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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Mo Farah likely to retire this year

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British track legend Mo Farah will likely retire by the end of this year.

“I’m not going to go to the Olympics, and I think 2023 will probably be my last year,” the 39-year-old Farah said, according to multiple British media reports.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m golds at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, was announced Tuesday as part of the field for the London Marathon on April 23.

Last May, Farah reportedly said he believed his career on the track was over, but not the roads.

London might not be his last marathon. Farah also said that if, toward the end of this year, he was capable of being picked to run for Britain again, he would “never turn that down,” according to Tuesday’s reports.

It’s not clear if Farah was referencing the world track and field championships, which include a marathon and are in Budapest in August. Or selection for the 2024 British Olympic marathon team.

The fastest British male marathoner last year ran 2:10:46, ranking outside the top 300 in the world. Farah broke 2:10 in all five marathons that he’s finished, but he hasn’t run one since October 2019 (aside from pacing the 2020 London Marathon).

Farah withdrew four days before the last London Marathon on Oct. 2, citing a right hip injury.

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah’s best London Marathon finish in four starts was third place in 2018.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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