South African sports scientist Ross Tucker says the closing of the Chris Froome Salbutamol case has undermined the integrity of anti-doping in cycling.
Tucker, founder and owner of The Science of Sport platform, has told In the Bunch that the decision to close the case brought the “robustness” of the anti-doping system into question.
“It doesn’t just undermine threshold substances; it undermines all of anti-doping,” Tucker said yesterday.
“Salbutamol has a level of complexity, since it is allowed only to a certain level, but it was still detected in the athlete’s urine and it was still an adverse finding.”
Less than a week before the start of this year’s Tour de France, the International Cycling Union (UCI) closed the case against Froome for returning twice the permissible amount of the asthma drug during last year’s Vuelta a Espana, which he won.
Froome, who recently also won the Giro d’Italia, was subsequently allowed to take part in the French Grand Tour after the organisers, Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), had initially banned him from starting.
“This case has shown that when the legal proceedings are challenged strongly enough, anti-doping begins to look creaky and weak,” Tucker said.
“It undermines the confidence in anti-doping. Obviously, specific to Salbutamol, there are issues about how much is too much, and whether the test can be trusted.
“I don’t mean to be alarmist, but I think you can ask those same questions with every anti-doping test.
“While it may not create a precedent in the sense that three months from now the next guy who has a finding of Salbutamol won’t go the same way as Froome, the confidence in anti-doping took a big step down as a consequence of this.”
Asked whether the decision could put previously banned riders in a position to challenge their bans, Tucker said athletes who had enough resources could potentially consider it.
“When an athlete returns a finding such as this, they can do a controlled pharmaceutical kinetics test in which they try to replicate the results.
“Every other athlete who has received a ban had to go through that process. Froome did not, because they said he couldn’t recreate the conditions, because of dehydration in a three-week stage race.
“But none of that is unique to Froome. If I were an athlete who has been sanctioned for [failing] this test, which was deemed to have thrown out a false positive [result], I would argue the same thing.
“If I were an athlete with the will and the money, I probably would fight it. But sometimes you may just not have the appetite to fight. It’s a very drawn-out, expensive and energy-draining process.
“Froome wanted to fight, because he had to,” Tucker said.
He described Froome as “an incredibly polarised cyclist” and said the varying perceptions from members of the public would determine their stance on the credibility of the UCI.
“If you believe he is clean, you would think the anti-doping made a mockery of itself by unfairly accusing an innocent guy.
“If you believe he was doping, you would think that it is a mockery of anti-doping system.
“I think they [the UCI] have significantly undermined their own status as a trusted authority of anti-doping in the sport.
“Neither the UCI nor the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) gained any points from this episode,” Tucker said.