Andrew Hood – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Tue, 16 Jan 2018 22:20:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Andrew Hood – 32 32 American Alexey Vermeulen, 23, holds out hope for another pro contract Tue, 16 Jan 2018 14:36:33 +0000 Vermeulen raced for two years with LottoNL-Jumbo but was not given a contract extension after the 2017 season.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, American Alexey Vermeulen was lining up for the Santos Tour Down Under for what was the start of his second professional season.

Instead of returning to Australia this week for the WorldTour’s 2018 start, Vermeulen is now back home wondering if he’ll race professionally again.

“I don’t know yet what I am doing next year,” Vermeulen said in a telephone interview. “I have a couple of options. I am trying to figure it out. It’s been hard. I thought it would be a transitional year, and it hasn’t become that. It’s been hard.”

The 23-year-old is still holding out hope of signing with a U.S. team for this season, but he admits it’s been some rough classes in the school of hard knocks.

Instead of entering his third year at the WorldTour, he’s contemplating returning to college. He’s hoping to hold out one more year and try to bounce back onto a WorldTour team in 2019.

In the meantime, Vermeulen is still training hard and trying to retain a positive mindset.

“It was quite surprising the way that it happened. We were talking about [extending], but I never could get a straight answer,” he said. “It turned into a shitty situation, and now I am trying to make the best of it.”

In 2016, Vermeulen left the BMC Development Team a year early at the ripe age of 20 to join LottoNL-Jumbo on a two-year deal. He raced his fair share of WorldTour races with the team and was planning on a grand tour debut at last year’s Vuelta a España.

He raced a full calendar of 64 days in 2017, including a fifth-place finish out of a winning breakaway group in stage 3 at the Critérium du Dauphiné and a third at the U.S. national road racing championships. But that wasn’t good enough for LottoNL-Jumbo.

When it came time to talk about a new contract, Vermeulen said the team was sending mixed messages. Many teams across the peloton cut back their rosters, in larger part due to new rules that trim grand tour squads from nine to eight.

By the time the door was closed at LottoNL-Jumbo, Vermeulen was discovering that other teams had already filled their rosters.

“I don’t blame anyone. I blame myself more for not opening my eyes sooner,” he said. “I got screwed on this deal, but I don’t want to back-stab Lotto. I had a good time there, and I learned a lot. The communication could have been better.”

Vermeulen said he’ll keep training like a pro throughout 2018 and isn’t losing hope of joining a Continental or Pro Continental team.

He once pondered medical school before following his passions on the road. If the pavement runs out on a possible professional road racing career, school might be back in his future.

He’s not giving up yet. By returning to his roots back on U.S. soil, he said he’s posting the best power numbers of his career. He’s also rediscovering the joy of training. All that gives him inspiration that he might be able to land back with a WorldTour team.

“This is the first time I am really fighting for a contract, so we’ll see how it all turns out,” he said. “I may have to take a year off and try to come back. I want to race again in the WorldTour. If that doesn’t happen, then school is the next best option.”

Vermeulen harbors no regrets, especially when asked if it would have been wiser to have raced another full season in the U23 ranks before leaping into the treacherous WorldTour waters.

“I think any 20-year-old is going to sign that [WorldTour] contract,” he said. “I think looking back, maybe someday I might regret not staying one more year at the U23 level, but I would never not sign that contract. It’s very hard to get a WorldTour contract, so there’s no way you’re going to pass up that opportunity.

“I am 23, there are still a lot of places to go,” he continued. “It’s going to be hard [to miss the Tour Down Under]. Everyone is starting to race, and I am not going to be there. I am already a little bit sad. I don’t know if I am more sad about missing the racing or the photos with the baby kangaroos!”

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Administrative hiccup keeps WorldTour rookie out of Tour Down Under Mon, 15 Jan 2018 13:43:58 +0000 Belgian Borg Lambrecht, 20, will miss what would have been his first professional race because of the snafu.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Dreams of a WorldTour debut are being put on hold for a Belgian neo-pro following an administrative technicality that will keep him on the sidelines during the Santos Tour Down Under.

Twenty-year-old Borg Lambrecht was hoping to race Tuesday’s opening stage in what would be his WorldTour debut with Lotto-Soudal, but he didn’t meet requirements of the UCI’s ADAMS whereabouts program.

Lotto-Soudal seems to be putting the blame on the UCI.

According to team officials, Lambrecht listened to a UCI-sponsored webinar in mid-December to teach neo-pros how to follow the ADAMS program. Lotto-Soudal said in a press release it received Lambrecht’s official log-in information the following day on December 15. That date meant it was too late to meet the requirements, however, and the team isn’t taking any chances to run afoul with anti-doping authorities.

So, Lambrecht won’t race until the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at the end of January.

“This is a huge disappointment,” he said. “We came to Australia a week ago, and I was looking forward to my first pro season and then it’s a huge disappointment when you hear you can’t start. But of course we can’t take any risk. I will stay here to train for a week and then I will head to Melbourne with the team.”

The case reveals just how complex the WADA code can be. And rather than risk running afoul with rules, Lambrecht won’t race this week.

Rules used to require neo-pros to undergo three doping controls as part of their biological passport before their WorldTour debut. New rules call for neo-pros to be registered in the ADAMS system 42 days before the start of their first WorldTour race.

According to Lotto-Soudal officials, the UCI organized three webinars in French, Spanish, and English during December. Lambrecht sat in during the English class on December 14, and received his log-in the next day. That date, however, was 10 days short of the requirement to start the Tour Down Under.

UCI officials were not immediately available for comment.

Team officials said they filed an official complaint with the cycling federation, but without UCI confirmation that he could race, Lotto-Soudal is sidelining its rookie.

That means Lotto-Soudal will line up for the first race of the 2018 WorldTour calendar with six starters instead of seven.

The situation harkens back to another controversy involving Lance Armstrong and the Tour Down Under in 2009.

At the time, UCI officials waived rules requiring athletes to be in the WADA testing pool for at least six months. The UCI allowed Armstrong to make his highly anticipated comeback at the Australian race despite falling nearly two weeks short of the cutoff date.

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Neo-pro to start TDU days after appendectomy Mon, 15 Jan 2018 03:32:14 +0000 Neo-pro Michael Storer (Team Sunweb) will make his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under just days after emergency appendicitis surgery.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — It’s going to take more than an appendectomy to stop neo-pro Michael Storer from making his WorldTour debut in a Sunweb jersey.

The 20-year-old confirmed he will race Tuesday’s opening stage at the Santos Tour Down Under just days after having his appendix removed in emergency surgery.

“I am feeling like myself again,” he said after a training ride Monday. “Yes, I’ll take the start.”

It’s been a wild week for Storer, who signed a two-year deal to join Team Sunweb for 2018-2019 following an impressive under-23 season last year. On January 7, he raced to 34th in the Australia elite men’s national championship road race.

What he thought was a post-race upset stomach last Monday turned out to be something more serious. A trip to the doctor’s office revealed he was suffering acute appendicitis. Surgery was advised, and before he knew it, he was lighter by one appendix.

“It was a big surprise for me having my appendix taken out,” Storer said on the team’s website. “After the national road race on Sunday, I had typical gastro symptoms and thought it must have just been from the race or something I ate. The pain went away a bit and then came back badly midday on Monday so the team decided to get me to see the doctor. This was a good decision because those extra precautionary steps meant the problem got sorted really quickly and in an early stage of appendicitis. If the appendix had ruptured I wouldn’t be in a position to consider racing the Tour Down Under.”

Team officials said there is no pressure on Storer to race and they will monitor his recovery, but surgery went so well he will have the green light to race Tuesday.

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No KBK defense as Sagan goes all-in for northern classics Sun, 14 Jan 2018 09:00:13 +0000 Peter Sagan will not defend his Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne title in 2018 in order to spend more time with his son before the season fully ramps

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That’s the thinking inside Bora-Hansgrohe as the team plots the 2018 calendar for three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

Sagan will follow a familiar roadmap through the 2018 season, with three peaks focused on the northern classics, the Tour de France, and the world championships.

In fact, his schedule is nearly identical to what he raced last year. The only real wrinkle is that he will skip the Belgian classics openers at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the latter of which he won in 2017.

“The big goal is for Peter to be in top condition for the northern classics,” said Bora-Hansgrohe trainer Patxi Vila. “Peter already has a place among the best with his three world titles. Now he wants to win more monuments.”

Sagan debuts his 2018 campaign with an evening criterium Sunday and then with the six-stage Santos Tour Down Under on Tuesday. He hasn’t raced since his dramatic third world title in Bergen, Norway last September.

The 27-year-old Slovakian has already been in Australia for nearly two weeks as he’s taken advantage of the warm weather to prepare for the start of a new campaign.

“I hope it is good preparation for the coming season. It is time to make some race kilometers, and with some good weather,” Sagan said. “It’s a no-stress race, it’s very nice to start the season here.”

Vila said Sagan will skip the pair of Belgian classics to be able to spend more time with his new son, Marlon, born in October. Between a busy racing schedule and high-altitude training camps, Sagan wants to be able to spend at least a few weeks his new son at home.

After racing Paris-Roubaix, Sagan will take a short break before ramping up for the Tour de France. He’ll repeat his now-familiar schedule, with starts at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse before a return to the Tour.

Sagan will take another short break following the Tour before preparing for the worlds in Austria. It’s unlikely he will return to the Vuelta a España, where he wasn’t raced since 2015. The past two years, Sagan has raced in a mix of shorter stage races and one-day races before the worlds.

Despite the heavy climbing course in Innsbruck, Vila said Sagan shouldn’t be counted out.

“The worlds are a special race. There is a lot of climbing, but it all depends on how the race unfolds,” he said. “It’s too far away to think too much about the worlds right now. He will be there, but first, we look to the classics and the Tour. Then we’ll make a plan for the worlds based on how things stand.”

Sagan’s 2018 schedule

Tour Down Under
Strade Bianche
Tour of Flanders
Tour of California
Tour de Suisse
Tour de France
— To Be Determined —
World championships

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What’s on the line for the TDU stars Sat, 13 Jan 2018 13:56:44 +0000 Three-time World Champion Peter Sagan headlines the stars in attendance at the opening 2018 WorldTour race, the Tour Down Under.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — And just like that, the 2018 WorldTour is ready to click into gear.

After what seemed to be a very short off-season, the racing season opens with a flourish with the Santos Tour Down Under, celebrating its 20th anniversary with a solid lineup of GC contenders and sprinters.

While some of the peloton’s bigger names have not made the long trip down to Australia, the 2018 WorldTour calendar opens with a solid field. Three-time world champion Peter Sagan, defending champion Richie Porte, former two-time winner André Greipel and Aussie fastman Caleb Ewan are among the big-name starters.

“We are excited about the quality of riders at the start line,” said race director Mike Turtur. “It’s a big milestone for the race. It’s 20 editions, and that’s significant. We look forward to a good race.”

The 20th edition of Australia’s biggest stage race follows a familiar pattern. Stages 1, 3 and 6 favor the pure sprinters, with stage 2 into Stirling just hard enough to tilt the bunch sprint in favor of riders like Sagan or Diego Ulissi. Stage 4 finishes atop a punchy climb to Uraidla that should tip the GC favorites, with Willunga hill on the penultimate stage to crown the winner.

The Tour Down Under has evolved into a dynamic week-long event that opens Sunday with a downtown criterium and also includes a gran fondo, daily parties at the race headquarters in Adelaide, and thousands of cyclists who pour in for the week.

Riders like the race for its good weather, relaxed ambiance, enthusiastic crowds, decent roads and medium-level intensity. The longest stage is 151.5km, so it’s not too hard or too long for such an early season race.

Here’s what the main protagonists are expecting this week:

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

The three-time world champion has absolutely zero pressure and nothing to prove. His first major goal is still weeks away in the spring classics. He’s already been here for 10 days to stretch the legs and ease into 2018. The speedy Slovakian says he’s here to help Jay McCarthy in the GC and Sam Bennett in the sprints. Last year, the Tour Down Under was the only stage race where he didn’t win at least one stage in 2017. With three second places last year, don’t be surprised to see Sagan try to open his season with at least one win this week. It’s hard for Sagan to hold back when he sees the finish line.

“It’s nice to race here,” Sagan said. “It’s quite a calm race here. Nice weather, good people, same hotel. It’s a no-stress race, it’s very nice to start the season here.”

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

The defending champion lines up with the strongest GC squad in the race. Former winners Rohan Dennis and Simon Gerrans are here to back him up, and ready to pounce if Porte suffers an unexpected setback. In his first race since crashing out of the Tour de France, Porte is motivated to get back into the winner’s circle. He hinted he’d be happy with another victory up Old Willunga Hill (where he’s won four times) if the overall doesn’t fall his way.

“As an Aussie, it’s the best race to win,” Porte said. “I’d love to win it again. My form is pretty good. I’m not sure if it is good as last year, but we’ll see. There’s not a big expectation to win again, but I’d love to win another one on Willunga. It would be a great way to start the season, with a big win.”

Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott)

Ewan enjoyed a breakout race last year, winning four of six stages en route to the points jersey. At 23, Ewan is looking forward to his Tour de France debut later this summer. With Mitchelton-Scott not lining up with a major GC contender, Ewan will have home-road pressure to win at least one stage, if not a lot more. The sprint field this year is deeper than last year, so those wins might come a little more difficult.

“I’ve got high expectations after the past few years,” Ewan said. “I won four stages last year, so I guess the expectation is going to be the same this year. I’m going to do my best, and hopefully, I will come away with a few stage wins again.”

André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal)

The Gorilla is back Down Under after skipping the past three editions. The 35-year-old German is a two-time overall winner, but those GC wins came back when the race was purely a sprinter’s course. Harder climbs have been added and that means riders like Greipel won’t be contending for the overall. The veteran German is hoping to get an early win on his palmares after a somewhat disappointing 2017 campaign that saw him only capture five wins and also fall short of winning a stage in the Tour de France.

“There are always plenty of occasions for the sprinters,” Greipel said. “It’s always a good start to a successful season, so I hope it turns out like this in 2018. There are no easy races anymore. There are no easy races. When you look down to all the riders, and the sprinters especially, it’s a decent field. It won’t be easy to win a stage. The sprints will be interesting.”

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Gilbert dreams big, targets monument sweep Thu, 11 Jan 2018 13:44:41 +0000 Belgian Philippe Gilbert has won three monuments in his career, and at age 35 he knows time is running out to capture the final two.

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CALPE, Spain (VN) — It’s been 11 years, but now the time has come for Philippe Gilbert to return to “Hell of the North.”

Hot off winning Tour of Flanders last year, Gilbert is raising the bar in his quest to join cycling’s elusive “five-win” club. To do that, he needs to head back to Paris-Roubaix.

With victories at Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Giro di Lombardia already on his palmares, the Quick-Step Floors rider is now taking aim at Milano-Sanremo and Roubaix. If he can pull it off, he’ll become just the fourth rider in history to win all five of cycling’s monuments.

“It’s a big motivation for me,” Gilbert said Tuesday at a Quick-Step camp. “Even if it’s a crazy dream, it’s possible. This gives me so much motivation.”

To have a chance, he’ll need to race Roubaix. Gilbert avoided the perils of the Roubaix pavé in part because he didn’t want to risk a season-ending injury. The last time, and only time, he raced Roubaix was in 2007, finishing an uninspiring 52nd. At 35, he knows time is running out.

“It’s hard to say if I am going to go there and race for the win,” he said. “I want to get some experience there and get stronger. Roubaix is such a special race.”

The monument “grand slam” is one of cycling’s most prestigious and most elusive goals. The five one-day races are among cycling’s longest, most difficult, and most prestigious titles. Winning all five is not easy. Only three riders — Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, and Rik Van Looy — have managed to pull it off.

Perhaps more than any rider in the contemporary peloton, Gilbert has the skillset to seriously make a challenge. Lombardia and Liège, two races he’s already won, require climbing skills, while Sanremo is a sprinter’s race. Flanders and Roubaix are tilted more in favor of brawny cobble-bashers.

Of his remaining two monuments, he’s had more success in Italy’s Sanremo, twice finishing third. Despite his distant finish at Roubaix 11 years ago, he senses Sanremo will be the hardest to win.

“Sanremo is not easy to make something happen,” he said. “You see sometimes a rider like Sagan, who is the strongest there, and he can still lose it. It’s the same in Liège or Roubaix. If you’re the strongest at the start, you have the best chance to win.”

Many scoff at his ambitions. Roubaix is a beast only tamed by the brawniest of the pack, while Sanremo is a sprinter’s race, and even Gilbert admits that his fastest days are behind him. But Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere said it’s wrong to count out Gilbert at Sanremo.

“Who’s to say it’s going to be a perfectly sunny day in March?” Lefevere said. “Who’s to say it won’t be windy and rainy? Philippe is one of the most experienced riders in the peloton. He will look for an opening.”

Gilbert even joked about his chances at Sanremo, telling Belgian TV, “Everyone says Sanremo is so hard to win, but Merckx won it seven times.”

Gilbert altered his training to build his power for Roubaix. He even hinted that he would not race the Ardennes classics, where he won the treble in 2011, to approach the northern classics in absolute top condition this spring.

“First I did climbing races, with Liège and Lombardy, and I became more expert for the flat races where you need more power,” he said. “It’s a new challenge for me, and it keeps me motivated.”

Gilbert is taking on the monument challenge as the final act of his glorious career. He’s done just about everything else a rider of his caliber can imagine doing. He’s won the world title, stages in all three grand tours, four monuments, four Amstel Gold Race titles, and a dozen other major races.

Gilbert is on a two-year deal with Quick-Step and said he won’t contemplate retirement until after the 2019 season. After his run at BMC Racing, he reached out to Quick-Step’s Lefevere midway through 2016 about joining the Belgian team.

“This is the best team to race if you want to win the classics,” Gilbert said. “They race like I race. They are very aggressive. I am very happy here.”

Gilbert’s Flanders win last year was one of the most exciting of the entire year. With a long-distance attack, Gilbert delivered his first major win since his 2012 world title. And what does he think when former teammate Greg Van Avermaet said if he and Sagan had not crashed they could have caught Gilbert for the win?

“I don’t care about what he says,” Gilbert said with a laugh. “The winner is always right.”

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Quick-Step boldly pedals into post-Boonen era Wed, 10 Jan 2018 13:33:42 +0000 For the first time since 2003, the Belgian-based team does not have Tom Boonen on its roster after the legendary rider retired.

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CALPE, Spain (VN) — Everything looked the same as Quick-Step Floors gathered for its annual pre-season training camp along Spain’s sunny Mediterranean Coast. Mechanics built bikes. Staffers huddled for scheduling meetings. VIPs hung around the bar. Riders put in some long rides to blow out the cobwebs.

It might have seemed like the venerable Belgian outfit was hitting the repeat button for its 16th year in the elite peloton, but something was fundamentally different. For the first time since 2003, Quick-Step will pedal into the racing season without Tom Boonen.

“We won a lot with Tom, and we won a lot without him,” said Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere. “Everyone knows what Tom meant to me and to cycling. There is no replacing him. That doesn’t mean we just go home. We keep fighting.”

The 63-year-old Lefevere walked a tight rope over the past 12 months trying to stitch together a sponsorship platform to keep the team alive for 2018 and beyond.

Most of the sponsors have been with Lefevere for years, but Boonen’s exit caused many of the Belgian-based businesses to reflect on their larger commitment to the sport. Boonen emerged as one of Belgium’s biggest sports stars, and everyone wanted to be hitched to his wagon. Cycling runs deep in Belgium, however, and that strong cultural link helped save the day. As one sponsor who’s been with Lefevere for 25 years said, “the longer I support cycling, the longer I will live.”

“There was a point last summer that I thought it was all over,” Lefevere admitted. “We made a big push because this team is special. And we have so many young, talented riders that I just didn’t want to let that all go away. Now we are on a good way.”

Tomeke’s retirement certainly didn’t come as a surprise. Lefevere knew well in advance that his marquee rider and superstar would be exiting at the Roubaix Velodrome last April. So he started planting the seeds a few years ago.

Along with Boonen, some other big names also exited. Marcel Kittel and Dan Martin each left for big-money contracts. Also out the door were Jack Bauer, Gianluca Brambila, David de la Cruz, Julian Vermote, and reliable Italian veteran Matteo Trentin.

The team shrinks by two riders, from 29 to 27, coming into 2018. That’s in large part due to new UCI rules reducing roster sizes in WorldTour races.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in new riders over the past few years,” Lefevere said. “Now it is their turn to ride at the front.”

Lefevere didn’t open his checkbook to sign a superstar to fill Boonen’s void. Elia Viviani, Michael Morkov, and budding classics star Florian Sénéchal are the only established pros new for 2018, but none of them are on the same level as Boonen. Four rookies round out the seven new recruits.

Instead of signing a slew of big names to try to fill Boonen’s shoes, Lefevere is giving his budding superstars a chance to step up.

Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, and Fernando Gaviria will have an open road going into 2018. All three will be at the Tour de France.

“I think Gaviria is a serial killer,” Lefevere said. “He wants to win everything. There is no limit to his ambition.”

Defending Tour of Flanders champion Philippe Gilbert is back for a second year as part of a two-year contract extension and helps add luster to the roster. Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar will also see more freedom, along with more pressure, now that Boonen is no longer the anchor for the northern classics.

“I still feel the same emotion and excitement at the start of a racing season,” Lefevere said with a twinkle in his eye. “Modern cycling has changed. What hasn’t changed is the thrill of winning. That’s what we work for.”

Boonen might not be a racer anymore, but the wheel keeps turning. Lefevere kept the wheels on the wagon, and his team will likely be a factor in just about any race it starts.

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Ulissi’s Salbutamol ruling was kept secret — Froome’s might be too Mon, 08 Jan 2018 22:14:16 +0000 If Diego Ulissi's Salbutamol case is any indication, the details of Chris Froome's Salbutamol case may never see the light of day.

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Don’t hold your breath to see how Chris Froome’s Salbutamol case plays out.

While documents are frequently released as part of anti-doping cases, they’re just as often kept under wraps. It depends on jurisdiction and the terms of the settlement. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Reasoned Decision in the Lance Armstrong scandal, for example, provided an eye-opening glimpse into the murky waters of blood doping, EPO, and other PEDs.

Yet documents can also remain sealed in anti-doping rulings and investigations, leaving fans and journalists wondering. One of those was the 2014 Salbutamol case involving Diego Ulissi.

Many have drawn comparisons between Froome and Ulissi. The Italian served a nine-month ban for high levels of Salbutamol. Both he and Froome tested for similar levels of Salbutamol — Ulissi with 1,920 ng/l to Froome’s 2,000. Both argue they suffer from asthma. So it’s natural to look at the Ulissi case to guess what might happen with Froome.

Efforts to parse documents for a comparison between the two cases have proven frustrating. Why? Because the Ulissi documents were never released.

Ulissi held a Swiss racing license when he tested for high levels of Salbutamol during the 2014 Giro d’Italia. After efforts to reproduce the same readings failed via pharmacokinetic testing — an analysis that Froome is likely to employ — Ulissi’s legal team argued that Ulissi inadvertently exceeded allowed levels to treat his asthma. The Italian admitted negligence without the intention of enhancing his performance. He received a nine-month ban. That opened the door for him to return in time to race the 2015 Giro.

No one in the public ever read those documents, however. Swiss Anti-Doping authorities confirmed to VeloNews that the agency does not publicly release documents involving disciplinary actions. A request to view the Ulissi documents was denied.

And just like Ulissi’s ruling, details surrounding Froome’s case might never be publicly revealed.

Ulissi’s documents were kept under wraps due to Swiss anti-doping protocol. Froome’s case might never see the light of day, but for different reasons.

Froome’s case remains at the investigative stage under review by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF). That means he is not formally facing a disciplinary action, at least not right now. WADA rules allow athletes a chance to explain their cases involving specified products like Salbatumol, which can include thresholds, reduced bans, and maximum bans of two — not four — years. This review process calls for confidentiality [not per request from the athlete as previously reported -Ed.], but leaks to British newspapers burst it into public view late last year.

Froome’s legal team is working behind the scenes to try to demonstrate that high levels of Salbutamol occurred without Froome breaking the rules or taking more than the allotted dosage. The four-time Tour de France winner vows he did not break any rules when he tested for Salbutamol levels double the allowed threshold en route to winning the Vuelta a España in September.

That’s a high-risk strategy that could trigger a potentially longer ban if Froome’s legal team cannot prove its case.

If successful, however, it could mean that insider details of the case will never be disclosed. The UCI or WADA could appeal any agreement with CADF, and insist that a full disciplinary process begin. That would mean what would likely be a months-long process.

So far, Froome’s legal team is not giving much away, and it’s unclear when Froome’s lawyers will present their evidence before CADF. Froome, meanwhile, continues to train with hopes of racing in 2018.

Anyone hoping for a USADA-style treasure trove of documentation from the Froome case might be in for a disappointment.

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Valverde’s comeback begins in Mallorca Thu, 04 Jan 2018 22:28:08 +0000 Alejandro Valverde's recovery from a catastrophic knee injury has gone flawlessly. Now he's ready to return to racing — and win.

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If anyone is itching for the 2018 racing season to begin it’s Alejandro Valverde.

The Movistar veteran saw his career nearly end in the opening-day time trial at the 2017 Tour de France in Germany last summer. Surgery and a setback-free recovery mean that the 37-year-old will be able to resume racing.

And that day is drawing near. Valverde’s comeback begins in Mallorca at the end of January in just a few weeks.

“My ambition is to come back and win,” Valverde said. “I don’t know if that will be in January, or in April. I hope it doesn’t take long.”

Movistar officials confirmed this week Valverde will race at least one of the four-day races at the Mallorca Challenge at the end of January. And later he will line up at the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the Vuelta a Murcia and the Clásica Almeria.

After that, Valverde’s spring schedule remains undefined, but if things go well, he’ll likely headed back to the Ardennes. And the team is even hinting Valverde could race two grand tours, and possibly all three, en route to the world championships in Austria.

Valverde is clearly expecting to be back at his best for what will be his 18th pro season.

“A few months ago, I had doubts that I could be at the same level as before. Today I do not,” Valverde said in October. “I did some hard efforts, and the knee was completely perfect. I am ready to race, and win.”

Valverde was coming off one of his best spring campaigns ever last spring, winning his first three stage races and pulling off the Ardennes double with wins at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

A horrific crash on a wet left-hander during the Tour ripped a hole in his knee all the way to the bone. Valverde initially thought his career was over on the spot. Excellent medical support in Germany and later in Spain with surgery saved his career. After training 6,000km last fall, he was even considering racing the new Chinese race but decided to hold off until 2018.

Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said Valverde’s return to the roster for 2018 is a salve for the team.

“He is a guarantee for us in any race,” Unzué said. “We will see how the season evolves, but every indication is that he will be able to return to the Alejandro that we all know.”

Valverde is hoping to return to prolific best but also vows to stand aside to let Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana stake their claim in the grand tours. Valverde will be waiting in the wings if anything happens.

“I still feel young,” Valverde said. “We all know where I am coming from in terms of the injury, but in the head, I am not tired, or weary. In body and mind, I feel ready good.”

How good remains to be seen. Valverde is back in the battle soon.

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Gerrans poised to help Porte in Tour de France bid Tue, 02 Jan 2018 13:37:59 +0000 Simon Gerrans, 37, said his role on BMC Racing will be to help Richie Porte try to win the Tour de France this summer.

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One of the biggest surprises of the 2018 transfer season was Simon Gerrans’s move from GreenEdge to BMC Racing. In fact, almost no one saw it coming.

The rumor going around the peloton was that Gerrans was going to retire at this month’s Santos Tour Down Under. A phone call last summer changed those retirement plans.

“That was very much a rumor,” Gerrans told VeloNews of the Down Under retirement party. “I don’t know who pulled that one out of where. Rumors run rife when they have nothing else to do.”

At 37, Gerrans is still revving up to go in what will be his 15th professional season. His move to BMC Racing on a one-year deal came thanks to his long-running friendship with team captain Richie Porte.

It was the Tasmanian who first approached Gerrans, one of the most veteran riders in the Australian peloton. Porte wanted a steady hand in his bid to become Australia’s second Tour de France winner.

“I think we caught a lot of people by surprise. Not many people saw it coming,” Gerrans said. “I started contact with Richie. He scoped me out, and I said I’d love to join.”

Last summer, Porte reached out to Gerrans because he knew that his compatriot, a veteran of 11 Tours de France, could come in very handy. Porte made the call when he was recovering from his horrific Tour crash, and Gerrans was at home considering his future after being left off Orica-Scott’s Tour squad for 2017.

Gerrans was even considering retirement after the team and Gerrans decided to move on following the 2017 season. Porte’s call came at the right time.

“Richie saw me as someone with a bit of experience who would be a real asset to him,” Gerrans said. “He was looking for a road captain he could trust and rely on. I was more honored than anything else to be offered that role.”

Porte approached BMC Racing’s brass, and they agreed Gerrans would be a welcome addition.

“He was the first person in the entire organization who reached out to me. From then on, he spoke to team management, and they were on board quickly,” Gerrans said. “We were speaking for a few weeks, and I don’t think too many people seemed to have found out about it until they made the announcement.”

While Gerrans’s move to BMC might have been unexpected, it makes sense. The team is losing an experienced batch of team riders, such as Manuel Quinziato, Daniel Oss, Amaël Moinard, and Samuel Sánchez to a mix of retirements, trades, and, with the case of Sánchez, a doping positive. BMC also reduced its roster from 29 to 24 riders, so every position on the team is essential.

Gerrans said his racing calendar will largely mirror Porte’s as the team builds toward the 2018 Tour. Though he’s a four-time winner of the Tour Down Under, Gerrans said he will be riding to help Porte defend his title at the 20th anniversary of Australia’s top stage race.

Over the past few seasons, Gerrans was already transitioning into a road captain’s role at GreenEdge, a team that was nurturing such talent as the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves in the grand tours. As a winner of Milano-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gerrans will still get a few chances to ride for his results this season.

“The team very much would like me to target a few races. I am racing at a high level, and the team thinks I have some races left in me. That’s a real compliment,” he said. “When the opportunities arise, and the course is right for me, I’ll do everything I can do to get a result.”

Gerrans has seen it all during his career. He’s ridden with a French team (Ag2r La Mondiale) as well as three startup teams, with Cervélo, Sky, and GreenEdge. He said it’s been easy to settle into an established team like BMC Racing.

Now all he has to do is prove his worth and his spot on what will be a highly selective Tour de France roster, now reduced to eight riders for 2018.

As for the future, Gerrans isn’t looking too far into the crystal ball.

“I am 37, and I am taking it year by year. We’ll see how this year unfolds before making any decisions about my future,” he said. “I’m real excited about trying to help Richie win the Tour.”

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Ulissi lawyer: ‘Froome could risk a longer ban’ Tue, 26 Dec 2017 16:06:16 +0000 Diego Ulissi's lawyer noted there are key differences between Ulissi's and Chris Froome's cases, that could have an impact on the final

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Chris Froome could be risking a longer ban as he tries to clear his name in his unfolding Salbutamol case.

That’s according to Rocco Taminelli, a Swiss sports lawyer who represented Diego Ulissi in 2014.

“What he is trying to do is very risky,” Taminelli told VeloNews. “They will try to argue that he did not take more than was allowed. Now he has to prove it, and that is the hard part. If you fail to prove it, you could get two years.”

(See full interview below)

Many have been drawing comparisons from Froome’s Salbutamol case to what happened to Ulissi after testing for high Salbutamol levels in the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

Taminelli, who has worked on many high-profile cases and also served on the UCI’s disciplinary committee, said while there are many similarities between the two cases, there are some key differences that could have a major impact on the final outcome.

Like Froome, the Italian tested for similarly high levels of the asthma treatment. In September, Froome returned levels double the allowed amount at 2,000 ng/ml, while Ulissi was slightly below that at 1,920 ng/ml.

Ulissi underwent pharmacokinetic testing to try to demonstrate how his body reacted to doses of Salbutamol, a procedure that is expected to be vital to Froome’s defense.

Taminelli pointed out there is an important distinction between Ulissi and Froome, at least in terms of how he sees the rough sketch of Froome’s defense. Ulissi ultimately admitted to negligence without the intention to enhance his performance, and eventually received a reduced, nine-month ban.

The stakes are much higher for Froome, and so far it appears his defense team appears to be taking a different approach than Ulissi.

“Ulissi was negligent, but he did not want to cheat,” Taminelli said. “He could explain why he took the Salbutamol for health reasons, and so he only got nine months.

“Froome is trying another approach. They are trying to say that he took the allowed amounts, but that his body did not expel it,” Taminelli explained. “The risk is higher, of course. If he fails he can get two years, and lose the Vuelta or the world championship bronze medal.”

That implies that it could be an all-or-nothing approach for Froome. The Sky captain could be entirely cleared, or he could face disqualification and an even steeper ban that Ulissi and others have received for high levels of Salbutamol in recent cases.

Froome faces a possible two-year ban and disqualification of his Vuelta victory and a world time trial bronze medal after returning an “adverse analytical finding” for high levels of Salbutamol in a test taken after stage 18 at the Spanish grand tour. Because it is classified as a “threshold” product, and not a banned substance, Froome is not facing an immediate provisionary ban.

Froome’s case is still at the investigative stage, and according to WADA rules, he has a chance to explain his high levels of Salbutamol to the UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation.

Froome has hired Mike Morgan, considered by many as one of the top sport lawyers in the world. Morgan helped Lizzie Deignan avoid a racing ban over whereabouts controls, and helped defend Alberto Contador and Johan Bruyneel in their respective cases. It remains to be seen how long the case will play out, and Sky have given away few details. Publicly, Froome said he is still planning to race the Giro and Tour in 2018.

Ulissi’s case was settled in less than one year, and the Italian ended up racing the 2015 Giro.

“In our case, WADA and UCI wanted a longer ban, but they did not appeal it,” Taminelli said. “That is the risk with Froome. If he cannot prove it at [CADF], it is a risk he can get a ban. After that, if you don’t agree, then you can go to CAS. Then it can be a pretty long process.”

Here are excerpts from a telephone interview with Taminelli:

VeloNews: What is your first take on the Froome case?
Rocco Taminelli: The Froome case is a little bit different, because he is saying he did not ingest more that what is permitted. He is saying that he took what is permitted, and that his body did not ‘digest’ it in the right way. [Controls] found a value that was much too high. They will try to argue that it was due to natural causes.

VN: How is the Froome case different than what Ulissi faced in 2014?
RT: We had similar values, but we knew it was impossible to argue the case that way. The value can be very different based on different circumstances. We tried to make [lab] analysis, but found it was impossible to re-create the levels. The volume of in-take was correct, but we had particular circumstances. Ulissi was in a bad health situation, and he took too much Salbutamol. He was negligent, but he did not want to cheat. He could explain why he took the Salbutamol for health reasons, and so he only got nine months. In the end, he could race the Giro the next year because the sanction ended 20 days before the [2015] Giro. He won a stage [stage 7]. As a lawyer, I was happy with how it turned out.

VN: So how do you see the Froome case playing out?
RT: Froome is trying another approach. They are trying to say that he took the allowed amounts, but that his body did not expel it. Now he must explain it, and that is the difficult part of the case. The variation of the substance in the body can be very high, depending on the circumstances — you can be dehydrated, you don’t have enough liquid, and other reasons. Now he has to prove it, and that is the hard part. If you fail to prove it, you could get two years [ban]. What he is trying to do is very risky. He has one of the best lawyers for doping cases [Mike Morgan]. He is one of the best in the world.

VN: So by going that way, he could face a higher ban than we’ve seen in other recent Salbutamol cases?
RT: Yes, because he is not trying to say he took too much. He cannot switch his story after that. If he says he took the correct doses, and then it turns out that he did not, then the anti-doping commission might consider that he was cheating. OK, if you say you took more because of a problem, but you cannot later change your story. The risk is higher, of course, if he fails he can get two years, and lose the Vuelta or the world championship bronze medal.

VN: So in the Ulissi case, you tried to use the pharmacokinetic testing to re-create the levels?
RT: We did the test, and we knew that Diego took too much [Salbutamol]. He did not take it to cheat. He took it to treat his asthma. At the tribunal, he admitted to some wrongdoing. It was with the Swiss anti-doping commission, and since he lived in Switzerland, and raced with a Swiss license. The UCI and WADA were parties, but they did not appeal the decision. The procedural rules were different at the time of the Ulissi case.

VN: How much Salbutamol did Ulissi take?
RT: I do not remember how many puffs. It was more than allowed, and he had a problem expelling it. We did the testing there, and the result was different than what he took. He did not take more, but the result was something more.

VN: And the values that Ulissi had are very similar to what Froome produced during the Vuelta, but how are the cases different?
RT: They look exactly the same. Froome has 2,000, and Ulissi was just above 1,900. It looks like the same case, but they are going to argue it differently. With Ulissi, we had the same values, and we thought it would be pretty hard to prove. We did not have the analysis to back us up, so we did not try to make that argument. We just said, OK, Ulissi has a problem with asthma, like many in the peloton.

VN: How long do you expect the process to play out?
RT: In our case, WADA and UCI wanted a longer ban, but they did not appeal it. That is the risk with Froome. If he cannot prove it at the tribunal, it is a risk he can get a ban. After that, if you don’t agree, then you can go to CAS. Then it can be a pretty long process.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Froome is rider of the year Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:46:35 +0000 At face value, Froome's Tour-Vuelta double earns him cyclist of the year award, but time will tell with his pending Salbutamol scandal.

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Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine. After some deliberation, we named Chris Froome our Rider of the Year, due to his dominating wins at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, a feat no rider had achieved since 1978. Several weeks after our issue hit newsstands, Froome’s adverse analytical finding from an anti-doping test at the Vuelta came to light. Since then journalists, fans, and pundits have wrestled with how to properly view Froome’s historic 2017 campaign. Does the adverse analytical negate his achievement? Should the sport wait for the UCI’s decision before passing judgment? In lieu of any official ruling by the sport’s governing body, we decided to proceed with publishing our award. Time will tell whether the history books (and our Rider of the Year) will need to be rewritten. 

Rider of the year: Chris Froome

For many cycling fans, it’s hard to like Chris Froome. Any online cycling forum will showcase this anti-Froome vitriol. For whatever reason, the four-time Tour de France champion doesn’t engender the same fervent adulation as Alberto Contador and his crowd-pleasing attacks, or Bradley Wiggins and his old-world eccentricities.

Froome is a superstar without a following.

Many fans complain that the Team Sky captain’s dominance is boring, predictable, and even unfair. His gangly, spastic pedaling style is hard on the eyes in a sport where aesthetic and style are just as important as results. His programmatic racing style and schoolboy personality don’t evoke much sympathy. He’s no Badger or Pistolero. Discreet and efficient, Froome simply smothers the competition, and leaves it at that.

And during two grand tours this season, coming at the sharp end of Team Sky’s ruthlessly metronomic proficiency, he patiently nipped away at the competition. In 2017 Froome was at the peak of his powers, and he delivered cycling’s first back-to-back grand tour victory run since 1998. That’s why, despite the ambivalence among some cycling fans, we unequivocally named Froome our 2017 VeloNews rider of the year.

“Froome deserves a lot of credit for racing and winning the Vuelta after the Tour,” says Vuelta race director Javier Guillén. “How easy would it have been for him to stay home? For me, he is one of the great champions.”

Guillén’s ebullience is understandable. The Vuelta has been riding a wave of popularity, thanks in large part to the fact that Froome and many other top GC riders have put it firmly on their respective radars.

The relatively ambivalent, and even negative reaction, among some fans comes in sharp contrast to the opinion of riders within his team and many others in the peloton.

Rivals shake their head in admiration at his consistency and determination, while teammates laud his work ethic and drive to win. You never hear about Froome chewing out a teammate or taking Armstrong-like revenge on rivals. Froome is the politically correct, measured champion of the post-modern era.

“No one sees Froomey inside the team bus,” says Sky sport director Nicolas Portal. “He is always laughing and making the other guys feel relaxed. He is very thankful for their work. Chris is the ultimate professional.”

All that seems lost on Froome’s detractors. The respect he garners inside the bunch is often at odds with the sometimes-visceral reaction (or utter indifference) of fans to an athlete who is one of the most successful grand tour riders in cycling history.

And if Froome’s enigmatic personality isn’t enough, Team Sky’s assembly-line style of racing leaves many feeling empty. Where’s the panache? The raw emotion? Everything seems too planned and too robotic for a sport built on drama, emotion, and passion.

And, finally, some simply do not believe his performances. The idea that a clean rider could dominate the hardest and most important race of the year, then win another grand tour less than two months later, is as alien as, well, extraterrestrials landing on the Champs-Élysées.

While there is evidence that the peloton is more credible than ever, old habits die hard. Just this season, the 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez tested positive for human growth hormone, just one case among nearly a dozen doping positives and violations in 2017. The biological passport, enhanced controls, and cultural and generational shifts all seem to suggest cycling has turned the page. But there’s a lingering suspicion, coupled with whispers of the use of concealed motors, that still tarnish cycling, and have some people believing the sport still operates by the same old, dirty playbook.

Chris Froome
Chris Froome and Team Sky were flawless in Tour de France stage 18. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Unfortunately for Froome, his successes come at a time when professional cycling is struggling for credibility in the post-Armstrong era. Fans simply have a hard time believing what they’re watching on television. Team Sky’s own foibles, including the issue of Wiggins’ TUEs and the mysterious “Jiffy” bag, certainly haven’t helped. Many openly scoff at the idea of marginal gains. Though Froome remains untouched by the festering scandal, his accomplishments often get short shrift when seen through that suspicious lens.

Oddly, even Froome’s politeness and discretion seem to rub some fans the wrong way. It’s rare to see Froome ruffled, and he steers clear of polemics as if he’s avoiding a pothole in the road. With his private-school manners and Boy Scout work ethic, Froome gets the job done without much fanfare. And it seems to drive many fans crazy.

Everyone likes to cheer for the underdog, and after six years of Team Sky’s domination, just about everyone else in the peloton falls into that category.

It’s only when the bike race begins that Froome’s drive and ambition shine through. And it’s those qualities that let him win races.

“When Chris gets on the bike, he’s a real animal,” says Sky teammate Geraint Thomas. “I’ve never raced with anyone who wants to win more than Froomey. No one can suffer like he can.”

No moment better reveals his spirit than the closing stage of the 2017 Vuelta. Rather than sit up in the final sprint, he dashed to 11th place in Madrid. Why? A top-15 helped him secure a rare, once-in-a-lifetime points jersey. How did social media react? Most people on Twitter complained about how greedy he had been. Froome just can’t seem to win.

As a rider whose national affiliation is so convoluted — he was born in Kenya, schooled in South Africa, races with a British license, and lives in Monaco — Froome doesn’t have a national fan base from which to draw upon. While the Spanish will loyally defend Contador, and the Brits will always love Wiggins, Froome is a man without a base. Like a modern mercenary, his loyalties lie solely with his team.

Like him or not, Froome had an incredible 2017 racing season. On a Tour de France course that was designed to limit his advantages, he meticulously secured yet another yellow jersey, making it four wins in five years. What he did next — win the Vuelta a España after finishing second three times — pushed Froome into another league.

As always, the victorious Froome was modest, saying, “It’s not for me to say where my place is in history. Obviously, this victory and achieving the double is something overwhelming.”

A bronze medal in the world time trial championship in Bergen capped off his season.

With Contador’s retirement, Froome is now first among active riders, with five grand tour victories. He joins Italians Gino Bartali, Alfredo Binda, and Felice Gimondi, each who won five grand tours during their respective careers. He became only the 10th rider to win two grand tours in one season.

Froome deserves credit for his perseverance to chase, and ultimately secure, the double. His persistence in racing the Vuelta four out of five years after racing the Tour de France reveals more about his character than perhaps anything else.

Some fans think (or even hope) that Froome has peaked, and will soon be knocked off the top step of the podium. Could it be Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin, or Mikel Landa next? No one knows. Some want to believe that next year’s rule change, which sees grand tour team sizes reduced by one rider, might make a difference. That’s unlikely. (Unless Team Sky were the only one to lose a rider.)

Froome turns 33 in May, and he still has a few good years left in his career. His top aim is to join the Tour’s “five-win” club, and perhaps take on the Giro d’Italia to complete the grand tour sweep. He said at the beginning of 2017 he plans to race at the top level for “another five years.”

If that’s the case, Froome could be around well into the next decade. Maybe it’s time to accept Froome for what he is: a damned good bike racer.

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Speedy resolution: Prudhomme breaks silence on Froome case Fri, 22 Dec 2017 11:56:40 +0000 Tour director Christian Christian Prudhomme broke his silence on the Chris Froome Salbutamol matter on Friday.

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Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme wants a speedy conclusion to the ongoing investigation into Chris Froome and the Sky rider’s Salbutamol case.

“We hope that the situation is cleared up,” Prudhomme told France Info, “and that the investigation does not last months and months.”

Speaking for the first time since the Froome story broke, Prudhomme said race organizers hope for a quick conclusion to the case before the 2018 racing season begins. The last thing the Tour wants is the case dragging on into the grand tour racing season.

“We hope that the situation is cleared up, that we get out of the darkness and ambiguity,” Prudhomme said. “We hope an investigation does not last months and months, and we have an answer at the earliest in the season from the UCI.”

Tour officials are clearly interested in the fate of the four-time Tour winner Froome, who tested positive for high levels of Salbutamol en route to winning the 2017 Vuelta a España. Froome returned a urine sample after stage 18 with double the allowed limit of the asthma medication, and could face a ban and disqualification of the Vuelta title.

“Salbutamol is not a prohibited product, it’s the dose that matters,” he continued. “And that’s why there will be this battle of experts, even if it seems he, the dose found is twice the authorized dose.”

Froome has claimed he did not take more than the allowed doses, and has hired lawyers to make his case. There is no explicit time line, and many fear the case will drag on well into the 2018 racing season.

Prudhomme also cautioned that cycling could fall back into what he called a trap of “short-cuts” and the notion that “cycling equals doping.”

“It is our fight, and the UCI has been fighting for a long time,” Prudhomme said. “We must get out of the ambiguity, so he must have an answer and it must arrive as soon as possible, and that means before the Giro. Giro organizers are certainly more anxious than us.”

Froome is not provisionally banned, and recently wrapped up a training camp in Mallorca. He said he is still planning on racing the Giro and Tour in 2018.

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‘No stress’ Van Avermaet remains focused on Flanders quest Thu, 21 Dec 2017 15:41:23 +0000 Greg Van Avermaet's stardom has skyrocketed in recent years, but his humble character has stayed despite the success.

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DENIA, Spain (VN) — Being Belgium’s eternal second-place might have been a blessing in disguise for Greg Van Avermaet.

The BMC classics captain is now Belgium’s undisputed cycling superstar, but for years, Van Avermaet rode in the shadow of Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert. Even if the big wins were late in coming, it might not have been such a bad thing.

“I was not the biggest star at 25, so when you win Paris-Roubaix at 32, it’s easier to handle,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s cool to be one of the representatives of Belgium, but the attention is not as big as what Tom had to deal with.”

When Boonen rocketed to the world title in 2005 after winning the Flanders-Roubaix double, he was only 25 years old, and soon became tabloid fodder across Belgium. In contrast, Van Avermaet’s slow-cooker arrival to the top of the peloton allowed him the chance to mature and find his balance on his terms.

So when the major successes finally started coming, Van Avermaet never lost his cool.

“I am pretty calm and have my feet on the ground,” Van Avermaet said. “I was always hoping the big wins would come. I was grateful when they finally did.”

Van Avermaet’s biggest victories — the 2016 Olympic road race gold medal and the 2017 Roubaix — came after he had been knocking around the peloton for more than a decade. So meetings these days with prime ministers and kings don’t knock him off balance.

In fact, you would never know that Van Avermaet is one of cycling’s biggest stars. There’s no attitude. No over-sized ego trips. He’s as nice to the waitress working the coffee machine as he is to the King of Belgium.

“Greg is our leader for the classics, but he remains as humble as ever,” said BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz, who signed Van Avermaet in 2011. “We’ve believed in him for a long time. He’s been chasing those big wins for a long time, so he deserves them.”

Still buzzing from the Olympic glory, in 2017, Van Avermaet uncorked a Boonen-like run across the northern classics. Van Avermaet was unstoppable. He started off his spring campaign with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and nearly swept the northern classics, winning E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix. Only a crash at the Tour of Flanders, where he finished second to the solo-attacking and ex-teammate Gilbert, thwarted the clean sweep.

“I think I would have won the race if we had not crashed,” he said. “At the finish line you are disappointed. Racing isn’t going like you want, there’s crashing, flat tires, but that is part of the race. I was proud that was I was able to get up and still finish second.”

Van Avermaet carried that momentum into Roubaix, taking a win at a race that he never truly believed he was ever going to win. He even raced Liege-Bastogne-Liege — something he won’t repeat next year — finishing 11th.

What was the difference between always coming close, and winning? For Van Avermaet, the unexpected Olympic victory in Rio changed everything.

“It’s a question of confidence,” he said. “I don’t know if I am any stronger than I used to be, but before, you are always wanting it, wanting it, and you make mistakes. Before, I was too hungry to win. Now I am much more relaxed. If it comes to me, I take it. That’s a big difference.”

That’s the mindset of a winner. Van Avermaet doesn’t line up to the big races anymore thinking and hoping he can win. Now he knows he can, and he only wants more.

“Something would always go wrong,” he said. “I was not expecting this series of wins. It was such a special feeling. I was trying so long just to get on the podium, and then it was back to back to back wins.”

For 2018, Van Avermaet would love to hit the repeat button on his past season, with a few wrinkles. He’d like to perform better during the Tour de France and world championships. But he knows there is only one race he truly wants to win.

“I will always say Flanders is the most important,” he said. “It’s the race that fits me the best, and I’d like to win. If I am honest, my biggest dream is to win Flanders. I want to be good there.”

The Flanders quest continues. Van Avermaet vows to keep racing until he wins at least one Ronde.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Giro stage 16 is race of the year Wed, 20 Dec 2017 14:19:37 +0000 Tom Dumoulin keeps his cool despite untimely bathroom break to save his Giro d’Italia during the epic stage 16 over the Stelvio.

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Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Race of the year: Giro d’Italia, stage 16

There was no shortage of great bike races in 2017. Yet one day of racing stands above all others for its combination of intrigue, high stakes, difficulty, beauty, and one man’s poise under fire.

Tom Dumoulin nearly lost — but ultimately saved his chance to win — the Giro d’Italia during the epic, three-climb, 222-kilometer stage 16 over the Mortirolo, Passo dello Stelvio, and Umbrailpass, which was punctuated by his very public and inopportune call of nature. In the middle of the most important stage of his life, the Dutchman succumbed to a mildly embarrassing and potentially disastrous case of the … well, he “needed to take a dump,” as he said after the stage.

By stage 16, Dumoulin had already won two stages and boasted a firm grip on pink, leading by 2:41 over Nairo Quintana (Movistar). To have any chance of winning, the Colombian needed a repeat of the surprise attack he sprung on Chris Froome in the 2016 Vuelta a España stage to Formigal.

As many had predicted and as race organizers had hoped, the infamous Stelvio would produce the Giro’s decisive mountain battle.

We spoke with the lead protagonists for a deeper understanding of how the most exciting stage of the 2017 season unfolded.

Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek had no doubt what was on the line that morning in Rovetta, where stage 16 began: “We were a bit nervous about the stage. We were afraid that Tom would be attacked on the first climb up the Stelvio, so we had Laurens [Ten Dam] up the road. He really made the race for us that day.”

‘The situation was looking perfect for us’

Sunweb slotted road captain Ten Dam into the day’s breakaway; he would provide key help later in the stage. American Chad Haga paced Dumoulin up the Mortirolo, and everything seemed to be going to plan.

Haga: “There was no hint that Tom was in trouble, and he was super strong up the Mortirolo. I was leading the peloton over the top, and there was a kicker there, and I popped a little wheelie, ‘Wheeee!’ I finished the stage, and I had already cleaned up, showered, and was ready to have my massage before I even found out what had happened.”

Dumoulin safely negotiated the climb up the fearsome Stelvio from Bormio. There were a few dangerous riders up the road, but he was marking the aggression from his direct GC rivals. And then he felt an unexpected and unwelcome tinge in his stomach.

Dumoulin: “The legs were great, but I started to feel bad in the stomach on the descent off the Stelvio. It was a nervous moment.”

Visbeek: “The situation was looking perfect for us. As we came down the Stelvio, he came right up to the car and said to us, ‘I have a problem.’ I looked at him and he did not look well. ‘I have to make a nature call.’ I asked if he could get over the final climb [of the Umbrailpass]. He said that was not possible.”

Visbeek immediately realized the Giro could be lost. Movistar and Bahrain-Merida were pressing the action as the peloton approached the start of the final 13-kilometer climb. The situation was precarious.

Ten Dam: “I didn’t see him the whole stage, because I went away on the Mortirolo. And when I came back to him after the first Stelvio, he wasn’t the same Tom. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I need to shit.’ And I said, ‘Oh, shit!’ First, we tried to stop it, and then we had to get rid of it. It came on at a bad moment.”

Dumoulin: “It could have been a combination of the altitude, and eating more gels than normal. You cannot eat bars on climbs like that. It was a big fight with myself, to try to manage everything.”

‘Shit happens. What can you do?’

With about 32km to go, still several kilometers short of the start of the hardest part of the Umbrailpass, Dumoulin swerved violently off the right side of the road. It quickly became clear that he had a serious problem.

BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri, driving in the first team car to support Tejay van Garderen, witnessed the entire thing: “I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have stopped further up on the climb. The group always accelerates to hit the base of a climb, so in that valley the race was full-on. He probably lost a bit more time by stopping where he did.”

Visbeek: “The same thing had happened to Caleb Ewan a few days earlier, so when the Orica-Scott car drove by, they gave us some extra rolls of toilet paper.”

Dumoulin did the best he could under the circumstances. He returned to his bike as quickly as possible, and was soon chasing through the team cars with Ten Dam leading the way.

Sciandri: “Every team packs toilet paper, wipes, and some spare clothes. They handled it in their own way. I saw him coming through the team cars. He wasn’t panicking. Shit happens, what can you do?”

Nairo Quintana: “I didn’t attack Dumoulin when he was in difficulty. I was respectful of the maglia rosa, but the other teams wanted to make their own race. They were not trying to profit from his misfortune, but simply looking to take advantage of the opportunity of the stage.”

‘The race was on’

There was confusion in the bunch. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) attacked and Movistar slowed a bit, but the race was on as the small GC group hit the Umbrailpass. LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk, still an outside GC threat, was up the road as part of the day’s main breakaway, along with Sky’s Mikel Landa and Movistar’s Andrey Amador. Vincenzo Nibali, who had circled this date on his calendar, wasn’t going to miss his chance. While online pundits immediately opened the debate of whether they should wait or race, there was no such hesitation within the peloton.

Nibali: “It was a confusing situation. The race was unfolding. The other teams were pushing the pace. There were attackers up the road. When I crash or I puncture, I just get back on the bike again, and keep racing. I never expect anyone to stop for me.”

Dumoulin: “The race was on. Kruijswijk was attacking, so I cannot expect them to wait, and give him three minutes. I don’t know what happened in the front. I was trying to get moving again as fast as possible.”

Ten Dam: “Once he got rid of ‘it,’ he really had good legs. He was yelling, ‘Go faster! Faster!’ I was tired from jumping on the Mortirolo and over the first pass of the Stelvio so I could not help him as much as I wanted to.”

Visbeek: “For a few moments you think you’re in a very bad movie. Tom could have lost everything right there. We said to him, ‘You still have the time advantage. Just ride your race.’ It turned into a time trial for him.”

‘He kept his cool’

Tom Dumoulin
Tom Dumoulin rode alone on stage 16, fighting to save his Giro d’Italia lead after an untimely bathroom break. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Now alone, Dumoulin raced to limit his losses as his GC rivals pressed the pace. With Landa distancing the other early attackers, Nibali attacked and brought Quintana with him. Dumoulin’s pink jersey hopes were quickly unraveling.

Dumoulin: “I just had to fight, fight, fight all the way to the line, and then take the conclusions there. I was very disappointed. I was thinking, ‘Now I will lose the Giro for taking a dump!’”

Visbeek: “Everyone thinks Tom could have lost the Giro there, but this is where Tom won the Giro. It was a moment when he could have panicked or when he mentally breaks. Tom never did that. He kept his cool in a very complicated situation. He stayed focused. The only time he lost was when he stopped. He was just as strong as those guys up the [Umbrailpass].”

Nibali outsprinted Landa for the stage win and Quintana crossed the line 13 seconds back. Dumoulin finished 2:18 back. His lead to Quintana was trimmed to 31 seconds — but he still had the pink jersey.

Dumoulin: “I knew I could have stayed with Nibali and Quintana on the final climb. I still had the final time trial, but instead of nearly three minutes’ lead, I only had 31 seconds. That day made the rest of the Giro a very different race.”

‘He was still the best guy in the race’

At the finish line, an angry and disappointed (and soiled) Dumoulin didn’t want to talk to the press. Veteran Sunweb press officer Bennie Ceulen convinced him to clean up and answer a few questions. Dumoulin couldn’t hold back his disappointment.

Visbeek: “To be honest, we didn’t talk too much about the incident. We focused on making sure Tom was feeling okay. The guys were disappointed, but we talked to the veterans on the team — Ten Dam and Simon Geschke — and said to them, ‘Tom rode up the climb as fast as Nibali and Quintana.’ It might have been a silly way to lose time, but he’s strong enough to win the Giro.”

Haga: “Tom was pretty dejected after his GC lead took a huge blow, but that’s when Laurens really stepped up as team captain and said, ‘Hey man, you stopped, you did your business, and you still kept the leader’s jersey.’ He put it back in Tom’s head that he was still the best guy in the race.”

For Dumoulin, the character he showed on the Stelvio carried him through the final week. Seven days later in Milano, he secured the pink jersey in the final-stage time trial. Dumoulin became the first Dutchman to win a grand tour since 1980, and the first to win the Giro. A happy and relieved Dumoulin could even make light of the unplanned rest stop.

Dumoulin: “I will go down in the history books for winning the Giro after shitting in the woods. It’s quite amazing.”

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Grand tours in holding pattern but Froome vows to keep racing Mon, 18 Dec 2017 21:14:17 +0000 Grand tour organizers are taking a "wait-and-see" approach to the Chris Froome imbroglio over his Vuelta anti-doping test results.

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Race organizers are holding their breaths as they wait to see how Chris Froome’s asthma imbroglio plays out.

Froome the most successful grand tour rider of his generation. He is on the peloton’s best-funded team. There’s a lot on the line for the grand tours. Will Froome race the Giro d’Italia? Will he lose his 2017 Vuelta a España win? And will he be able to try to equal the five-win record at the Tour de France?

Publicly, organizers of the major grand tours are taking an official “wait and see” position, but one insider said officials are livid that they were kept in the dark about Froome’s run-in with anti-doping authorities over elevated levels of Salbutamol.

Froome and Team Sky were advised of his adverse analytical finding on September 20, yet news did not break until last week when The Guardian and Le Monde were tipped off by sources. During that interval, Froome made a very public announcement that he would attempt to win the Giro d’Italia in May before taking on a record fifth Tour de France.

Those plans are now on hold as the lawyers and lab technicians work feverishly behind the scenes to try to absolve Froome of a possible ban and disqualification of his 2017 Vuelta crown, or both.

Giro boss Mauro Vegni is less than pleased with the situation. The Italian has been trying for years to attract Froome to the Giro, and when he finally does, this happens.

“Maybe we are unlucky,” Vegni told Tutto Bici. “As soon as we announce it with great fanfare that Froome will race the Giro next year, then — boom! — the roof falls in.”

So far, Tour organizers are mum. ASO officials did not reply to an email from VeloNews. Last week, Vuelta officials chimed in, saying their position is “extreme caution” and they hope the case is “resolved as quickly as possible.”

There’s worry across the cycling community that the “Froome Affaire” will drag on for months. In an interview with VeloNews, one legal expert said the case is still in the exploratory phase. It could end there if Froome can convince officials via lab tests, or it could enter a disciplinary phase, which would certainly take months.

As of now, Froome is free to race. He’s been training with his Team Sky teammates on Spain’s Mallorca, with the full intention of racing next season.

So far, Team Sky has given away few details of how it will try to handle Froome case. Under UCI rules, Froome will have a chance to defend his spiked levels of Salbutamol, double the allowed limit in a urine control taken after stage 18 at the Vuelta.

Based on the fact that the adverse analytical finding was only released following a leak last week, it is apparent that Team Sky was hoping to resolve the situation without it ever becoming public knowledge.

According to experts interviewed by VeloNews, Froome will undergo controls in a laboratory to try to demonstrate that he did not take more than the allowed doses of Salbutamol. How far along Team Sky is in trying to absolve Froome remains under wraps. Team Sky did hire a high-profile lawyer to help handle the case.

Froome, however, continues to insist he will undergo his planned double attempt at the Giro and Tour.

Speaking Sunday evening to BBC for the “Sportsman of the Year” award (which he did not win) Froome said defiantly he is still preparing to race in 2018.

“We’re currently on a training camp, before getting stuck into preparing for next year’s Giro d’Italia — my first goal — before my biggest challenge, winning the Tour de France for the fifth time,” Froome said in a live feed.

If there is a cloud of a possible suspension and ban hanging over Froome, the last thing the grand tours will want is to see the Sky captain in their races.

The Giro start is still more than four months away, and the Tour more than seven, but none of the major race organizers will be keen to see a repeat of the fiasco of what happened with Alberto Contador in 2010 and 2011. Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol in 2010 and was banned by the Spanish cycling federation, but the Spaniard appealed his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. During his appeals process, Contador kept racing. He won the 2011 Giro and finished fifth in the Tour, and his case wasn’t decided until February 2012. Officials later disqualified his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro victories as well as other subsequent results.

“I believe that the Contador case was a unique affair, one that cannot be repeated,” Vegni told Tutto Bici. “Cycling cannot afford another situation like that. If a racer can compete, he should be able to do it with full confidence, to win or lose with certainty. I also believe the UCI must assume its responsibility.”

There’s been a lot of confusion swirling around the Froome case. Any doping case can be laden with legalese and fine-print minutiae, and Froome’s latest imbroglio is no exception. Many did not understand why Froome was not provisionally banned after giving an “adverse analytical finding” in both A and B samples.

On Monday, the UCI released an expanded explanation trying to parse the confusing language deep inside the WADA code.

On the heels of that news, the MPCC (Mouvement pour Cyclisme Crédible) issued a statement Monday pressing Team Sky to do just that. Sky did not respond and is not part of the advocacy trade teams group that features seven WorldTour teams.

Froome, meanwhile, said he understands the gravity of his situation, at least in terms of perception.

“Listen, I do completely get it — I understand the concerns,” Froome told BBC on Sunday. “I’ve been in this sport for 10 years, and I know how some people might look at our sport, and it’s a responsibility I do take seriously. I’ve had asthma since I was child … and I’ve never taken more puffs [of my inhaler] than I’m allowed. It’s a horrible situation if I’m honest, and we are trying to get to the bottom of this.”

Race officials are hoping that the Froome case will be resolved before the racing season begins, but that might be wishful thinking. So far, Team Sky shows no signs of sidelining its star. At least not right now.

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast:

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MPCC pressures Sky to suspend Froome Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:05:06 +0000 The Sky rider had higher-than-allowed amounts of Salbutamol in his system during the Vuelta a Espana.

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MPCC — the voluntary advocacy group promoting cycling ethics — is pressuring Team Sky to suspend Chris Froome until his asthma case plays out.

Team Sky is not among seven WorldTour teams that are part of the group, but that didn’t stop the MPCC board from pressing its case that the best thing for cycling is for Froome to temporarily step aside.

“[The] MPCC and its Board of Directors, without making any assumption towards the final decision, asks Team Sky to suspend its rider on a voluntary basis, until the end of the procedure,” an MPCC press release stated Monday. “This measure would allow the rider and its team to focus on their defense with serenity, but also to avoid tension among many managers and riders.”

The fact that Froome is still able to race — though it is worth pointing out there are no major races until next month — has rankled some within the cycling community.

WADA rules, however, state clearly that Froome is not facing a provisional ban for turning in a urine sample in September with double the allowed limit of Salbutamol. The drug is a threshold product — called a “specified substance” in WADA jargon — and does not trigger a provisional ban in the case of an “adverse analytical finding.”

Froome is currently in Mallorca for a Team Sky pre-season training camp, and shows no signs of stepping aside as his case plays out. Froome denies culpability, and said he did not take more than allowed doses of Salbutamol, a product that is allowed under WADA rules in spray form but under strict quantity limits.

The MPCC — Movement Pour Cyclisme Credible — was created in 2007. Twenty Pro Continental team, nine Continental teams, and six women’s teams are members.

As of now, only seven WorldTour teams participate: Ag2r-La Mondiale, Bora-Hansgrohe, Dimension Data, FDJ, Lotto-Soudal, Team Sunweb, and Education First-Drapac (Cannondale-Drapac).

MPCC members vow to follow a stricter ethical code than outlined by WADA and UCI rules, in part to engender confidence via transparency. One of those tenets is to voluntarily sideline riders if they run afoul with an anti-doping investigation.

Froome tested positive for elevated levels of Salbutamol in a routine anti-doping control on September 7. Froome and Team Sky were notified September 20. The story only broke via leaks last week.

The MPCC also requested a formal investigation into comments made by former Sky coach Shane Sutton in a BBC documentary suggesting that Team Sky’s use of TUEs (therapeutic-use exceptions) might have been for a competitive advantage.

“MPCC also requests that UCI opens an inquiry following Shane Sutton’s statements. The former Team Sky and UK’s national team’s coach admitted that some of the medicine requiring a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) might have been used to enhance performance,” the release said.

“Given the zero tolerance that everyone advocates and the necessity for transparency, MPCC renews its wish to see Team Sky and all the other teams, sponsors, organizers … to join MPCC on a voluntary basis. MPCC’s philosophy, alongside the UCI, can make a real difference in the fight against doping.”

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast:

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Lawyer on Froome case: ‘We are simply at the investigative stage’ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 14:46:45 +0000 Sports lawyer and anti-doping litigation expert Dr. Gregory Ioannidis helps us better understand the Froome case.

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Yesterday we spoke to an anti-doping expert on Salbutamol, and today we reached out to a legal expert on the ramifications we can expect from the ongoing Chris Froome case.

Dr. Gregory Ioannidis is a sports lawyer and anti-doping litigation expert who also lectures at the Sheffield Hallam University in England. He’s been on the frontline of many legal battles in anti-doping cases.

Froome’s case has raised eyebrows over the fact that he has not received a provisional ban despite returning an “adverse analytical finding.” According to WADA rules, in this instance, Froome is allowed an opportunity to make his case because Salbutamol is categorized as a “specified substance.” There are some procedural wrinkles that are different if an athlete is popped for an outright banned substance when a provisional ban is immediately imposed following a positive B-sample.

It’s worth reading this Twitter thread from Lukas Knöfler, who dug through pertinent documents related to Froome.

The takeaways: It’s important to remember that the “Froome file” is still in the investigative phase. There’s been no provisional ban, and no disciplinary action taken yet. And second, it remains to be seen if Froome will automatically be disqualified from the Vuelta a España victory despite his “adverse analytical finding” for a high presence of Salbutamol. And third, this might take a long while to play out.

Dr. Ioannidis was en route to, of all places, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but he agreed to answer the following questions via an email:

VeloNews: What was your first reaction, from a lawyer’s point of view, when you heard about the Froome situation?
Dr. Gregory Ioannidis: I have represented more than 100 athletes over the last few years on allegations of anti-doping rule violations, and I always keep an open mind. Every case is different and very fact- and evidence-specific, so people must not judge until all the evidence has been fully examined and evaluated and the athlete has given the opportunity to present his case.

VN: If you were going to defend Froome, what would a legal team want to do to demonstrate his ‘innocence’?
GI: There are several ways of defending an athlete and in relation to this specific substance. Out of professional courtesy towards the colleagues who represent the rider, I would not wish to enter into specifics.

VN: Why is the case in CADF, instead of going through a national governing body? (i.e., the British cycling federation) Have rules changed? Or is this a normal procedural step?
GI: CADF is an independent and non-profit organization with responsibilities of testing. We are not yet at the process of a disciplinary hearing where the national federation could be in charge. We are simply at the investigative stage.

VN: How much will the amount of Salbutamol found in Froome’s sample — double the threshold level — “complicate” the Froome defense? It is fair to assume that such a large difference will make a defense more challenging?
GI: To a certain extent it will and the use of expert witnesses here will be imperative.

VN: From your experience, do you see this going all the way to CAS?
GI: You cannot predict the outcome of a matter such as the present one and CAS is always a possibility.

VN: If Froome is cleared, would WADA or another agency have a right to appeal the case to CAS? And the same for Froome is he is not cleared?
GI: Yes, CAS is the final arbiter. The parties could also refer the matter to CAS directly, for adjudication, without the need for a national first-instance hearing.

VN: What are the criteria for an appeal challenge? Simply that one party does not agree with the ruling, or is there an underlying legal basis required as well?
GI: Unless the parties to the dispute decide to refer the matter directly to CAS, there has to be a decision that goes against one of the parties to the dispute. The Decision will form the legal basis of the appeal, as well as an arbitration agreement between the parties to refer the matter to CAS. If these pre-requisites are met, CAS will assume jurisdiction to hear the matter.

VN: Speaking of a timeframe, how long do you expect this to play out?
GI: It depends on how expedient the investigative bodies are and how soon the relevant governing body decides to charge the rider or not. In the interests of justice and fairness to the rider, charges, if any, need to be notified to the rider as soon as possible, particularly in light of this matter now becoming public.

VN: Is it correct to say that Froome is facing a possible ban, as well as a possible disqualification from the Vuelta?
GI: This would depend on the evidence against him. There is a positive result and because of strict liability, a potential ban is a possibility. Of course, the athlete would have the opportunity to state his case and show that he bears no fault or negligence or no significant fault or negligence, as per the relevant WADA rules.

VN: What are the maximum and minimum outlines concerning ban and/or DQ?
GI: If the prosecuting authority decides that the element of intention is not present, the maximum ban could be 24 months. The athlete will be given the opportunity to eliminate this or reduce it.

VN: Does an ‘adverse analytical finding’ automatically result in disqualification from the Vuelta, even if he does not see a racing ban?
GI: UCI rules, in line with WADA rules, include an automatic suspension, where there is an anti-doping rule violation. As far as I am concerned, Froome has not been suspended.

VN: Some have suggested that CADF and UCI officials are not playing fair with the Froome case; have you seen anything to support that argument of playing favorites?
GI: The issue of the provisional suspension is of interest and possibly one that raises questions.

VN: From your experience, what outcome do you see in this case?
GI: Unless there is evidence to support some kind of metabolism abnormality in the rider’s system and in the remotest of scenarios some sort of sabotage, a ban may be a possibility. However, it will all depend on the defense the athlete produces.

VN: From a broader point of view, how important is this case in larger the anti-doping effort? Do you see any wider implications?
GI: The role and the conduct of the relevant sporting governing bodies here are of immense importance. Not only do they have a responsibility to ensure the rights of innocent athletes are protected, but they also need to be seen to act accordingly.

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast:

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Anti-doping expert on Froome: ‘It doesn’t quite add up’ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:24:53 +0000 Anti-doping expert Dr. Tom Bassindale says it will be difficult for Froome and Sky to fully explain Salbutamol test at 2017 Vuelta.

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Chris Froome has catapulted Salbutamol straight into the headlines. After the Team Sky star tested for double the allowed threshold, many are asking what is Salbutamol, how it works, and why it’s so popular in the peloton.

To get some answers, VeloNews called up Dr. Tom Bassindale, an anti-doping expert and lecturer at the Biomolecular Sciences Research Center at the Sheffield Hallam University in England. A forensic toxicologist, he’s worked closely with failed doping tests due to contaminated supplements as well as Meldonium, a drug that made headlines in 2016. Bassindale is watching the Froome case with interest.

VN: What was your first reaction when you read about the Froome case?
Dr. Tom Bassindale: I was surprised that something as innocuous as Salbutamol would cause a positive test with Chris Froome. It’s an unlikely drug to take for performance-enhancing use. The evidence is quite mixed, and studies suggest toward it not being performance-enhancing. If you are an asthmatic, it only gets you back to ‘normal’ breathing, and there’s not a huge boost beyond that when taken as an inhaler.

VN: What about the other banned methods of taking Salbutamol?
DTB: You can also take Salbutamol via oral tablets, intravenously or a nebulizer [a kind of vapor mask], but those are going to be much more potent, and have a much larger effect. An inhaler goes directly to the lungs and relaxes the bronchial muscles to ease breathing. The other uses go into the whole system, including the blood system, and would have a larger effect.

VN: So what’s your take on the one-day spike and results of Froome’s test?
DTB: One assumes he was tested before and after throughout the Vuelta, and only this one day he had a spike in readings. That wouldn’t suggest long-term abuse. That day he said he had a significant increase in dosage with the spray, within the rules. They will try to explain it along those lines. There are also the less-innocent uses, and those are all banned. The not-so-innocent explanation would be the use of a tablet on top of his inhaler. There are the innocent explanations and the not-so-innocent. Now it’s up to them to make their explanation seem plausible.

VN: Explain how Salbutamol works in its spray form?
DTB: The spray will have an almost immediate effect. It opens up the bronchial tubes and relaxes the muscles that block the breathing. The puffers will only get you back to a ‘normal’ function. They cannot open the airways in any additional way. There is no extra benefit for anyone who might not be asthmatic. If an asthmatic took a few extra puffs, they might feel some mild stimulation. Like a jolt of caffeine. Beyond that, there are not much additional benefits to performance.

VN: And via the other methods, how does that affect an athlete?
DTB: With injections or tablets, you start getting some additional effects. You might see anabolic effects, such muscle-growing or fat-burning, similar to what Clenbuterol might do. That wouldn’t result from a couple of puffs. That would be a longer-term abuse with a higher level of it to get that anabolic effect, over weeks or even months.

VN: There have been some reports it can be used as a masking agent, are those true?
DTB: I have seen those reports, and I have not seen any scientific data to back that up. There might be some confusion because, on the banned list, Salbutamol appears in the masking agent section. If you were using Salbutamol with a diuretic, you would need a TUE for both those drugs.

VN: And how does dehydration affect the outcome of a test?
DTB: With thicker urine, and less water, any drug would appear in a higher concentration.

VN: Froome has said he hasn’t broken any rules — do you agree with that assessment?
DTB: He hasn’t broken any rules as of yet. His sample was reported as an ‘Adverse Analytical Finding,’ but it isn’t yet an ‘Anti-Doping Violation.’ Now he has to prove he hasn’t broken any rules. That’s a difficult situation. You cannot take more than eight puffs in 12 hours, or 16 puffs in 24 hours. The threshold is there as a marker that suggests someone might have taken more than that. If he can provide urine above that level based on the doses he said he used, now he’s got that chance. He’s playing it a bit cute with the wording because he’s obviously under investigation because of the adverse analytical finding. Now he has to provide that information.

VN: How does that work? Is it a question of providing documentation? Or undergoing lab tests?
DTB: He has the opportunity to go into a lab under a controlled test, take the amount they said they took on the day — only up to the maximum because if they took more, it would be a positive right there — and they would collect the urine over the course of the day and see what readings they got.

VN: How common is that? Is it because it was not an outright banned product, and rather a threshold product?
DTB: I don’t know of too many cases where this has come up. It’s all being done quietly without reporting. The way the anti-doping world works, something similar to this would have leaked out before. I believe it’s fairly uncommon. There’s no provisional ban in this situation. That’s why he was able to race the worlds when he knew he failed this test. The regulations allow him the opportunity to clear his name before they might suspend him. The big question is the dose and the high concentration of Salbutamol in his urine.

VN: If they’re going to provide evidence, will they try to recreate conditions from Vuelta? Go up on the side of a mountain, and undergo some hard efforts?
DTB: No, it would be lab-based. There is no direct regulation that they should try to re-create the conditions. And it wouldn’t be on a trainer, either. I suspect it would be a lab-controlled study. They administer the drug and collect the samples. There would be baseline samples before he came in and then re-create the doses. I can imagine they would try to demonstrate he was dehydrated, whether or not they can recreate that, I don’t know.

VN: There have been some comments, namely from Tony Martin and others, that the anti-doping foundation is playing favorites with Froome and Team Sky. Based on your experience, are those claims accurate?
DTB: It would be interesting to see whether the same opportunity has been afforded to other people, whether people have had a chance to prove their case before being provisionally suspended. They’ve reported the ‘Adverse Analytical Finding,’ and they’re giving him the benefit of the doubt. Of course, that’s not the same if they found a substance like cocaine, a product that shouldn’t be there at all. Then a ban would be immediate.

VN: What’s your guess, do you think a ban is likely?
DTB: It would depend on how much responsibility the athlete bears on the case, and how much he tried to avoid a doping violation. The athlete does have the ultimate responsibility. If he just says the doctor told me to do it, that’s not really going to help him. But if he could demonstrate that he researched it, that he knew the rules, that he tried to minimize the risk, so that might be looked upon in more favorable light.

VN: We’ve seen cases like this drag on months, if not years. What is your expectation based on what you’ve read so far?
DTB: It depends on how long it takes to get his information together if he’s going to fight the case. Sometimes it can take months to years to get a completed ruling in some of these cases. It all depends on if WADA later appeals the ban if they don’t think it’s hard enough, or if Froome thinks its too hard, he can appeal as well. It can go on for a while.

VN: There seems to be a prevalence of exercise-induced asthma among endurance athletes; is that an accurate reflection of reality?
DTB: There have been reports that it can be developed in endurance athletes because of the prolonged efforts. By breathing through the mouth, get more allergens and cold air into your lungs. It does appear in a much higher percentage, because of the extra exertion. There might be more people in this generation population, but it’s quite hidden because they’re not making the continuous hard efforts as athletes.

VN: From your experience, should Salbutamol be banned in spray form as well?
DTB: I think their approach of allowing it to be inhaled in formal doses is a good thing. For the inhaler, it doesn’t appear to give much boost for those who are not asthmatic. It’s a first line of defense of asthma, so it’s a good way to regulate it. It’s quite pragmatic.

VN: So what are your takeaway observations about this case?
DTB: It’s so difficult to say actually. It doesn’t quite add up that a few extra doses have caused it to go that high in the urine. The number of times he’s been tested, and a number of days he might have used is quite high, so for one to go above that threshold is odd. It’s quite a change from the normal pattern. It’s not impossible, but quite a difficult one to see how he can fully explain that away.

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast:

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Flanders organizer: Lance Armstrong is ‘very welcome’ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 10:42:03 +0000 Lance Armstrong will be an official guest of the Tour of Flanders in 2018, as well as a keynote speaker at an event for the race's new

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Lance Armstrong is set to make a high-profile return to Europe in 2018 with a speaking engagement with the biggest spring classic of them all: Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Officials confirmed Thursday the embattled former seven-time Tour de France winner will be an official guest of the race as well as the keynote speaker at the inaugural event of the “Tour of Flanders Business Academy,” a new effort backed by De Ronde promoter and Flanders Classics organizer Wouter Vanderhaute.

Armstrong, 46, remains a divisive and polarizing force within the cycling community, but Vanderhaute said it’s time to welcome back the combative Texan.

“I have felt for many years now that he was above all punished for his arrogance,” Vanderhaute said Thursday. “I met Lance Armstrong in Washington last October and found him to be a chastened man who has made peace with his fate. Of course, we in the cycling sport need to continue making every effort to combat doping, but we also need to come to terms with our past.”

Vanderhaute’s comments are sure to raise the ire of Armstrong detractors.

Since the USADA report in 2012, Armstrong has largely been persona non grata inside the cycling world. Efforts to return to competition in triathlon and even swimming have been thwarted due to his lifetime ban from competitive sport. He visited the Tour de France in 2015, as part of a charity ride tracing the route of that year’s race, but has largely stayed away from major European races.

His seven Tour victories remain blank spaces on the official Tour palmares, and many within cycling blame Armstrong for the sins of his generation. ASO, owners of the Tour and other events, have taken a cold view of Armstrong and his toxic legacy. Armstrong’s legal battle continue as well, with a possible fraud trial delayed until May.

Some of that sentiment appears to be thawing, at least in some quarters. Armstrong has returned to the public eye via his podcast, “Forward,” and last summer gained traction among cycling fans with his “Stages” takes on the Tour de France following each stage in 2017.

More details of the “Tour of Flanders Business Academy” are set to be revealed later Thursday, but Armstrong’s presence guarantees fireworks.

Last summer, efforts to create a media partnership with the Colorado Classic bike race were squashed when USADA raised concerns that an arrangement with race organizers might violate his ban from competitive cycling.

That doesn’t appear to be a worry for Vanderhaute, and the Belgian promotor insists the time is right to welcome back Armstrong.

“I think it’s good that we continue to honor champions like Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque, so why shouldn’t we welcome Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich back into our big cycling family as well?” Vanderhaute said. “To him, this will also be a return to cycling, and as far as I am concerned, he is very welcome.”

More details are set to be released via this link.

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