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The simplest explanation for Froome’s salbutamol test?

Warning: The following column contains opinion and speculation from Velonews about the Chris Froome/Salbutamol anti-doping case. 

In case you missed it, French newspaper L’Equipe reported on Tuesday that Chris Froome and Sky are considering a legal defense that argues his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol was the result of kidney failure.

Yes, kidney failure.

Under this possible defense strategy, lawyers could argue that Froome’s kidneys malfunctioned during the Vuelta a España, retained the salbutamol, and then released it all at once, which is why his urine contained twice the allowable limit of the asthma drug.

It appears that the British team is prepared to take its anti-doping cases into the realm of what I refer to as the “head-slap zone.” That’s the realm in which the explanations are so unlikely and far-fetched that even casual cycling fans slap their heads in amazement. Yes, this is the realm of Tyler Hamilton’s chimeric vanishing twin, Lance Armstrong’s French conspiracy, Raimondas Rumsas’s “The steroids were for my mother-in-law,” Adrie van der Poel eating juiced pigeons, or Gilberto Simoni taking a cocaine cough drop from Peru.

As a lover of all things cycling, I sincerely hope Froome and Sky back away from the kidney defense, if not for their reputations, then for the good of the sport. Cycling has already produced the lion’s share of slap-worthy doping explanations within the global realm of sports. In fact, no other sport is as synonymous with these excuses as cycling. So do we really need to add another one to the list?

You see, the purpose of these confusing and far-fetched defenses is to override the desire that we, the public, have to find the explanation that is most basic and simple. Yes, we are searching for Occam’s Razor. Chimeric twins and French conspiracies are not Occam’s Razor.

For those who are not familiar with the philosophic principle, here is a quick primer. When given multiple explanations as to why something occurred, the simplest, most basic answer is probably the correct one. The more complex answer — the one with more leap-of-faith assumptions — is likely incorrect.

Since day one of this mess, cyclists and cycling fans have asked me what is the Occam’s Razor for the Froome case. So over the past few weeks, I have posed the question to experts in the realm of medicine and sports science. Doctors, researchers, and so on. You have likely read about some of these experts on our site in recent weeks.