Chris Froome was cleared of doping by the International Cycling Union on Monday in a decision that could allow him to pursue a record-tying fifth Tour de France title later this week.
Froome had been racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample provided during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.
“Froome’s sample results do not constitute an AAF (Adverse Analytical Finding),” a UCI statement said, adding that it had decided “to close the proceedings against Mr Froome.”
The Tour begins Saturday and — before the UCI statement was provided — race organizers were reportedly denying him entry.
“I have never doubted that this case would be dismissed for the simple reason that I have known throughout I did nothing wrong,” Froome said.
Froome’s use of asthma medication has been well documented, and the Kenyan-born rider has often been spotted using inhalers during races.
World Anti-Doping Association rules state that an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves that it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.
“I have suffered with asthma since childhood,” Froome said. “I know exactly what the rules are regarding my asthma medication and I only ever use my puffer to manage my symptoms within the permissible limits
With one more Tour victory, Froome can match the record of five shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
“Today’s ruling draws a line,” Froome said. “It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France.”
Le Monde newspaper on Sunday had reported that Tour organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it was forbidding Froome from entering the race until the doping case had been decided.
“The UCI understands that there will be significant discussion of this decision, but wishes to reassure all those involved in or interested in cycling that its decision is based on expert opinions, WADA’s advice, and a full assessment of the facts of the case,” the UCI said, referring to the World Anti-Doping Association. “The UCI hopes that the cycling world can now turn its focus to, and enjoy, the upcoming races on the cycling calendar.”
It is unclear whether the ASO can – or will – appeal the UCI decision to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
ASO, which also runs the Vuelta through a company called Unipublic, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Unipublic said it was “satisfied because we finally have a ruling and because we finally know who the winner of the 2017 Vuelta is.
“It is a ruling we accept and will uphold,” Unipublic said. “Having said that, there needs to be an analysis about the length of time this case took, which was much longer than what we had hoped for.”
The ruling is a controversial one since Italian riders Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi were banned, in 2007 and 2014 respectively, for excessive salbutamol use.
Monday’s UCI decision also means Froome will be able to hold onto the Giro d’Italia trophy he won in May, which gave him three straight Grand Tour titles.
“We have always had total confidence in Chris and his integrity,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “This is why we decided that it was right for Chris to continue racing, in line with UCI rules, while the process was ongoing.”
Brailsford added that since the elevated salbutamol reading from stage 18 of the Vuelta was treated as a “presumed” AAF by the UCI and WADA, it required Team Sky to provide further information.
“There are complex medical and physiological issues which affect the metabolism and excretion of salbutamol,” Brailsford said.
“The same individual can exhibit significant variations in test results taken over multiple days while using exactly the same amount of salbutamol.
“This means that the level of salbutamol in a single urine sample, alone, is not a reliable indicator of the amount inhaled,” Brailsford said.
“A review of all Chris’s 21 test results from the Vuelta revealed that the stage 18 result was within his expected range of variation and therefore consistent with him having taken a permitted dose of salbutamol.”