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UCI responds to criticism surrounding Chris Froome judgement

Joe Robinson
6 Jul 2018

The issue of Petacchi and Ulissi plus the reasons for Froome's acquittal have been divulged by the UCI

The UCI has responded in length to the criticism it has received for the decision to acquit Chris Froome of his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol just days before the start of the Tour de France.

The sport's governing body announced on Monday that it would close its investigations into Froome stating that 'based on the specific facts of the case, that Mr Froome’s sample results, taken at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, do not constitute an AAF.'

This opened up the path for Froome to defend his Tour title with race organiser's ASO threatening to block his participation if the investigation remained without conclusion.

The UCI's somewhat sudden decision raised many questions in the public domain such as what evidence did the UCI and WADA find to reverse the AAF, why was there such a delay in the decision and, with question marks subsequently raised around testing methods, should athletes who have been banned in the past for salbutamol find this decision unjust?

In a lengthy statement addressing these questions and criticisms, the UCI unveiled multiple factors that led to its eventual decision to clear Froome of his AAF.

Increased limit

Firstly, the UCI confirmed that the World Anti-Doping Agency saw no reason to continue the investigation into Froome henceforth meaning that there was no need for the UCI to continue their own examination of the Froome case.

Secondly, the UCI also stated that with the new WADA Technical Document, implemented in March 2018, '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.' 

Lastly, and quite prevalently, the UCI also confirmed that 'a significant variation' could be traced in the way Froome excreted salbutamol throughout the Vuelta across 21 further tests meaning that an explanation for the AAF could be provided and therefore 'a controlled pharmacokinetic study was unnecessary before closing the case, as Mr. Froome’s individual excretion could already be assessed from existing data'.

Timing and past cases

Addressing the timing of the decision, the UCI also stated that it saw it 'essential' to take its time on the decision in order to make the right judgement and that the defining issues brought to light by Froome and his team were only first brought up in March 2018 'when he formally questioned WADA on the salbutamol regime'.

Many of the criticisms directed at the UCI in the past few days have surrounded the previous treatment of Alessandro Pettachi and Diego Ulissi, two riders who were both banned in the past after returning AAFs for asthma drug salbutamol.

Cycling's governing body underlined the differences in these cases with that of Froome, namely that these decisions became before the creation of the independent Anti-Doping Tribunal, meaning the bans were handed at national level rather than by the UCI or WADA directly.

The UCI also goes on to point out that in the case of Petacchi that he 'was initially cleared by the Disciplinary Commission of the Italian Cycling Federation and the case was then decided by CAS after appeals were brought by WADA and the Italian Anti-Doping Organisation.

'Importantly, the CAS arbitrators decided the case based on the regulations applicable and scientific evidence available at the time.' 

The UCI also affirmed the fact that Petacchi would not necessarily be given a different verdict if the investigation were to have happened with knowledge known today.

It then moved onto the Ulissi case highlighting that 'it was not involved in the disciplinary proceedings of Mr. Ulissi’s case, which were handled by the Swiss Anti-Doping Agency'.

Finally, the UCI attempted to address the overhanging issues that have remained despite Froome's acquittal and the various calls for the specific data of the case to be made public. 

'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,' said the UCI.

'Finally, and on a related note, 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.

'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.' 

The UCI however did confirm that WADA expert committees would be consulted as to whether any adjustments to the regulations around salbutamol would be reformed in light of the Froome decision.