FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who like Chris Froome (Sky) tested positive for the asthma drug Salbutamol, fought his case, lost and served a suspension.
Petacchi’s suspension followed a 2007 Giro d’Italia post-stage test, which showed that he had 1320 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of Salbutamol in his urine, enough over the limit to raise flags. His resulting suspension stripped him of five Giro d’Italia stage wins and forced him to miss that summer’s Tour de France.
As revealed this morning, Froome’s test after the 18th stage of the Vuelta a España revealed 2000ng/ml of Salbutamol in his system. He went on to win the Vuelta by 2:18 over Vicenzo Nibali.
VeloNews caught up with Pettachi to find out what he learned from the experience.
VeloNews: Did you hear the news this morning?
Alessandro Petacchi: It’s an atomic bomb for cycling with Froome’s positive.
VN: Does this highlight Salbutamol use with one of cycling’s biggest names?
AP: It’s as if we saw an e-mail arrive and said that Peter Sagan took a pill that he wasn’t supposed to, or a spray for his nose that he didn’t know about. You always have to worry as an athlete. You might go to the pharmacy and just make a mistake, and you are positive. You have to be extremely attentive.
VN: It’s bad for Froome, but also for Team Sky and cycling?
AP: We can’t sell cycling to companies now. If I go to a sponsor tomorrow, they are going to say, ‘Yesterday they just found the top cyclist positive!’ It’s damaging for 60 people that work behind Froome in the team. And Froome knew he was being tested every day and it would be risking his career. It seems to be something so stupid.
VN: Froome’s result read 2000. Diego Ulissi had 1900 and you had 1320. How did Froome get such a high reading?
AP: This is a high concentration of Salbutamol, and at least as far as I know you can only get the drug via a ventilator. But to get a concentration like this… It is 100 for each puff, but to get 2000, how many times would you have to do it? You’d have to see see him on TV doing it.
VN: What did you do after your suspension?
AP: When I changed my doctor, the first thing he asked was, ‘Why are you using this? You don’t need to use it.’ What could I do, go to my old doctor and hit his face? I had just followed his advice. I didn’t need it. Froome was using it, I know, but for a rider like him, I would imagine he is taking all the precautions needed.
VN: There are different ways to get such a high reading?
AP: In my experience, and also what has happened to Diego, you just needed to look at the concentration in the urine. The more concentrated it is, the higher the result is. It depends how soon you took a puff before the control, how concentrated your urine was. I used it more or less the same every time, but when I saw the UCI’s readings, they were all over the place: 300, 400, or 700 or 500. Had I had a bottle of water after the finish, instead of how I did it… I won in Pinerolo, the whole group crashed, maybe I didn’t see my masseur right away, I did the podium and the control, and maybe I didn’t drink enough. Had I did, maybe my urine would’ve been clean like the others.
VN: Is there another way, a darker way, to get there to that level?
AP: I don’t think so, I think it only exists in puffs. I think in the past you could get pills, but I think for years they don’t use that. I never saw them, I used the spray.
VN: What should be done?
AP: I hope, for the good of cycling, that it all finishes well that he can continue to race and the UCI makes a different rule for Salbutamol. That they say you can no longer use it, it’s a doping substance, so from there, the problem is solved. As it is today, you can maybe substitute it with something else or another therapy. I felt better after I did so. It doesn’t help you anyway, only if you have an attack, it takes you up to where you before, not improving your performance.
VN: It should be banned, without a limit?
AP: I stopped using it, I didn’t need it. That Salbutamol ruined almost my whole career. I think that Froome knows that he could use something else. I don’t know if he was using it for other reasons, I can’t know. Since there are precedents like mine, you know that you can be in trouble and it’s dangerous. You don’t want to risk it, and it doesn’t help your performance, why abuse it? It’s not that those puffs give you a boost.
VN: Will this ruin his career?
AP: I don’t think he’ll just have a two-month ban, it’ll be a minimum of one year. You don’t get two months these days. I think he’d go to CAS, though. And we are already talking about the B sample, he’s already done the counter-analysis. How is he going to justified this? You can’t justify this. How could you if there is a A and B sample confirming it?
VN: So, get rid of it?
AP: Yes, you can’t analyze the substance easily. Get rid of it, you are ruining the sport and the racers.
Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast: