What many of cycling’s big names now say about Chris Froome

Posted on: February 10th, 2018

Chris Froome Salbutamol

When all the comments are brought together like this it’s clear how questioning pro cycling is of Chris Froome and Team Sky. Well known figures, past and present, have their say.


What pro cycling says about Chris Froome salbutamol controversy


Having been found with twice the legal limit of asthma drug salbutamol in his system towards the end of the Vuelta last year, Chris Froome is under a cloud.

He’s not banned from racing because he must be given an opportunity – with no time limit – to try and explain how the sample he gave at a dope test returned such an adverse result.

If he and Team Sky come up with a reason that is believed, he will face no sanction.

If not, he faces a ban and being stripped of his Vuelta title and his medal from the TT Worlds last September.

With many in the sport calling on him to stop racing until the matter is resolved either way; Team Sky and Froome are not heeding those calls.

Froome is set to start his season at the Ruta del Sol next week. After that, it appears it will be business as usual. He will continue to race on.

However, what the public and fans on the roadside make of it is another matter.

Before the chaos of his return to racing begins, we’ve put together a summary of what many of the biggest names in the sport – and some journalists – have said about the situation in recent weeks.


Floyd Landis

“There is evidence that salbutamol can be performance enhancing if it’s used orally or intramuscularly. It’s very difficult to get to the level Chris Froome showed by using an inhaler.

“If that will form his excuse I think it’s nonsense and I don’t think many buy it. He’s trying to defend himself because he has everything to lose. I feel sympathy for him but if he doesn’t face it now he will have to later.

“Sometimes random or coincidental things happen but I’ve got to be honest. I find it very hard to believe a package of testosterone was accidentally mailed to a velodrome.

“We can take from what Shane has said they were at least pushing the limit with certain things. Now, with Froome’s failed test, if you take all those things together, there’s no defending that team. Any reasonable person would have more questions.

“There’s no belief in that zero tolerance system any more; that was never a real thing. It was just great PR about marginal gains and all these cute little sayings they thought up.”


Romain Bardet

“I don’t see how Froome can race as if nothing is going on,” said Bardet, who later added that he ‘regrets’ the rules do not stipulate a provisional suspension.

“Seeing as Team Sky are not taking action, nothing is stopping the rider from taking the decision personally to sideline himself while waiting for a decision from the authorities.”

Asked whether Froome should start the Tour de France if the matter was not resolved he said: “It would be catastrophic for the image of the race and for the world of cycling, which would be made a mockery of.

“It would be a farce. How can our sport be credible if the number 1 rode the Tour with the possibility of being retroactively sanctioned? Cycling would make no sense at all.”

“I’m dumbfounded that, without a leak in the press, this wouldn’t have come out, and we’d maybe learn about it in a few years’ time,” said Bardet.

“We lack transparency. Cycling’s existence is at risk if measures aren’t taken to address this. Froome does the test in September and, just by chance, we learn about it in December. The season starts without any decision being taken. We’re ridiculous, we’re a laughing stock.

“I find it hard to see how a rider with that level of salbutamol can be cleared,” he said. “If so, why impose the limits What worries me is whether the UCI has the means to fully shed light on this story.

“Can the experts establish whether it’s possible to return a high reading naturally? We know about the power of Sky in terms of budget, of expertise. That’s what’s at stake. We’re in a scientific wilderness.

“I hope for an independent inquiry… and an independent verdict. The UCI is cautious because, if cleared, they would be asked to pay damages. The financial pressure is very strong. But I hope they do all they can to get to the bottom of it.”


Jan Bakelants (AG2R La Mondiale)

“He is going to be suspended and that will be right. Ulissi was once caught with a value of 1,900 nanograms per milliliter and had to be on the side for two years. Later that was reduced to nine months, but Froome was in 2,000.

“I do not see how he will get out of this. There is a precedent, WADA will not go along with that [explanation] and he has the perception against it.”


Jonathan Vaughters

The manager of WorldTour team EF-Drapac, Jonathan Vaughters told cyclingnews in recent days:

“On the one hand you can say ‘well, since it would normally be private, until there’s a resolution he has every right to race’. And that’s an understandable perspective.

“But the reality is it’s not private, it is now public. So the reality is, in my opinion, that every race he shows up to, he becomes the centre of attention, the scandal becomes the centre of attention, and the race almost becomes secondary, and that is damaging to cycling.

“In my opinion the honourable thing to do on his part would simply be to not race until that was done, if he was trying to protect the sport. That way he wouldn’t make himself almost like a sideshow – not even a sideshow, actually, but the centre of attention.”


Philippa Yorke

In the past week headlines have appeared in the cycling media quoting Dave Brailsford as saying the team still supported Froome.

‘For me, there’s no question, he’s done nothing wrong’, was one quote used in The Guardian.

Another headline read: “Brailsford: For me, there’s no question, he’s done nothing wrong”.

The media content, generated by Brailsford’s carefully chosen words, has put the problem all on Froome. It’s as if Froome is under scrutiny and the team have no role in the situation.

Writing in her blog on cyclingnews Philippa Yorke – known as Robert Millar before transitioning – picked up on this very point.

“The most surprising thing has been the promotion of the idea that somehow the excess of salbutamol… was Froome’s personal doing,” she said. “It’s been subtle, but it’s been there, if you read the language used by Brailsford and Team Sky.

“This isn’t a Froome-inspired mess that they, Team Sky, are wrapped up in. Oh no, this is a mess wholly orchestrated by themselves, and it just so happens to be with Froome at the centre of it. Not the other way around.

“Those same geniuses who run the squad and praise the medical staff for providing the best support when Team Sky win races with Chris Froome are now trying to tell us they had nothing to do with Froome ending up with twice the limit of salbutamol. I don’t think that flies, not in the slightest.”


Richard Virenque

Richard Virenque – whose career was so drug-fuelled it could be argued that all of his results are fake – said there was no comparison between his doping and the situation Froome was in.

He said he did not think it was fair to expect Froome not to race until the issue is resolved. But he also believed Froome should make it clear now that he won’t start a Grand Tour until the issue is sorted.

“Not being welcome on the Tour is too heavy a weight to carry and persisting was an error that I made,” Virenque said of his own doping.

“If I were in his place today, I’d announce that I would not be at the start of the Tour. That would allow him to relieve all of the pressure that he’s going to experience from here to the month of July.

“He should take a very clear position while he waits to be cleared. He would then have the front doors open to him on the Tour after having a normal race programme in the first part of the season, where he wouldn’t have had to discuss his participation in the Tour.”


Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

“There is not really much you can say at the moment. Whatever you say, you can’t win. It is big shame. I heard the news and I was in massive shock,” Porte said.

“Let’s see what happens. Let it all run its course. I am flabbergasted as you guys are too. Let’s see what happens.

“I do have respect,” Porte said of Froome. “He is a good friend and we were teammates for a long time. It is only natural you are going to ask the questions but I’d probably rather not say too much.”


David Walsh, journalist

Walsh claimed in a recent Sunday Times column that he knew while Froome was telling journalists on the Vuelta he was not ill, he was indeed getting sick.

“He had suffered in the unseasonal cold on the Machuros stage; the pattern that he knew so well, chest infection brought on by his asthma followed by sustained bouts of coughing,” Walsh wrote.

“Sensing he was unwell, journalists asked if he was OK and he insisted he was fine, absolutely fine. The reality is that he was not.”


Walsh said that since being seen using an inhaler during a stage of the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine and been criticised for it, Froome did not use it during racing anymore.

It meant, claimed Walsh, the number of puffs of his inhaler that he could legally take were no longer always spread evenly across a day.

After stage 18, when he was “stronger” compared to the previous day, he took several puffs of his inhaler, Walsh added.

“That evening at the finish (of stage 18), wanting to show he was healthy, he took two or three puffs from his inhaler hoping he would cough less or not at all through the post-race interview,” Walsh wrote.

He then added that 50 minutes after crossing the finish line he had his interview and dope test done.

Walsh went on to write that when doing his test Froome “recorded his use of salbutamol, which is legal provided the amount does not exceed the 1000ng/ml threshold”.

Walsh added of salbutamol: “It needs to be said that Salbutamol is primarily a performance-enabling drug that allows asthmatics to keep their airways open.”

He noted while anti doping authorities believe it can be performance-enhancing, “multiple studies suggest there is little or no benefit to non-asthmatics”.


Paul Kimmage, journalist

“For six years now, since the extraordinary transformation at the 2011 Tour of Spain, Froome has been an accident waiting to happen battling five conditions – bilharzias, typhoid, urticaria, blastocystosis, asthma – in his march towards the summit,” Kimmage wrote recently in the Sunday Independent.

“Forget the astonishing accelerations (Mont Ventoux 2013, La Pierre Saint Martin 2015) and multiple Tour wins, this is the Froome legacy. He has redefined what it means to be ill.”

Kimmage focussed in detail on what Froome previously told journalist David Walsh about being ill on the final week of the 2015 Tour.

He told Walsh he refused a TUE to clear up congestion and a sore throat that was spreading to his chest.

In the David Walsh interview at the time Froome said his chest was burning on the start line as he held in his coughing.

He was standing beside Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana and didn’t want them to know he was “100 per cent sick”.

Two days later, on the penultimate stage, Froome told Walsh he had no other game plan but to simply hang on.

However, Kimmage notes he would finish 5th on the stage.

And while David Walsh wrote at the time that “his legs weren’t good but his spirit sustained him”, Kimmage points out Froome gained time that day on some very big names.

“He stuck four minutes into Dan Martin and finished almost two minutes clear of some elite climbers – Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet and Robert Gesink,” says Kimmage.

Froome would win the Tour but Paul Kimmage says he seemed to take no time out to recover.

Instead a few days after the Tour he was riding an post-Tour criterium in Holland for appearance money – “still coughing and wheezing presumably and sucking on his inhaler”.

Kimmage disagrees with Walsh’s take: “Some might say his spirit sustained him (as Walsh wrote in 2015). I call it taking the piss,” he writes.


Mathieu van der Poel

“It’s very stupid, I can’t help saying that. Maybe I’m a bit too blunt for saying it like this. Maybe asthma patients will understand the case better, but cycling and all sports in general are for healthy people.

“A suspension, that’s what I think. For me it’s a positive test. If the limit is 1,000 and he’s up to 2,000, then there’s not much discussion needed. That’s a positive test

“The UCI allows that abuse, is possible. If you state that it’s not allowed, then it will not happen,” he said.

“Now, they’re saying that it is allowed up towards a certain amount. Then you just know that some people will try to get up to that height; the ideal height.

“I think the UCI is partly to blame about that.”


Cyrille Guimard

French management legend Cyrille Guimard believes the decision of Team Sky to start racing next week – at the Ruta del Sol – is a self-absorbed decision with no thought for cycling’s image.

“Froome and his team are putting one over on us. The act of riding the Ruta del Sol is an act of self-importance. They absolutely don’t care about the disastrous image that they are presenting of cycling.

“Chris Froome is going to become a media star at the Ruta del Sol and, in time, a victim. The cameras of the world will be there. He will never have had so much publicity.

“This is the part of it that shocks me the most. They are making Froome a star on the roads of the Ruta del Sol; it’s scandalous.

“The other riders perhaps have the key to the problem. They could refuse to ride alongside him. Or refuse anti-doping controls until the affair is resolved.”


Rohan Dennis

“I’ve got a zero tolerance for any sort of positive test, and that goes for myself.

“If I accidentally or purposefully take something — which I never would purposefully take something — then you just have to own it and accept that you get a slap on the wrist and try to move on and try not to make a mistake again.

“I don’t know the full details but I think for myself, if that was me, I’d just say ‘Look, I screwed up. I shouldn’t have done this’, or what not, if that is the case [that Froome made a mistake]”.


Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal)

“As a professional rider, I have undergone several tests in hospital,” Wellens told RTBF. “I sometimes feel some obstruction in my bronchi, and so I learned that with an inhaler, I could improve my breathing capacity by 7 or 8 per cent. The doctors told me that I could use an inhaler, without any certification.

“But I’m against inhalers. I have no desire to improve my breathing by 7 per cent in that way. And I think that when you start using inhalers, afterwards you don’t know how to live without them. I refuse to be dependent on that kind of thing.

“So I’m clearly against them. But a lot of people use them. If the public knew the number of riders who have an inhaler… it’s enormous. And then sometimes, it’s also a little bit in the head.”

He added his own brother had been diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and quit cycling as a result.

Wellens added that his older brother Yannick, a talented amateur, had chosen to stop his cycling career altogether after he was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma.

“He was given the choice: he could either use products that, in the long-term, could be bad for his health, or he could quit. He decided to quit,” Wellens said.

“Sometimes you have to make choices in life. When I was a young rider, I was on a team where five of my seven teammates had an inhaler. I can accept that a person might need an inhaler, but not five people out of seven.”


Alberto Contador

“There’s one thing that really needs handling, which is that the verdict is made as soon as it can be. It can’t be delayed, that’s bad for everybody, bad for the race organizers,” Contador, who served a doping ban himself, told a Spanish radio station.


Michael Rasmussen

“That is a mystery to me,” himself a doper, told the Irish radio show Off The Ball recently. “You need to take a lot of salbutamol to exceed the limit.

“I do not know how many puffs of the inhaler you need to take to reach twice the limit.

“But the fact is that if the limit of 1000 ng/ml was too low, the WADA-accredited laboratories would be drowning in tests of salbutamol because there are so many people taking it out there across all sports.

“In particular cross-country skiing, swimming and basically all endurance sports.

“So, if that limit was set too low, you would see a line around the block at the laboratory in Lausanne trying to contest the result. But that is not the case.”


Brian Holm

“Dave Brailsford’s plan to clean up cycling isn’t going so well. He doesn’t speak so much when things go bad, the knight on his big white horse.

“My best guess would be nine months, but who knows?” he said of the possible sanction.

Holm then added: “Look, when he ran up Mont Ventoux at the Tour, no cyclist does that. And instead of losing time he was given seconds. That was kind of strange so who really knows.”


Lance Armstrong

“He could be completely exonerated and he is tarnished forever. Damage is done.

“You might think I am talking about him caring about whether they write negative articles about him – he may or may not. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

“But, come next July, when this all gets cleaned up, it is already unpleasant for him, this is going to be complete mayhem and I know exactly what that fucking feels like. And it ain’t any fun.”

“Cycling is the sporting world’s doormat. I have to say that I take a lot of blame for that.

“The article the day after in the New York Times was the biggest bunch of bullshit that I have ever read.

“If you are a fan of Baseball who gets the New York Times every day and you read that story, and it is just so harsh on Chris Froome, and our sport, and our sport’s history.

“I am sure we deserve a lot of that and I am trying to accept some responsibility here because I have sort of you know tainted the entire equation obviously.

“But you don’t get an accurate depiction of this situation by reading that article. I read that and I was like, ‘you have got to be kidding’.

“You had read that article and thought Chris Froome had a gallon of EPO for breakfast. And that is not accurate and fair to him.”


British Cycling CEO Julie Harrington

“The issue in this case is that the process was leaked, and while somebody is trying to prove either way why they had that adverse analytical finding it’s being debated in the court of public opinion,” Harrington argued.

“That’s a blow to cycling’s reputation, the individual athlete’s reputation. You only need to look at Twitter feeds and the comments below articles and people will make up their own mind based on not having the full evidence, which is a shame.

“I would rather that information hadn’t been leaked and we were able to deal either with a situation where an athlete is banned and then as a national governing body it’s pretty clear what our position is.

“Or, alternatively, where the athlete was able to prove a real reason for that AAF and carry on with their careers as normal.”

She added Froome was not banned from racing and therefore he was eligible to be selected for Great Britain.

“He’s not banned, he’s available for selection. There is the option for an athlete to rule himself out of selection. But under the rules of racing he is available and innocent until proven guilty.

“When we approach a race where we’re looking at selection decisions, we’ll have a choice to make at that point.”


Pat McQuaid

McQuaid said Team Sky had set out to prove it could win clean and restore the credibility of cycling. But the squad had instead damaged the sport of late.

He also found it strange that Brian Cookson would have known about Froome’s adverse salbutamol finding when he recently called for Team Sky’s reputation to be restored.

While Froome claims he has not broken any rules, McQuaid believed he had.

“The fact is, he has broken a rule. The fact is his urine sample was twice the permitted limit. It’s up to him to go and prove that he could have done otherwise.”

McQuaid also pointed out that Team Sky was informed of the adverse test finding from the Vuelta the day before Cookson was deposed as UCI president.

“If a result comes through from the laboratory that a big, big rider has provided an adverse analytical sample then the president is involved, so he would have been aware,” he said of Cookson.

“It really surprised me what Brian said about Sky getting their credibility back when all the time he knew that this thing was going on in the background,” McQuaid added.

“How Brian, knowing all of those facts, could turn around and say; ‘You need to hand their credibility back to Team Sky’. I just don’t understand it; it’s beyond me.”

He was similarly critical of Team Sky, which has been hit hard by a UKAD inquiry into a jiffy bag delivered to it in 2011 and also details of Bradley Wiggins’ TUEs emerging publicly.

McQuaid said no doping violation has been detected and no rules were found to have been broken. But the team has still been very badly damaged.

“They’ve had a very difficult 15 months,” McQuaid said of embattled Team Sky.

“They set out to be the team that is the clean team that was going to bring back the credibility of cycling. And they certainly have gone in the opposite direction this year.

“They haven’t achieved what they set out to achieve. They are a team with by far the biggest budget in cycling.

“And they can afford all of the experts and all of the medical back-up and all of the things that a lot of teams can’t afford. And they find themselves in this situation today.

“It’s going to be very difficult to see how they can come out of this with any credibility at all to be honest with you. It begs a lot of questions.”


Greg Lemond

He branded as ridiculous the suggestion Froome had returned the test result because he puffed on his asthma inhaler to prevent himself coughing in a TV interview post-stage.

That excuse was first put forward by journalist David Walsh. It was met with derision by most.

“Give me a break,” said Tour legend LeMond. “That is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard.

“If this is what he claims, then it’s simple, he broke the rules and should be punished accordingly.

“You have to look at Froome’s AAF in context of everything around Team Sky.

“The comments from Shane Sutton, admitting that the team would push things right to the limit, the lost records, the jiffy bag.

“I don’t believe in Dave Brailsford. He’s secretive, he skirts around questions. And from what I read and hear, the team is not as scientific and as knowledgeable as they claim to be.

“It pains me to hear Brailsford and the team dismiss real science as pseudoscience, always a red flag as far as I am concerned.

“As history has shown, when things are too good to be true, they usually are. The fallacy that salbutamol does not improve performance is only true if you use it as prescribed.

“Taken orally or by injection it acts as an anabolic steroid, similar to clenbuterol, the drug that Alberto Contador was positive for.

“It’s the athlete’s responsibility for following the rules. As for the use of salbutamol, it’s up to Chris Froome to be responsible for what he puts into his body.

“He alone is responsible. The peloton relies on the equal application of the rules. If these are not followed, it undermines the sport.”


Quick Step’s Patrick Lefevere

“I’m sad. First of all, I’m sad,” he told cyclingnews. “Because it’s always cycling. Unfortunately, nobody speaks about 50 per cent of athletes being suspended in athletics.

“And if you speak about doping in football, it doesn’t exist, never existed, and will never exist.”

“The rules should be more clear. I was drinking two red wines, and now one whisky, and if I go out in my car and there’s an alcohol control, I will be positive.

“If you do the control and they ask, ‘did you drink something?’ ‘Yes, two wines’. OK, you blow, positive. You should have known.

“Then you can say, ‘ah yes, but I’m light, I was sick…’ No, this is the rule, and the rule has to be very clear. Because now there are doubts about what he exactly did, the circumstances.

“Maybe he didn’t drink for the last 30km, dehydration, whatever, I’m not a doctor and I don’t want to be a doctor. But the UCI should be more clear.”


Giro d’Italia director Mauro Vegni

“We were really happy that Froome was going to ride our race. Now we have to hope that everything will be quickly clarified, for Froome, for the interests of the Giro and for cycling in general.

“I hope we’ll soon have a final result but whatever happens, we can’t accept a compromise solution as with Alberto Contador in 2011, where his win was cancelled from the record books for a positive test that happened in another race (the 2010 Tour de France).

“This time Froome’s case emerged in September 2017. And the Giro starts in May 2018. That means there are eight months to find a solution. I want to believe that’s enough time, otherwise, we have to despair about our ability to run our sport. The public wouldn’t understand it and neither would I.”

Vegni also said it was crucial the issue was settled either way before the Giro started in May.

“It’s not up to me to decide and apply the rules, organisers don’t have that status in cases like this. It’s up to Froome to prove things. Everything is in the hands of the UCI. They have to guarantee that everything will be sorted out between now and then.

“The Giro is a major race that attracts the attention of a vast public. That public support can’t be abused.”
Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén

“We just hope it is sorted out soon,” Guillen told cyclingnews, adding the situation was a “heavy blow” to cycling.

“It’s concerning. We can’t take any part in it, either in favour or against, obviously, but as the curtain goes up on the 2018 season, we need some certainty. And the sooner the better.”