UKs most successful road cyclist fights for reputation after returning adverse analytical finding after drugs test during victory in the Vuelta
Britains most successful road cyclist Chris Froome is fighting to salvage his reputation after a failed drugs test during his victory in the Vuelta a Espaa 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.
However, unless Froome can provide a sufficient explanation for the abnormal finding, or challenge the result, he is likely to be stripped of his Vuelta title by cyclings governing body, the UCI, and could be given a ban from the sport of up to 12 months.
Given that Team Sky also operates a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to failed tests, Froomes future role in the team may also come under consideration.
The Guardian understands that Froome and Team Sky have recruited a team of medical and legal experts to seek an explanation of the findings. In particular, they are examining whether Froome was dehydrated at the time, or whether there were other physiological factors that may have led to the failed test.
One of the possibilities that will be offered to Froome is for a simulated test where he takes salbutamol and has his urine regularly assessed. However, informed sources expect the case to drag on for several more months meaning Froome could still be under a cloud when he begins his season next spring.
It is certainly a far cry from the elation Froome was feeling in September, when he spoke of his joy after becoming the first Briton to win the Vuelta, which also made him the first cyclist to claim the Tour de France/Vuelta double in the same year since 1978.
Later in September he also won a bronze medal in the world time trial championships in Norway a result he described as an amazing end to an unforgettable season. That period of sustained success led to him being nominated for this Sundays BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, where he was one of the leading contenders behind the boxer Anthony Joshua. But by then he had already failed a drug test, the result of which threatens to damage his reputation as one of Britains most successful athletes.
That success had arrived late in Froomes career. Until his mid-20s, his results were those of an average member of the peloton. However, the softly-spoken rider, who was born in Kenya but represents Britain, shot to prominence in 2011 with a second-place finish in the Vuelta. He explained his improvement had come about owing to the successful treatment of the parasitic flatworm bilharzia, which had robbed him of energy.
The following year he won an Olympic bronze medal in London before securing his first Tour de France title in 2013. Such has been his dominance since, he now enjoys a 4m-a-year salary from Team Sky making him the best-paid rider in the world. Yet he has never experienced the same affection that another home rider, Sir Bradley Wiggins, has enjoyed with the British public. Perhaps that has something to do with him having never lived in England, having grown up in Kenya and South Africa and then lived in Monaco for many years.
Inevitably, given cyclings troubled past with doping, Froome has also faced questions over whether he is clean, despite having never returned an abnormal drug test result before now. Such has been the vitriol at times that at the 2015 Tour de France one fan spat at him while another threw a bottle of urine in his face. The way he carried himself at the time earned him plenty of admirers and Froome has always vehemently insisted he is no cheat.