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by Shane Stokes
July 7, 2018
Photography by Kristof Ramon, Shane Stokes
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Addressing the outcome of the Chris Froome case and also responding to related criticism and debate arising from that, the UCI has said that it doesn’t envisage the reasoned decision being released in relation to the matter.
On Monday, the World Anti-Doping Agency and cycling’s governing body both announced the dropping of the case against Froome. They came under criticism for the scant details released, with many calling for a more detailed explanation as to why the rider was cleared despite having elevated levels of Salbutamol in his system.
Despite that, it appears this will not happen. “The UCI understands that the public would like to see the specific data and expert reports from Mr. Froome’s case in order to assess whether WADA and the UCI took the right decision,” the UCI said in a long Q&A released on its website on Friday.
“In its capacity as a signatory of the WADA Code, the UCI can only say that there are important reasons that WADA does not publish information on its analytical methods and decision limits, the most important being to avoid such information being abused by athletes who wish to illegitimately enhance their performance.
“Whilst the UCI does not therefore intend to publicly release specific information from this case, it notes that WADA has confirmed that all relevant information will be sent to the WADA expert committees to determine whether there need to be any adjustments to the salbutamol regime. The UCI will also officially request WADA’s guidance on how future salbutamol cases should be handled in view of the latest scientific evidence.”
Froome’s Sky team also said it wouldn’t release further information. It said that it was up to WADA and the UCI to do so, and suggested that it would back such a move.
Despite the calls for transparency, the UCI statement suggests that extra details won’t now be provided.
However this seems to be contradicted by the UCI President David Lappartient, who spoke to the BBC on the matter. He was commenting after Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford was asked if Team Sky would publish the evidence it submitted to the investigation. “The people that made the decision were the UCI and WADA, not Team Sky,” Brailsford replied, “and that’s where the information about how that decision was made should come from, not necessarily ourselves.”
When asked about this, Lappartient said that the UCI would be ‘very happy’ to publish the full reasoned decision. However he said that the UCI requires the agreement of Froome and has not yet received it.
Elsewhere in the BBC interview, Lappartient said that the financial resources of Froome and Team Sky likely helped him fight the case. “Froome had more financial support to find good experts to explain the situation,” he said.
The Frenchman noted that it was “a reality of life, unfortunately” that resources could make the difference in such a case.
He did however insist that the governing body is neutral when dealing with cases, saying that the UCI has “the same behaviour” in its investigations whether “it’s a small rider or Chris Froome, a small team or Team Sky.”
UCI President David Lappartient.
The outcome has been compared to those in other Salbutamol cases, including those of Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi. Petacchi was given a one-year ban in 2008 after returning a sample with 1320 ng/ml of Salbutamol.
In January 2015, Diego Ulissi was given a nine-month ban after testing positive for Salbumatol at the 2014 Giro d’Italia. He was found to have 1,900 ng/ml of the substance in his urine.
In contrast, Froome’s sample revealed Salbutamol levels of 2,000 ng/ml. These levels were subsequently adjusted downwards due to dehydration, but still remained well over the maximum permitted level.
Given that Petacchi and Ulissi were both suspended, many have asked why Froome’s case was dropped.
In its statement, the UCI described claims of unequal treatment as “inaccurate for several reasons. First of all,” it said, “both of those cases were decided before the UCI put in place its independent Anti-Doping Tribunal, which means that they were decided at the national level with a possibility for both WADA and the UCI to appeal the decision to CAS.”
The UCI also gave specifics about the outcome of both cases, saying that Petacchi was initially cleared by the Disciplinary Commission of the Italian Cycling Federation, with WADA and the Italian Anti-Doping Organisation then appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“Importantly, the CAS arbitrators decided the case based on the regulations applicable and scientific evidence available at the time (which did not include a correction for specific gravity or a controlled pharmacokinetic study),” the UCI stated. “Mr. Petacchi has publicly stated that he is happy that Mr. Froome has been absolved ‘because that vindicates [him] retrospectively.’
However although it said that the case outcome might have been different if heard under today’s rules, the UCI noted that another case dating back to the same year did lead to a different cyclist being cleared of a salbutamol anti-doping rule violation.
As regards Ulissi’s case, it said that suggestions of unequal treatment were also incorrect. “The UCI was not involved in the disciplinary proceedings of Mr. Ulissi’s case, which were handled by the Swiss Anti-Doping Agency,” it said. “As mentioned above, the case was determined based on individual data and the UCI cannot provide any further information on the details of the case. Neither UCI nor WADA appealed the decision.
“Whilst the outcome of the above cases was different, the UCI must emphasise that each of the relevant athletes had access to a fair hearing as provided for by the WADA Code and the UCI ADR.”
Lappartient made clear in a video interview earlier this week that the UCI had little choice but to follow WADA’s position once the agency made clear that it was dropping the case against Froome. The UCI elaborated on that on Friday, listing what it termed were the most relevant factors in its decision.
It said the first was WADA’s own position.
“WADA’s scientific department has access to information that UCI does not, including ongoing and unpublished studies on the excretion of salbutamol (which is – as confirmed by WADA Scientific Director–subject to considerable variations),” it said. “In those circumstances, the UCI had to trust WADA’s assessment of whether or not Mr. Froome’s control amounted to an anti-doping rule violation as per the rules adopted by WADA.
“Pursuing the case when the world supervising authority in anti-doping – which is the entity enacting the rules and the tests – tells you that there is no case is simply not an option. In the UCI’s view, it would not be fair to continue the proceedings against Mr. Froome considering WADA’s position that he did not commit an anti-doping rule violation.”
The second factor was WADA’s new technical document, which came into force on March 1. Froome’s case dates back to last September, but the UCI suggests the newer document needed to be taken into account.
“It is important to recall that according to WADA’s Technical Document (both in its version in force in September 2017 and today), only samples containing a concentration of salbutamol in excess of 1,200ng/ml are to be reported as abnormal results,” it said.
“The new Technical Document implemented in March 2018 also now allows for the salbutamol Decision Limit to be increased above 1,200 ng/ml based on the specific gravity of the sample. This adjustment is intended to factor in the hydration status of the athlete which, as Professor Kenneth Fitch has publicly stated, was not contemplated when the salbutamol regime was first developed. In the course of the proceedings it also appeared that WADA would have been willing to accept a further adjustment based on the measurement uncertainty of the specific gravity.”
It said the third factor were the expert reports Froome’s defence team had compiled.
“Having been tested 21 times during the Vuelta a España, Mr. Froome had access to the estimated concentration of salbutamol in his urine over three weeks. This allowed him to establish a significant variation in the way he excreted salbutamol, even at consistent, low, doses. Taking into account that he significantly increased his dose of salbutamol (to treat a chest infection) around the time of the test, it was accepted by WADA that this individual variation could explain the analytical results of his 7 September 2018 sample.
“Under these circumstances, a controlled pharmacokinetic study was unnecessary before closing the case, as Mr. Froome’s individual excretion could already be assessed from existing data.”
However the UCI document doesn’t make clear how it or WADA was able to know the daily dosage used by Froome. This lack of information prompts questions. Was this based on Froome and Team Sky’s own statements, or was there a more objective way of knowing conclusively how much salbutamol was administered?
Without a reasoned decision, this is one of the questions which remains unanswered.
The UCI listed two more factors as being significant. The fourth was what it termed the specific context of the substance and the case.
“The reality is that salbutamol is permitted for therapeutic purposes and that Mr Froome uses salbutamol to treat asthma,” it stated. “In addition, Mr. Froome could expect to be (and was) tested on almost every day of the Vuelta a España. These contextual elements are not conclusive but were obviously elements to take into account in deciding to follow WADA’s position.”
The fifth factor was new WADA-commissioned studies.
“During the proceedings, WADA confirmed that there are ongoing and unpublished studies on the excretion of salbutamol,” it said. “As the studies were not yet finalised, neither UCI or Mr. Froome had access to them, but this was taken into account in accepting WADA’s position.”
For clarity, the UCI also listed factors that it did not consider to be relevant.
It said it disregarded several factors which were referred to in recent interviews by Dr. Olivier Rabin of WADA.
“The UCI did not take its decision based on the fact that Mr. Froome ‘took a certain number of medicines to treat [an infection],’ ‘other elements linked to his diet’ or ‘dietary supplements,’ as referred to by WADA’s Scientific Director in recent interviews.
“The UCI considered those factors irrelevant and/or not substantiated. The UCI thus only took into consideration the elements listed in the section above. However it is possible that WADA had access to unpublished information that the UCI was not aware of.”
It also said that it ruled out a request by Froome to have various testing carried out on his samples. The Briton wanted such tests to determine if the infection medication, elements linked to his diet and supplements might have affected his excretion of Salbutamol. The UCI said that it considered that such impact “was purely speculative,” and said that after consulting with WADA, it decided that it couldn’t justify carrying out additional tests on the samples.
It also ruled out the recent study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, entitled “Futility of current urine salbutamol doping control”. It said that it did review the study, but that it was “not a determining factor in the case.”
One of the topics the UCI statement tackled was the question raised about the length of time it took for a decision to be announced. Friday’s statement included clarification of the timeline, as well as a clear rejection of any suggestion that it dragged things out too long.
It said that after a first evidentiary phase was carried out, Froome requested information from WADA in late January 2018. A response was provided to him in early March; in late March he sent a former request for further information on the Salbutamol regime.
WADA sent a response to this on May 15. Froome then submitted his explanation on June 4, with WADA notifying the UCI of its position on June 28.
“The UCI has already made it clear that it would have liked to resolve the case much earlier,” it said. “However it was essential to take the time necessary to issue the right decision. As already mentioned the proceedings started with an evidentiary phase, which included a decision from the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal on whether further information should be provided, or further tests carried out on Mr. Froome’s samples.
“The issues that were eventually decisive to the UCI’s decision were brought up by Mr. Froome only thereafter, when he formally questioned WADA on the salbutamol regime in March 2018. Whilst the issues in the case evolved over time as more information came to light, the UCI believes that the parties acted as efficiently as possible in dealing with the case.”
It also pushed back on reported comments by Dr. Rabin in recent days, saying that it noted suggestions that delays in the case were “a question for the UCI,” making clear it didn’t feel that was fair. “If this statement has been correctly reported, it is disappointing. The UCI consulted with WADA and sought its input on the case throughout the entirety of the proceedings.
“Under both the UCI Anti-Doping Rules (UCI ADR) and the WADA Code, WADA had a right to appeal directly to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) if it considered that the UCI was failing to render a decision in a timely manner. WADA did not file any such appeal.”
The UCI ended its statement by talking about the costs of fighting anti-doping cases, a topic raised by a recent VeloNews article concerning the former Trek-Segafredo rider André Cardoso. The Portuguese rider was sidelined over a year ago after an A sample provided by him was adjudged to contain EPO. A B-sample analysis didn’t back this up, yet the case is yet to be concluded.
Cardoso said that he had spent tens of thousands of euros thus far, and said that his ability to prove his innocence was affected by financial matters.
The UCI statement didn’t refer specifically to the article or the rider, but may have been responding to them.
It said that:
– Proceedings before the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal are (aside from specific exceptions) not subject to costs;
– Appeals from the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal to CAS are free; and
– CAS provides legal aid and pro bono legal counsel for athletes without sufficient financial means to defend their rights at CAS.
However, in Cardoso’s defence, the most successful lawyers are often the most expensive. Froome, for example, drew on the services of Mike Morgan, who has had many high-profile clients.
The UCI statement concluded with discussion of the reaction to its statement last Monday. In that communication, which announced the dropping of the Froome case, the governing body said that it “hopes that the cycling world can now turn its focus to, and enjoy, the upcoming races on the cycling calendar.”
Some saw that as patronising, or seeking to divert attention from the Froome case. The governing body acknowledged those reactions and sought to clarify its position.
“The UCI understands such criticism, in particular when it comes from experienced cycling commentators,” it said. “To clarify, in making this statement, the UCI simply wanted to convey the message that:
– Mr. Froome’s case was closed after a careful review by both WADA and the UCI as well as their respective experts; and
– The public debate on this case should not overshadow the sport itself, in particular because the decision taken was the right decision.
“The UCI hopes that the clarifications in this document go some way to reassuring the public that its decision was justified but understands that there will be continued discussion and debate about this case,” it said.
“The most important thing, however, is that professional cyclists should not be negatively affected by this debate, particularly in terms of their security and their right to participate in the sport they love. This was the intended message at the heart of the UCI’s prior statement.”