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Report hints at Froome’s high-risk defense

Chris Froome’s legal team is staking out an unconventional, high-risk approach in what could be an all-or-nothing bid to clear his name in his Salbutamol case.

That’s according to L’Equipe, which outlined a possible Froome defense in a three-page report in Tuesday’s edition. Citing sources, the French sports daily suggested that his legal team will try to argue that Froome’s kidneys misfired during a few critical days during last year’s Vuelta a España and provoked the high levels of the asthma drug.

There was no immediate response from Froome or Team Sky.

After weeks of silence from Froome’s legal team, the L’Equipe story provided the first glimpse of how Froome’s defense might shape up.

The four-time Tour de France winner tested for high levels of the asthma drug Salbutamol with an adverse analytical finding en route to winning last year’s Vuelta a España.

Rules do not require a provisional ban, but Froome is facing the legal battle of his life to try to clear his name and salvage his reputation.

According to L’Equipe, Froome’s legal team has ditched the argument that dehydration triggered the Salbutamol reading. It is also not considering pharmacokinetic testing to try to re-create similar readings via lab testing. Without revealing its sources, it’s impossible to know how accurate that information might be. So far, Froome’s legal team has kept its cards close to its chest.

Instead, L’Equipe suggests that Froome’s lawyers will argue that their clients’ kidneys were not functioning properly around the stages in the final week of the Vuelta. L’Equipe sketched out a defense that will suggest that Froome’s kidneys were retaining Salbutamol, and then released it suddenly to flood his system, thus triggering the high levels.

The Team Sky captain insists he did not take more than the allowed amount of the asthma medication and vows to fight to clear his name.

Froome has retained Michael Morgan, a leading lawyer whose former clients include Alberto Contador, Lizzie Deignan, Johan Bruyneel, Maria Sharapova and some big-name European soccer players.

Froome’s legal team is lining up experts to make their case in front of the UCI’s Legal Anti-Doping Services (LADS), which has also bringing its own experts to bear, L’Equipe reported.

Because Froome is arguing he never took more than allowed limits of Salbutamol, he could be shutting the door to a possible reduction in the ban. During the 2014 Giro d’Italia, Italian rider Diego Ulissi tested for levels similar to Froome’s, but later admitted to taking too much Salbutamol to treat asthma. As a result, Ulissi received a nine-month ban, and even raced the 2015 Giro.

L’Equipe painted a scenario that Froome could be cleared, or he could face disqualification and a maximum, two-year ban.

Procedurally, arguments will be made before LADS. If the panel agrees, Froome could be cleared without a ban or disqualification of the Vuelta. Both the World Anti-Doping Agency and UK Anti-Doping could appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Froome could also appeal any decision against him to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Froome, meanwhile, continues to train and vows to race the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France as planned during the 2018 season.

The attention will bore down on the case, however, and will play out in hearings over the next several weeks and months. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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