Four-time world time trial champion Tony Martin has called the decision not to suspend Team Sky leader Chris Froome immediately for his adverse drugs test a “scandal”.
In a post on his Facebook page, the 32-year-old German wrote he was “totally angry” and suggested Froome and his British team “enjoy a special status”.
Martin is particularly annoyed that the International Cycling Union (UCI) let Froome ride in the time trial at the Road World Championships on September 20 despite telling him that day about his adverse analytical finding at La Vuelta a Espana a fortnight earlier.
Froome came third in Bergen, winning a bronze medal that he said at the time “capped an amazing season”. Martin finished a disappointing ninth.
In its letter to Froome and his national governing body, British Cycling, the UCI made it clear that he was not subject to a mandatory suspension.
In a test taken after the Vuelta’s 18th stage on September 7, Froome provided a urine sample with a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol of 2,000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml), double the World Anti-Doping Agency’s limit of 1,000 ng/ml.
Team Sky said in a statement on Wednesday that the 32-year-old British star experienced “acute asthma symptoms” during the final week of the Vuelta and increased his dosage of salbutamol, within permissible limits, on doctor’s advice.
Froome said on Twitter on Thursday: “It’s sad seeing the misconceptions that are out there about athletes & salbutamol use. My hope is that this doesn’t prevent asthmatic athletes from using their inhalers in emergency situations for fear of being judged. It is not something to be ashamed of.”
He then added in response to a reply to that post: “I didn’t take more salbutamol than permitted, I’ve made that very clear. I’m also looking at the bigger picture. This enquiry will come and go, but the stigma will remain.”
It is understood that Froome, who had struggled the day before but returned to form on stage 18, took three extra puffs on his inhaler after the finish but before his test.
He and his team are now trying to build a scientific argument to explain how this unusual, but legal, dose translated to an illegal concentration of the drug in his sample.
If Froome fails to provide a satisfactory answer, the UCI could proceed with an anti-doping rule violation which could strip him of his victory at the Vuelta – the first by a British rider and half of a Tour de France/Vuelta double only achieved twice before in cycling history – and result in him missing a large chunk of 2018.
Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ from a training camp in Majorca, the four-time Tour winner said: “This is damaging. It’s come as a huge shock to me as well.
“At the same time I know within me that fundamentally I have followed the protocol, I have not overstepped any boundaries and I hope by the end of this process that will be clear to everyone and I’ll be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”
He explained he was tested every day he was in the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta, which he wore from stage three to stage 21, and he knew he would be tested every day.
Giving an insight into how his case will proceed, Froome said Team Sky has given the UCI a “vast” amount of information about his dosages, what he ate and how often he peed, which could be key as dehydration plays a big role in how salbutamol is excreted and metabolised.
When asked how the adverse finding could have come about, Froome said: “My asthma was playing up a lot more and that’s when the doctor advised me to increase the number of puffs, obviously staying well in the legal limit of the maximum allowed number of puffs you can take during the race.
“So we did increase it and that’s why we’re faced with this question of ‘I did stay within the limits but obviously the test results show a different reading’ so we’re trying to evaluate what has happened.”