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Chris Froome returns abnormal doping test result

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PARIS (AP) — Chris Froome failed a doping test during the Vuelta a España in September and is facing a suspension from cycling ahead of his attempt to win a record-equaling fifth Tour de France title next year.

Froome won his fourth Tour title this year and followed it with a victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September.

But Team Sky said Wednesday that Froome, who has not been suspended, had a concentration of asthma drug salbutamol two times higher than the World Anti-Doping Agency’s permitted levels.

“Analysis indicated the presence of salbutamol at a concentration of 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), compared with the WADA threshold of 1,000 ng/ml,” Team Sky said in a statement.

Team Sky said it has been informed by the International Cycling Union (UCI) that the urine test was taken on Sept. 7, during the three-week Vuelta. He was notified of the result on Sept. 20, the day he won a bronze medal in the world championships time trial.

Froome, a two-time Olympic time trial bronze medalist, said the UCI has asked him to provide information about the failed test, which was taken after Stage 18.

Froome’s use of asthma medication has been well documented, and the Kenyan-born rider has often been spotted using inhalers in the peloton. He has repeatedly faced questions on whether he is a clean rider, especially during the Tour de France, and has always denied wrongdoing.

Salbutamol is a drug that helps expand lung capacity and can be used as a performance-enhancing drug to increase endurance. Commonly marketed as Ventolin, salbutamol is classified as a beta-2 agonist and WADA allows it to be taken through inhalation only, in limited amounts.

Sky said Froome had to take an increased dosage of salbutamol without exceeding the permissible dose after he “experienced acute asthma symptoms” during the final week of the Vuelta.

If found guilty of doping, the 32-year-old Froome could lose his Vuelta title and be suspended for a long period. Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was suspended for one year for testing positive for salbutamol during the 2007 Giro d’Italia.

Vuelta organizers said they are waiting for “official conclusions” from the UCI about the case.

“The position of La Vuelta’s organizer is one of extreme caution, as it hopes for this issue to be resolved as quickly as possible,” they said in a statement.

Froome was expected to attempt to join cycling greats Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain on the list of five-time Tour de France champions in July. Lance Armstrong won seven titles, but all of them were stripped because of doping.

Team Sky has been dominating the field at the Tour de France in recent years, but has been targeted by doping accusations.

Britain’s anti-doping agency last month closed an investigation into the team without bringing charges.

The case centered on the contents of a medical package dispatched to former Tour champion Bradley Wiggins at a key pre-Tour race in 2011.

Team Sky was established in 2009 by Dave Brailsford, the man behind Britain’s 14 cycling medals at the Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country’s first Tour champion — a feat accomplished by Wiggins in 2012.

Froome, his former teammate, has taken over since as Britain’s most successful road rider.

After successfully defending his Tour de France title in July, Froome went on to win the Vuelta for the first time.

“My asthma got worse at the Vuelta so I followed the team doctor’s advice to increase my Salbutamol dosage,” Froome said in a statement Wednesday. “As always, I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose. I take my leadership position in my sport very seriously. The UCI is absolutely right to examine test results and, together with the team, I will provide whatever information it requires.”

The UCI said in a statement that Froome’s “B″ sample confirmed the result, but stressed that “the presence of a specified substance such as salbutamol in a sample does not result in the imposition of such mandatory provisional suspension against the rider.”

Sky stressed the abnormal result does not mean Froome has breached anti-doping rules and Brailsford insisted he has the “utmost confidence that Chris followed the medical guidance in managing his asthma symptoms, staying within the permissible dose for Salbutamol.”

Froome said last month that he wants to ride in next year’s Giro d’Italia in an attempt to win his third Grand Tour in a row.

A victory at the Italian race would make him the seventh rider to win all three Grand Tours, and only the third to hold the three titles at the same time.

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Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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