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Chris Froome: ‘Wealth of information’ shows I’m no cheater

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LONDON (AP) — Chris Froome’s renewed protestations of innocence on Thursday were accompanied by doubts about why the four-time Tour de France champion was not immediately suspended for failing a drug test.

Froome was ordered to explain to the International Cycling Union why a urine sample he provided at the Vuelta a España in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

While accepting the case is “damaging” for a sport scarred for years by doping scandals, Froome maintained Team Sky has the evidence to prove he is not guilty of cheating.

“I know that within me fundamentally I have followed the protocol and I have not overstepped any boundaries,” Froome said, “and I hope by the end of this process that will be clear to everyone and I’ll be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”

Froome offered a defense of his integrity in an interview with Sky, the broadcaster that owns his cycling team.

“I am being tested every single day of the race that I am in the leader’s jersey, I knew I was being tested,” Froome said. “We also have a wealth of information from within the team of what I ate every single day, how many times I have stopped to pee every day.

“The detail of the information that we have been able to provide is vast.”

Sky and the UCI confirmed Froome’s failed test early Wednesday in response to media reports.

Rival German rider Tony Martin, the 2012 Olympic time trial silver medalist, said he believed something was amiss with the UCI’s handling of the case.

“I am totally angry,” was posted on the four-time world champion’s Facebook. “There is definitely a double standard being applied in the Christopher Froome case. Other athletes are suspended immediately after a positive test. He and his team are given time by the UCI to explain it all. I do not know of any similar case in the recent past. That is a scandal, and he should at least not have been allowed to appear in the world championships.

“Not only the public but also I have immediately the impression that there is wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes, agreements are being made and ways are being sought as to how to get out of this case. Do he and his team enjoy a special status?”

The UCI did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its actions, which Martin denounced as a “major blow to the difficult anti-doping fight.”

“We need a (consistent) and transparent approach by the UCI,” was posted on Martin’s Facebook. “What is going on here is (inconsistent), not transparent, unprofessional and unfair. Our credibility is at stake!”

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

Salbutamol 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.

“It’s sad seeing the misconceptions that are out there about athletes & salbutamol use,” was posted on Froome’s Twitter. “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.”

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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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