage 17 Getxo – Balcon de Bizkaia, 166.4km
September 13: Stage 18 Ejea de los Caballeros – Lleida, 180.5 km
September 14: Stage 19 Lleida – Andorra (Naturlandia), 157km
September 15: Stage 20 Escaldes-Engordany (Andorra) – Col de la Gallina, 105.8km
September 16: Stage 21 Alcorcon – Madrid, 112km
A Belgian road cyclist has revealed he refused to use the same asthma medication for which Chris Froome failed a drugs test because he feels uneasy about dependency on such medication, which he believes is widespread in the sport.
Tim Wellens was praised in some quarters for his decision to withdraw from last year’s Tour De France, won by Froome, rather than apply for a therapeutic use exemption – effectively a doctor’s note – to allow him to take a corticosteroid for the treatment of a breathing problem.
FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The official 2018 Vuelta a España route presentation is nearing, January 13, and rumors indicate it will be another explosive climbers’ race.
The third and final grand tour of the season, August 25 to September 16, will travel south to north. After stages along the Portuguese border and those in Asturias, the Basque Country, and Andorra, it will finish in Madrid. Nine summit finishes are expected to punctuate the next edition.
Only the two time trials — one on stage 1 in Málaga and one at a yet-unknown location during the third week, perhaps in Torrelavega — will balance the short, punchy mountain stages.
Spanish media have leaked most of the stages that make up the three weeks. The popular Andalusian port city of Málaga will launch the Vuelta with a nine-kilometer individual time trial.
Critics cannot accuse organizer Unipublic of taking a siesta, as it cuts right into the meat of the 2018 edition on day two with a summit finish.
Caminito del Rey, where Esteban Chaves won in 2015, is the first of the nine summit finishes. Some will be long, high-altitude runs and others not so much — this one is four kilometers with sections of 13 percent.
The formula will be familiar to Vuelta fans. Organizers should favor shorter stages from 150 to 200 kilometers. Only one or two stages may surpass 200 kilometers. The climbs mostly appear late in the day during live TV coverage.
“The Vuelta has a very strong personality and easy to identify, short stages combined with ramps, mountains,” race director Javier Guillén told VeloNews last year. “And something that I think is very specific to the Vuelta, new climbs combined with traditional summits.”
Spanish website Zikloland reported that Guillén and Unipublic “maintained the Vuelta’s model.”
La Alfaguara, north of Granada, ends the fourth day with 12 kilometers uphill and ramps up to 20 percent. The climbing continues with La Covatilla, south of Salamanca and east of Portugal, as the Vuelta works its way north.
Near León, the race will return to climb La Camperona. It starts a series of three summit finishes in the second week. The race should travel east into Asturias for summit finishes, one reported at Lagos de Covadonga and another, a new one, at Les Praeres.
Les Praeres is similar to Los Machucos in 2017. Though the roads do not tilt quite as steep as 28 percent, they remain in the double digits for the short four-plus-kilometer climb.
The Basque Country, Monte Oiz, and two days in the Principality of Andorra on Spain’s northern border will sort the final classification. The final day, like most of the Vuelta’s last 72 editions, finishes in Madrid.
We’ve got to go now to do some work – thanks for all the questions and apologies we couldn’t answer them all. Best, Sean and Martha
And, in case you missed them, here is a handy list of our pieces on the story over the last day or two:
Hi Martha, Sean. What should we think about the state of British sport? Is this story another example of why we’re only a small step away from the Russian/Armstrong approach? Or, by challenging an extra puff on an asthma inhaler does it show how British is scrupulously careful and leading the world in keeping sport clean?
I genuinely don’t think there’s anything on the scale of systemic doping in Russia going on in British sport but I think the recent duty of care scandals have shown we’re increasingly adopting a win at all costs mantra in Olympic sport. We have to be cautious that doesn’t stray into abuse of medicine.
Michael Charlie Smith replies:
How much salbutamol actually is 1000mg (or whatever the limit is), how many puffs of an inhaler would you need to take to put that much in your system?
It’s 16 puffs over 24 hours, or eight puffs over 12.
Given that this paper has long held the view that Team Sky and Froome were cheating and has never been particularity careful about mixing evidence and innuendo, is there anything Sky or Froome could say or do now that would change your assumption of a his guilt? (Or will we need to wait 50 years for a balanced reappraisal a la Tom Simpson?)
It’s funny because I think the exact opposite charge was levelled against the paper over some of our coverage of the Wiggins case. No assumption of guilt here but fact he has failed a test (with double permitted amount of a specified substance) surely warrants further examination?
In German-speaking media it was reported that Tony Martin is “furious” and claims that the UCI applies double standards in Froome’s case. He suggests that other cyclists would get and have been “banned with immediate effect” in similar cases. He further says that he cannot recall “a similar case in the recent past” and that “it is a scandal as he would have not been allowed to participate at the world cup”. Do you agree with that assessment? And if yes, is there a larger problem with the cycling industry protecting their stars (something that has already been claimed in the Armstrong era)?
It appears to be a misreading of the rules on Martin’s par. With some substances an analytical finding automatically triggers a provisional ban, that is not the case with salbutamol, which means Froome is allowed to compete until his case, which he was told about on 20 September, is resolved. On his other point, that Sky gets preferential treatment – he is certainly not alone in thinking that…
There is no evidence that this substance has any beneficial effect on performance, lets try to keep a sense of perspective.
There are two points worth making in response here:
1) There is a limit set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and Chris Froome has exceeded it by twice the permitted out.
Why has it taken so long for the UCI to investigate this?
As soon as the A-sample taken on the 7th September was flagged up it became part of the UCI’s result management process and they notified Froome of the failed test on the 20th September. He then notified them that he wanted his B sample opened. They then set out the appeal process. It was then up to the UCI whether they made the adverse analytical finding public. They chose not to, which is pretty standard in these cases.
Given that cycling is now dealing with asthma medication rather than out-and-out Armstrong-type cheating, how much does that suggest cycling has got on top of the drug problem, or has it just moved deeper underground? And given cycling’s more aggressive stance on drug testing, how does it “do” in relation to other sports? We hear little about performance test failures outside cycling, strength sports and athletics?
That is a fascinating question. The honest answer is we can’t be sure whether it has gone deeper underground in cycling and other sports – or, instead, teams are straying into grey areas more than the black. Interestingly I was having a discussion with a cycling journalist about triamcinolone and the use of corticosteroids in competition a while ago (which is illegal) and he basically said ‘If you had told me that big races could be won 15 years ago with just some dodgy TUEs and corticosteroids, I would have bitten your hand off.” Anyway, I think we can say the following with confidence: 1) Anti-Doping is ineffective. There are lots of good people in the system but the testing is not good enough, the funding inadequate and it is too easy not to get caught. As Nicole Cooke vividly put it to the DCMS select committee early this year: “the measures and schemes to fight the abuse of PEDs are inadequate and ineffective – [it’s] the wrong people fighting the wrong war, in the wrong way, with the wrong tools”. 2) There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to make you wonder what is going on. When the journalist Steve Howell was researching his book Over The Line, for instance, he asked a very senior official in Welsh sport how many rugby players he thought were using steroids. He put it simply: “How many aren’t?”. Daniel Spencer-Tonks, an amateur rugby league player who was banned for taking steroids, also claimed doping is “hugely widespread at all levels” and young players feel “pressure to be bigger, faster and stronger”. The former France prop Laurent Bénézech, who has claimed he was given performance-enhancers during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, cited another problem: the use of cortisone, which “allows an athlete to train more without feeling pain or tiredness – and substantially increases his athletic performance”.
Rob Allen asks:
Why was the decision taken to publish this now following a leak rather than after a UCI investigation had been completed? It feels a lot of the media are making judgements based on limited facts (shock horror I know!).
In the past there have been suspicions that, for whatever reason, failed drugs test have been covered up. Froome has no right to anonymity here, both his A sample and B sample show double the permitted amount of a specified substance – an adverse analytical finding, also known as a failed test. Froome is not disputing that. He is now embarking on a process to attempt to prove there are legitimate reasons for this failed test and that is his right, we are not interfering with that process. Equally it is not our job to be part of the Team Sky PR machine and continue concealing the failed test. In fact I would argue there is a strong public interest in ourselves and Le Monde investigating and running the story. I think we are presenting the facts in a fair manner.
Given Sky’s recent history with keeping records of what their riders are taking in the jiffy bag case. How can anyone take seriously records they produce of what Froome has been taking?
There’s an irony in the fact that Team Sky and British Cycling’s lack of medical records (see Doctor Richard Freeman’s stolen laptop) was cited by the UK Anti-Doping Agency as one of the reasons they were unable to fully investigate allegations levelled at Bradley Wiggins over the mystery jiffy bag delivery in 2011. Now Sky will be presumably invoking medical records and previous test results in a bid to clear Froome’s name.
I find this disturbing. What we know: he has asthma, is using a legal drug to resolve this, he has exceeded a threshold, the UCI are querying this, it can be explained by many biological factors. Therefore naturally the guardian etc. have blown this up, whipped up a frenzy without allowing the process – carried out by experts – to be completed. The story is cheap.
You seem to making a large number of assumptions here. The key point is that under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, athletes are liable for what is put in their system. The result of Chris Froome’s test on September 7 at the Vuelta means he has provisionally broken an anti-doping rule. And because of that, it is up to him to explain how the excessive levels of salbutamol got into his urine. If he can’t then strict liability apply. Crucially, Froome has the burden of proof here.
You say it can be explained by biological factors. The medical experts I have spoken to are nowhere near as confident. Perhaps it. Perhaps it won’t. But it is something that Chris Froome and his team will try to hone in on over the coming weeks and months – that dehydration was a factor, or perhaps there was some other physiological reason for the high test etc and so on.
What actual performance advantage would Froome gain from exceeding the WADA limit on Salbutamol if he’s proven to have done so? And if Salbutamol works as a PED in the context of a grand tour, how would he have been stupid enough to exceed the minimum dose on a day when he knew he was pretty much 100% likely to be tested?
Hi BadlyWiredDog, that’s what makes this case so interesting (and confusing). Most experts seem to be in agreement that the performance enhancing benefits of salbutamol taken with an inhaler would be negligible for an athlete without asthma and simply performance enabling for an athlete with asthma. Some experts say when taken orally it could help in sprint stages but Froome insists he has only ever used it with a “puffer.”
You would also assume Froome and Team Sky would be aware he was likely to be tested most days and that any excessive dosage of the medication would be blatantly obvious in a urine test. So it would be an incredibly stupid way to cheat. The problem for Froome and Team Sky is that they are already operating under increased scrutiny after the Wiggins case and these anti-doping tests are their chance to prove they haven’t done anything wrong. Instead, Froome’s failed tests only increases the level of suspicion. It’s up to them to now prove there’s some other reason for his sample showing double the permitted amount.
zzaymssik has two questions:
1. What’s the difference between an “adverse result” and failing a drugs test?
2. What is the performance gain he would have had from the dose he took?
Very simply – an adverse analytical finding is a potential breach in anti-doping rules, which means that Froome has to explain why there was double the levels of permitted levels of salbutamol in his system.
Here’s what the World Anti-Doping Agency say –
The problem, as I see it, is that sportspeople (not just professionals) are always looking for that ‘edge’, and will skirt around and find loopholes in the incredibly confusing rules, until something like this happens and Froome, who ‘technically’ hasn’t broken any rules, is made a scapegoat for something that everybody’s doing? Are we getting near to the point where we just say ‘crack on lads, take whatever you like’, ridding us of this ridiculous ambiguity for ever?
Ah, the old ‘let them take what they want and then see who can run fastest/lift most etc’ argument. Can see the attraction but for a start that would be incredibly dangerous for the athletes involved. But I think your suggestion emphasises the credibility problem faced by professional cycling and probably athletics and other sports, too, that the idea of clean sport is seen as fanciful. High profile cases like this contribute to the cynicism.
What would have happened had media sources not released this information? How would it have likely played out? Would it ever have been released and, if so, when? In the short term, Froome is still presumably on the SPOTY shortlist? Good idea or not?
Hi Oommph, there were no indications that the UCI, Team Sky or Froome himself would have released the information. In fact, in an interview with Froome on Sky News (ahem!) this morning he nodded when it was put to him that the information would not have been made public had two newspapers (The Guardian and Le Monde) broken the story.
I suspect it would have remained private. The UCI have no obligation to make public and adverse analytical finding and nor do Froome or the team.
Is Slabutamol also a potential masking agent? I’ve heard contrasting information on this. Are there clauses in the Team Sky contract so that Sky can quit their sponsorship if a rider is caught guilty of cheating / failing a drugs test?
I have heard it suggested in a number of places that salbutamol is a masking agent. But I spoke to two senior anti-doping figures last night and they suggested it wasn’t. Am happy to be proved otherwise, but I can only go with what the experts tell me.
And, yes, Sky do have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to doping. This case, however, isn’t completely straightforward in that regard: Chris Froome did fail a test on September 7 for excessive salbutamol but it was an adverse analytical finding not an anti-doping rule violation. So even if he is stripped of his Vuelta a Espana title and is banned he may not necessarily lose his job at Team Sky.
Hello all, sorry for the delay in responding – Martha and I have just been in a departmental meeting that overran a little. We’ll start answering as many questions as we can now … Cheers, Sean
Chris Froome was hoping to win his fifth Tour de France title next year but, depending on how cycling’s governing body react after his failed drugs test, he may well be banned from the sport when the race begins on the tiny island of Noirmoutier in July. In a week when Froome may have had designs on winning the Sports Personality of the Year award, he is now fighting to save his reputation. Froome says he has “done nothing wrong” and “fundamentally followed the protocol”. But, unless he can provide a sufficient explanation for his failed test, he is likely to lose his Vuelta title and be banned from his sport.
Sean and Martha broke the story on the Guardian and they will be here soonto answer all of your questions. In the meantime, here are some pieces you might have missed:
Team Sky started out promising to be whiter than white but episodes with Bradley Wiggins and now Froome mean that has to be questioned
From a holiday in Miami to the launch of a luxury watch boutique and the announcement that he intends to race in the Giro d’Italia next year, there had been no obvious signs that anything was troubling Chris Froome over the past 12 weeks.
But his failed drug test on 7 September, as uncovered by a joint investigation between the Guardian and Le Monde, threatens not only his plans for the coming season and reputation as one of Britain’s finest athletes, it could also be a final nail in the already battered coffin of Team Sky.
Chris Froome, Britain’s most successful road cyclist, failed a drugs test taken during his successful tilt at the Vuelta in September. His urine showed twice the acceptable level of salbutamol, an asthma medication. Team Sky claim the test coincided with a worsening of his asthma, and doctor’s advice to increase his dosage.
• Froome found to have an excessive level of an asthma drug at Vuelta • Team Sky have ‘utmost confidence’ he stayed within permissible dose • Rider says he was following team doctor’s advice after asthma got worse
Britain’s most successful road cyclist Chris Froome is fighting to salvage his reputation after a failed drugs test during his victory in the Vuelta a España in September.
Following a joint investigation by the Guardian and Le Monde, which revealed that the 32-year-old had double the permitted levels of the asthma medication salbutamol in his body, the four-time Tour de France winner admitted that he had upped his dose of the drug during the race – but insisted he had not broken any rules.
Salbutamol is medication used to relieve symptoms of asthma – and other lung conditions – such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless. It works by relaxing the muscles of the airways into the lungs which makes it easier to breathe. It is taken normally through an inhaler, although it can also be ingested as a tablet, capsule or syrup.
Thank you for all the messages of support this morning. I am confident that we will get to the bottom of this. Unfortunately I can’t share any more information than I already have until the enquiry is complete.