Every sport has its share of athletes who try and cheat the system by doping. Unfortunately, cycling has more that it’s fair share. Everyone has heard of the Lance Armstrong scandal that broke in 2012, which ended with Armstrong being stripped of all seven of his Tour wins and handed a lifetime ban from the sport. However, depending on how popular an athlete is and how much money the team has, the rules might vary.
The clear problem here isn’t with the athletes: people will always find a way to cheat. The problem here is with those that impose the ‘rules’, which are so flimsy that any star with enough media following and funding can bypass them. Take Chris Froome, for example. For the four-time Tour de France winner and leader of Team Sky (arguably the biggest team in the cycling world right now), scandal seems to be his middle name. It all started with the revelation that Froome suffers from asthma. The main argument in the cycling world is simply, “Why are you a professional cyclist if you have asthma?” A question that I personally find quite reasonable. This would not be so much of an issue if Froome had not admitted to taking salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma. Because of his asthma, though, at this point the drug use was within the limits of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
That changed this past summer when Froome was embroiled in a scandal to rival the Armstrong doping scandal, but with one notable difference.
Literally nothing happened. While Armstrong was handed a lifetime ban from cycling and ridded of all seven of his tour wins, Froome, found with double the limit of salbutamol in his bloodstream (2000 ng/mL – though it must be said that this original amount was taken before any corrections were applied) was simply dismissed by the WADA and the International Cycling Union (UCI) on what has to be one of the worst excuses since “my dog ate my homework.” Instead, Froome blamed his high levels of salbutamol on ‘kidney malfunction’. That’s only slightly less credible than Alberto Contador’s steak story.
But I’m not here to bash Froome and his awful excuses, as much as I might like to. No, I’m here to bash the UCI and their handling of the situation.
As I said before, the UCI imposed corrections on the amount of salbutamol in Froome’s system. I stated earlier that Froome was found with 2000 ng/mL of salbutamol in his system. The WADA’s limit is 1000 ng/mL; however, in order to decide if a result needs further investigation, they use a decision limit of 1200 ng/mL. And then, the WADA applied yet another correction to his result, this time one for dehydration. At the time of Froome’s investigation, this allowance had not yet even come into effect and yet was applied to Froome’s case. With both of these corrections applied, the decision limit was raised to 1680 ng/mL, which Froome was still over. Rest assured, if it was someone like Nairo Quintana was in this position instead of Froome, these corrections would not have applied and he would have been out of professional cycling faster than you can say “Giro d’Italia”.
Froome was still over this over-corrected limit, but not by enough for anyone to sit up and pay attention. Because he was now only 20% over the altered decision limit and that could be easily explained away. And thus his case was dismissed without another word.
This is what happens when powerful teams like Sky are allowed to manipulate the rules in order to protect stars such as Froome. With two Tour winners on their roster and backing from one of Britain’s largest media companies, Sky is currently one of the most powerful teams in the cycling world.
The problem we are seeing in professional cycling today is not with the athletes, it is a known fact that there will always be doping in sports, it is with the organisations that police them. The WADA needs to get their act together and actually punish those who are doping and not reward them.
Disclaimer: This article is written by a cycling fan and high school student who has limited knowledge of professional cycling. I am by no means an expert and my opinion is not fact. Please don’t write angry emails to our editor.
Feature photo courtesy of: https://billbonebikelaw.com/news-from-the-road/chris-froome-accused-doping/