PARIS — Chris Froome failed a doping test during the Spanish Vuelta in September and is facing a suspension from cycling ahead of his attempt to win a record-equaling fifth Tour de France title next year.
Froome won his fourth Tour title this year and followed it with a victory at the Vuelta. But Team Sky said Wednesday that Froome, who has not been suspended, had a concentration of asthma drug salbutamol two times higher than the World Anti-Doping Agency’s permitted levels.
“Analysis indicated the presence of salbutamol at a concentration of 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), compared with the WADA threshold of 1,000 ng/ml,” Team Sky said .
Team Sky said it has been informed by the International Cycling Union that the urine test was taken on Sept. 7, during the three-week Spanish Vuelta.
Froome said the UCI has asked him to provide information about the failed test, which was taken after Stage 18.
Froome’s use of asthma medication has been well documented, and the Kenyan-born rider has often been spotted using inhalers in the peloton. He has repeatedly faced questions on whether he is a clean rider, especially during the Tour de France, and has always denied wrongdoing.
“I can understand a lot of people’s reactions, especially given the history of the sport. This is not a positive test,” Froome said in an interview aired by British broadcasters on Wednesday.
Salbutamol is a drug that helps expand lung capacity and can be used as a performance-enhancing drug to increase endurance. Commonly marketed as Ventolin, salbutamol is classified as a beta-2 agonist and WADA allows it to be taken through inhalation only, in limited amounts.
Sky said Froome had to take an increased dosage of salbutamol without exceeding the permissible dose after he “experienced acute asthma symptoms” during the final week of the Vuelta.
“I have been a professional cyclist now, treating my symptoms and racing with asthma, for 10 years,” Froome said in the interview. “I know what those rules are, I know what those limits are and I have never been over those limits.”
If found guilty of doping, the 32-year-old Froome could lose his Vuelta title and be suspended for a long period. Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was suspended for one year for testing positive for salbutamol during the 2007 Giro d’Italia.
Vuelta organizers said they are waiting for “official conclusions” from the UCI about the case.
“The position of La Vuelta’s organizer is one of extreme caution, as it hopes for this issue to be resolved as quickly as possible,” they said in a statement.
Froome was expected to attempt to join cycling greats Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain on the list of five-time Tour de France champions in July. Lance Armstrong won seven titles, but all of them were stripped because of doping.
Team Sky has been dominating the field at the Tour de France in recent years, but has been targeted by doping accusations. Britain’s anti-doping agency last month closed an investigation into the team without bringing charges. The case centered on the contents of a medical package dispatched to former Tour champion Bradley Wiggins at a key pre-Tour race in 2011.
Team Sky was established in 2009 by Dave Brailsford, the man behind Britain’s 14 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country’s first Tour champion — a feat accomplished by Wiggins in 2012. Froome, his former teammate, has taken over since as Britain’s most successful road rider.