FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — It was a long drawn-out case, but it is time to let Chris Froome race for a fifth Tour de France title, say insiders one day after the UCI governing body cleared Team Sky’s British star. However, Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme says he wants the UCI to change its rules to avoid such uncertainty in the future.
The UCI issued a surprise last-minute ruling Monday, five days before the Tour de France starts on July 7 in Vendee. Froome, who looked likely to lose his Vuelta a España title due to a high asthma drug reading, was cleared.
“We were waiting for a decision,” Prudhomme told AFP. “We were told that he did nothing wrong, so we won’t continue [trying to block him]. Especially after nine months of the best experts studying the case.
“It is really a pity that the decision arrives so late, especially in the aftermath of the leak in the media of our challenge.”
Froome tested over the allowed limit for asthma drug Salbutamol after stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a España on September 7. He went on to win the Spanish tour.
Due to the rules on specified substances, he could race ahead — and he did so in the usual Froome style. Froome became the first British rider to win the Giro d’Italia this May in a come-from-behind move on stage 19 to Jafferau.
The Tour de France and other race organizers grumbled, though, that a rider could compete with the possibility of a ban looming. Froome could have faced a two-year ban and the loss of his Vuelta title.
The Giro organizer RCS complained about the lengthy case. The Tour’s ASO, too. This Sunday, it emerged that ASO blocked Froome from racing the Tour de France in a letter sent earlier in June. It told Sky that for the sake of the race’s image, referring to article 28.1 of its rules, that the team had to leave Froome home. Sky launched an appeal, but time was running out with the Tour starting Saturday.
“But it was because we had no answer in the early days of June and that the president of the UCI was pessimistic about the possibility of having a decision before the start of the Tour, that we decided, three weeks ago, to proceed with the challenge,” Prudhomme continued.
“The rules must change, they are adapted to the legalities but not to the general expectations. In such cases, it is necessary to have a temporary suspension without prejudging the guilt in order to avoid these doubts and suspicion.”
The UCI’s ruling — that Froome showed his levels fluctuated within a reasonable range — wipes the slate clean. Even if voices can still be heard grumbling about the inconsistencies of anti-doping rules and procedures, Froome, 33, will race for a fifth Tour de France title and the historic Giro/Tour double this month.
Froome is one of the few to get off Scott-free. Other riders have been punished by the UCI after testing over the limit for Salbutamol.
“I did not have the same lawyer support that Froome had with Team Sky, but I’m glad he’s finally absolved,” ex-pro Alessandro Petacchi told L’Equipe newspaper. The Italian sprinter added that Froome’s case helps shed light on what he went through during his career.
Petacchi, like Froome, tested with high levels of Salbutamol in the 2007 Giro d’Italia. He fought the case, lost, and served a suspension. His resulting suspension stripped him of five Giro stage wins and forced him to miss the 2008 Tour.
“In my defense, I surrounded myself with experts because I had inhaled half the dose of Salbutamol that they found in my urine, which raised the question — which Froome and Sky also examined — namely that in case of high heat and dehydration, the urine becomes very dark and the rate of Salbutamol increases in large proportions.
“Later, Diego Ulissi had the same problem and, to defend himself, he took turbo trainer tests at the UCI headquarters to measure the rate of sweating, hydration. The UCI agreed to reduce his sentence to nine months instead of two years after having recorded various fluctuations in the tests.”
Reportedly, Froome was set to undergo a similar pharmacokinetic lab study for his case, but the UCI has yet to release any results.
Froome is now pushing ahead to the Tour’s start. He is aiming to become the fifth cyclist to win a record five titles and only the eighth in history to win the Giro and Tour in the same season.