Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme is shying away from the nuclear option to bar Chris Froome (Sky) from racing next month, and instead is putting pressure on the UCI.
Despite having internal rules that could allow the Tour to prevent Froome from starting in the Tour, Prudhomme told Australian broadcaster SBS it’s up to the UCI to make a decision.
UCI president “David Lappartient has said on several occasions it is a decision that must be taken by the UCI,” Prudhomme told SBS. “It’s quite evident this is what we need.”
Pressure continues to mount as Froome’s anti-doping case drags on without resolution barely a month before the start of cycling’s most important stage race.
Many insist that the four-time Tour winner should not be allowed to start the 105th edition on July 7 due to the unsavory image it would project for the sport if a potential winner has a possible ban hanging over his head.
Prudhomme echoed growing exasperation that Froome’s case shows no sign of resolution. Froome returned an adverse analytical finding for high levels of salbutamol en route to winning the 2017 Vuelta a España last September. The case was leaked to the media in December.
Without any specific rules outlining a timeframe for resolution, Prudhomme can only watch in growing desperation at the perceived slowness of the case.
“How it is that this happened in September, and nine months later, before the biggest race in the world, we don’t have an answer? We need progress on this issue,” Prudhomme told SBS. “All I can say right now, we have three weeks or maybe a month, and we need more light shed on this matter.”
Many are pressing authorities to force Froome to stand down as his case plays out, but officials are finding they have little wiggle room when it comes to Froome’s case.
WADA rules do not call for a provisional ban for “specified” substances such as salbutamol. Froome counters that he is innocent and so far has exercised his right to race as high-profile sports lawyers prepare his case behind closed doors.
Froome’s come-from-behind victory at the Giro d’Italia last month has only seemed to pump up the volume on the urgency to resolve his case before the Tour starts in France’s Vendée region.
Lappartient has repeatedly called for Froome to wait on the sidelines as lawyers work on what he described as a challenging case.
In an interview last week with a French newspaper, Lappartient called Froome’s case the “most complex” the UCI has ever faced. Yet he reiterated Froome’s ability to race, saying, “We respect his right.”
“My wish has always been that it would be judged before the Giro d’Italia — and that couldn’t happen,” Lappartient told Le Parisien. “Now, I would like it to be settled before the Tour de France. Well, you have to be realistic. I think that won’t happen.”
The UCI, however, has stopped short of officially forcing Froome to stop racing. UCI rules could allow Lappartient to sideline Froome, but cycling’s governing body has never invoked those powers in earlier cases similar to Froome’s. The risk of further arbitration would also be very likely if the UCI tried to force its hand.
The Tour de France organization also has rules that allow it to prevent riders from competing in its events. ASO used such powers to keep Astana from racing the 2008 Tour, but a similar bid to stop Tom Boonen from racing in 2009 after the Belgian tested positive for cocaine in non-competition controls was shot down by a French civil court just hours before the start of the race. Boonen was allowed to race, and ASO has been hesitant to try to stop riders ever since.
Prudhomme told SBS it’s up to the UCI to make a decision on Froome, not the race organizers.
“All I say is that we need an answer, or at least some light shed on this matter,” he said. “Because without clarity, it’s quite evident that everyone will lose.”
Prudhomme contrasted cycling to soccer’s World Cup, which is run and organized by FIFA, or the Olympics, which is governed by the IOC. The Tour de France, Prudhomme pointed out, is only the organizer of the race, but it does not make the rules for the sport.
“They make the rules and put on the event,” he said of FIFA and the IOC. “We are very different. We must obey the rules. To the contrary, we want answers and that’s clearly what we want.”