The way Chris Froome repeatedly attacked his rivals on the summit finish of the second stage of the Criterium du Dauphine left even spectators short of breath.
Froome was reduced to a wheezing wreck when giving the post-race interview – which perhaps explained the gif video that soon started doing the rounds on Twitter.
In the snippet of live action, the yellow jersey of Froome is seen surrounded by his Sky teammates on the front of the podium as he raises what appears to be an inhaler and taking a puff.
The incident happened 19 kilometres from the finish and shortly before the start of the deciding Col de Beal climb, on which Froome fought tooth and nail with Alberto Contador to secure his second successive scalp on the Dauphine.
Straight away, one curious journalist asked on Twitter whether or not Froome had a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for his use of an asthma inhaler.
“No TUE required,” came the swift reply of Froome’s ever-defensive girlfriend, Michelle Cound. “He has asthma, hence the coughing after exertion.”
Cound’s snarky addition of the provocative hashtags “#duh” and “#trolls” were a bit much considering, first, the original tweet was more curious than accusatory, and secondly, it’s the first time in his career that Froome and asthma have been mentioned in the same breath (in a sentence unrelated to Alessandro Petacchi).
“I do have exercise-induced asthma,” Froome later clarified to diffuse the situation. “I don’t use [the inhaler] every time I race. Normally, only when I have a big effort coming up.
“It’s completely allowed by the UCI. I have done all my tests for my asthmatic problems and you don’t need a TUE for it. A lot of people see the interviews, I’m coughing afterwards. That’s one of the reasons, the narrowing of my airways.
“It’s a bit of a surprise everyone is talking about it now.”
To which I, along with many others, would retort that it’s a bit of a surprise that Froome never mentioned it before.
Sure, it’s hardly unheard of for a cyclist to have asthma: British double Olympic champion Laura Trott has fought a life-long battle with the breathing disorder, while Orica-GreenEDGE’s Matt Goss, Simon Gerrans and Brett Lancaster have all struggled with asthma issues.
It just seems odd that the heavily-scrutinised Froome would never mention his own asthmatic problems – aware as he is that, “given sports history, people are obviously looking for a reason” to be suspicious about his winning ways.
Sky have since confirmed that the 2013 Tour de France champion has been using an inhaler since he was a teenager and has in the past used the asthma drug Salbutamol, 1600 micrograms of which a rider can legally use per day according to UCI rules (one puff is roughly the equivalent of 100mg).
What is very curious is that while Froome has been very open about his previous struggles with the parasitic disease bilharzia – which hampered his progress for years – he never thought to mention his even longer struggles with asthma. Indeed, he has previously cited bilharzia as the reason behind his frequent “colds and coughs”.
Yet not once have we spotted Froome using the inhaler we have now been told he travels around with pretty much everywhere he goes. In fact, when Froome gave a rather chesty interview following his Tour de Romandie win in 2013, Michelle Cound assured her followers that her man was fit and healthy, claiming that “hard effort and cold air always makes him cough a bit.”
Cound never mentioned the asthma that, duh, might have been a better explanation.
I’m not trying to stir the pot here, merely making an observation. Clearly, if Froome was puffing on an inhaler filled with xenon gas, the last place he’d do so would be on the front of the peloton during a televised race, just moments ahead of the deciding climb.
In fact, you may say that Froome’s puff on his inhaler was so ostentatious and undisguised that it was clearly done with a view to being seen. If this is the case, why would Froome and Sky want the world to know now – and not before – he is a life-long asthma sufferer?
And why didn’t Froome mention any of this in his book?
In between his “soaring triumphs”, “humbling defeats” and countless pointed barbs directed towards teammate Bradley Wiggins, Froome talks ad nauseam about his propensity to pick up a cold; but not once did he think of mentioning that these colds could come down to asthma – something that would arguably make it even more of “a journey unlike any other in the history of cycling” that the back-page spiel claims his to be.
You also sense that somewhere David Walsh is smarting. The man who brought down Lance Armstrong has been embedded with Sky for the previous year or so and has given us what he and his publishers claim to be the “definitive story” of both Sky (Inside Team Sky) and, now, Froome.
But not once has the ghostwriter of The Climb mentioned Froome’s asthma. And that either puts a chink in Walsh’s journalistic armour, or makes it look as if both Sky and Froome were pretty keen on keeping this one under wraps. At least until Monday’s stage on the Dauphine.