LONDON • Britain's most successful road cyclist, Chris Froome, is fighting for his reputation after returning an adverse analytical finding following a drug test during his victory in the Vuelta in September, claiming that he only followed "medical advice".
Froome, 32, who also won his fourth Tour de France in July, was found to have exceeded the permitted levels of the asthma drug salbutamol on a test taken on Sept 7.
Under World Anti-Doping Agency rules, riders are allowed a level of 1,000 nanograms per millilitre. However, he was found to have twice that in a urine sample taken during the Tour of Spain.
The UCI (International Cycling Union) has asked Froome to provide more information but has not suspended him.
The Guardian understands that lawyers and scientists are working on behalf of Froome and Team Sky to challenge the result, which is why it has not been made public until now.
If the Briton is unable to offer a sufficient explanation for the abnormal finding or challenge the result itself, he will forfeit his Vuelta title under the rules of the UCI.
It is well known that I have asthma and I know exactly what the rules are... I know for sure I will be tested every day I wear the race leader's jersey.
CHRIS FROOME, on the contentious sample taken during the Tour of Spain this year.
If the test result is upheld, Froome could also face a significant ban which may rule him out of next year's Giro D'Italia and the Tour de France, where he was planning to go for a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey.
In 2007, the Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi was given a 12-month ban for excessive salbutamol and stripped of his five stage victories in the Giro D'Italia.
"It is well known that I have asthma and I know exactly what the rules are," Froome said.
"I use an inhaler to manage my symptoms (always within the permissible limits) and I know for sure that I will be tested every day I wear the race leader's jersey.
"My asthma got worse at the Vuelta so I followed the team doctor's advice to increase my salbutamol dosage. As always, I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose.
"The UCI is absolutely right to examine test results and, together with the team, I will provide whatever information it requires."
In a statement, Team Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said: "I have the utmost confidence that Chris followed the medical guidance in managing his asthma symptoms, staying within the permissible dose for salbutamol. Of course, we will do whatever we can to help address these questions.
"The notification of the test finding does not mean that any rule has been broken."
The test result is another blow for Team Sky, who have struggled to recover their reputation after an anti-doping investigation was launched into allegations about a package that was delivered to Bradley Wiggins at a race in 2011.
The UK Anti-Doping Agency closed its 14-month investigation last month after being unable to find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, although a second investigation by the digital, culture, media and sport select committee continues.
That Froome is battling to clear his name will only further ramp up the pressure on Team Sky - which, after all, was built on the foundations of having a zero-tolerance drug policy.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE