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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Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz set French Open semifinal showdown

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Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will play in the French Open semifinals on Friday in the most anticipated match of the tournament.

Each man advanced with a quarterfinal win on Tuesday.

Djokovic, eyeing a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam men’s singles title, rallied past 11th-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-4. The Serb reached his 45th career major semifinal, one shy of Roger Federer‘s men’s record.

Later Tuesday, top seed Alcaraz crushed fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (5) to consolidate his status as the favorite in Friday’s showdown.

“This match, everyone wants to watch,” Alcaraz said. “I really wanted to play this match as well. I always say that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

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Alcaraz, who at last year’s U.S. Open became the first male teen to win a major since Rafael Nadal in 2005, is at this event the youngest man to be the top seed at a major since Boris Becker at 1987 Wimbledon.

The Djokovic-Alcaraz semifinal will produce the clear favorite for Sunday’s final given left-handed 14-time French Open champion Nadal is out this year with a hip injury and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev lost in the first round. Djokovic and Nadal share the record 22 men’s major titles.

Djokovic and Alcaraz met once, with Alcaraz winning last year on clay in Madrid 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5).

“[Alcaraz] brings a lot of intensity on the court,” Djokovic said, before breaking into a smile. “Reminds me of someone from his country that plays with a left hand.”

Alcaraz and Djokovic were set to be on opposite halves of the draw — and thus not able to meet until the final — until Medvedev won the last top-level clay event before the French Open to move ahead of Djokovic in the rankings. That meant Djokovic had a 50 percent chance to wind up in Alcaraz’s half, and that’s what the random draw spit out two weeks ago.

Earlier Tuesday in the first two women’s quarterfinals, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova advanced to face off in Thursday’s semifinals.

Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, swept Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4 to complete her set of semifinals in all four Grand Slams. Sabalenka will take the No. 1 ranking from Iga Swiatek if Swiatek loses before the final, or if Sabalenka makes the final and Swiatek does not win the title.

Svitolina, a former world No. 3, returned to competition in April from childbirth.

Muchova took out 2021 French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 6-2, to make her second major semifinal after the 2021 Australian Open.

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They meet in Friday’s semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw