You know that feeling when you've had 30 puffs of your inhaler in the morning before a big ride and your chest is still feeling tight? Maybe I should have another one or three puffs? No, I don't know that feeling either. I also don't reckon Chris Froome gets that feeling. However, the Daily Mail probably does. My professional amateur status stands me in pretty good stead to comment on this type of thing - I once had a panic attack worrying I would be over the UCI limit having taking 3 paracetamol. It's a minefield for us Amateur Pros too. Stand by for an internal monologue akin to a 15 year old girl who has just found out her favourite boy band singer is gay…
I woke up on the team bus (i.e. my dad's camper van) to the news on BBC Breakfast – "Chris Froome returns negative drugs test results". NO!!! It's a dream. A mistake. My heart sank. I've spent most of the time since the story broke trying to read all the statements and articles, and watch the interviews to work out what on earth has happened here. Did he take drugs? Should he have had a Therapeutic Use Exemption to use the drugs? Was the reading wrong? Is he banned? Will he be spat on by more French people? Will he ever race again? Is Lance Armstrong currently laughing? Below you'll find my search for answers to this and more…
Did he take drugs? Er, yeah. He did. But not cocaine or anything, calm down. He took salbutamol – why is it whenever people use correct medical names it immediately sounds dodgy? Salbutamol is asthma medication - he basically has an inhaler, which he used…potentially a lot. This is nothing new though. He has always had an inhaler for his asthma, as have a lot of the peloton – and to extinguish the sceptics on this immediately – yes, way more pro cyclists claim to have asthma than normal mortals – that's because being a professional cyclists pushes your respiratory system to the very limit, and at that limit you find out pretty quickly whether your lungs have anything wrong with them. Lots of people will never know they have asthma because they never push their lungs hard enough to find out. Come to think of it I think I might have asthma...
Why didn't he have a therapeutic use exemption if he was taking drugs? – the UCI doesn't request a TUE for you to use your inhaler for asthma. It is considered perfectly legal and doesn't need pre-sign off…up to a certain limit.
Was the reading wrong? Well…it was certainly the wrong reading for Froomey! I won't pretend to be a doctor here (I'm a professional amateur cyclist - no time for a job), but so I've heard it was 2,000 nanograms of juice per millilitre of urine. The limit is 1,000 nanograms. Now - this isn't actually the test – this is an 'analytical finding'. So what we have here is an 'Adverse Analytical Finding". The UCI now has to speak to Froome and has to get some further information to check that his use of the inhaler was within the limits of that allowed (which is 1,600 micrograms of salbutamol over a period of 24 hours and no more than 800 micrograms in 12 hours). There are lots of different variables that dictate how much of the stuff going in comes out, and that's why people are still not sure whether he is guilty.
Is he banned? Well, no – as above, it's now going to be a case of proving that he is not guilty of over-inhaling. It could be some time before we confirm whether he is a cheat or not and whether or not he gets a ban. Something I found quite interesting is when he did his BBC interview on Wednesday – The question was asked whether he 'has records of his inhalation'. He went on to discuss how he has a meticulous regime of taking his asthma medicine, but reading between the lines, I'm actually not sure how many records he has, other than just writing down on a piece of paper that he inhaled this amount of puffs. Not sure how that will stack up with the UCI.
Another point to note is that other riders have previously been banned for having less of this stuff in their wee. Does the UCI need to throw the book at Froome to avoid riders in the future using a 'Froome's Law' defence to get around any formal action against them when they come up with these adverse analytical findings? It's very hard to detach my emotional feelings from this, mainly because in my neutral opinion I'm worried that I think the UCI have to ban him to set a proper precedent. Emotionally I can't cope with that.
Will he be spat on more? Almost certainly. Whether or not he is found guilty or innocent, he will be spat on, he will have wee thrown on him (ironic) and he will be publicly flogged on social media by anyone and everyone, including Sir Wiggo's wife, who has had to apologies already for referring to him as a 'slithering reptile'. I don't know why she couldn't have just said snake – its not a swear word. Unfortunately people are fickle, and people only read headlines, and whether or not Froomey is guilty is not necessarily going to matter. People have been waiting to spit at him for a while, because he's not liked throughout Europe because of his 'boring and calculated' style of riding, and because of this annoying habit he has of winning bike races and then being really nice about it. People hate that. An adverse analytical finding is the same as a guilty verdict to most, so now we will have to watch the world and his wife (thanks Wiggo) pile into our Christopher.
A further question I have – why didn't anyone tell us about this until the Guardian did? This is a question I am struggling with. In summary form, this shows precisely that Sky learnt nothing from Jiffy-Bag-Gate. The overriding issue from Jiffy-Bag-Gate was the lack of communication and clarity from Sky. I feel like had Sky come out and told us all about this as soon as they were notified it may have helped dowse the flames. Yet again they have only acted in a reactionary way, and that is so annoying. Get a hold of your media policy Team Sky, you're killing us!
In summary, it is a sad time for cycling. If Froome is innocent unfortunately this negative press will always stand over him. People will always doubt him and the public that don't follow cycling too much will always think of him as the guy that got away with cheating. If he is found guilty it is just another backhand to the face of cycling's frail child. Just as the scarred child starts to trust it's sport, after being hit over and over again by the riders, teams and governing bodies charged with safeguarding the sports reputation. And so the rebuild starts again.