Tour de France
Chris Froome racing the Giro d'Italia. Photo: Tim...

So who leaked Froome’s case?

Now that Chris Froome’s controversial Salbutamol case has been closed, the big question now making the rounds is who leaked it?

FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France (VN) — Now that Chris Froome’s controversial Salbutamol case has been closed, the big question now making the rounds is who leaked it?

Under the WADA code, Froome’s case should have remained confidential, but an anonymous source tipped off British and French newspapers in December. Those media outlets are protecting their source, but that hasn’t stopped speculation of where the leak came from.

Speaking to journalists before the start of Saturday’s first stage, UCI president David Lappartient denied it was from within the international cycling governing body.

“If I apologize, it is because the leak is coming from the UCI, and that is not the case,” Lappartient said when asked if the UCI should apologize to Froome. “I will not apologize for something that is not the fault of the UCI.”

The Froome case continues to reverberate across the peloton just as cycling’s biggest event started with Saturday’s first stage. The UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency have come under the microscope after agreeing to drop allegations against Froome. The case has also left Froome’s reputation in tatters and raised questions about the larger reliability of the anti-doping system.

Yet without the leak, however, the larger public would have never found out about it.

WADA rules say that in cases similar to Froome’s involving a threshold limit for allowed substances are reviewed in confidentiality. The so-called “specified” substances allow a rider to offer a reasonable explanation with a chance of being cleared without further anti-doping proceedings. That’s what happened this week when WADA and UCI both signed off on the case.

The December leak changed all that and threw the nuanced and sometimes convoluted case into the public eye.

“The first thing to understand is that this was never a case,” said EF-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters. “It was a process in determining whether to bring a case or not. 99.9% of the time that’s happening behind closed doors.

“That’s all that happened except that normally happens behind closed doors and in complete privacy,” Vaughters continued. “Except, in this case, it was public, which is really unfortunate. And whoever leaked it, maybe somebody inside the UCI leaked it, it’s just sort of nasty vindictive behavior to do that because it doesn’t allow the system to work the way it should.”

So the question begs of where the leak might have come from, and what might have been the leaker’s motivation.

The leak could have come from a variety of sources. In Froome’s case, more than a half-dozen of individuals and institutions were notified after he tested for high levels of Salbutamol last September.

Along with the UCI, others receiving notification would include at least WADA, the athlete and their team (in this case, Froome and Team Sky), and the rider’s cycling federation. Other entities and individuals might have also been on the contact list for the initial report.

“When you have to notify the rider, you have to notify so many people. I don’t know from where it could be coming from,” Lappartient said. “I can be sure it is not coming from the UCI. I am sure about this. I have a clear idea of from where it’s coming from, but I will not be telling you.”

There are plenty of rumors flying around of who it might be and the motivation behind the leak. That ranges from disgruntled former employees to a whistle-blower trying to make a statement.

The fallout of the leak has certainly dramatic. There is growing pressure to review the validity of WADA’s Salbutamol rules. And the case also led to questions about the overall integrity of the anti-doping movement.

Lappartient said there will be a “before and after” in the wake of Froome’s controversial case.

“There is a before and after around the Froome case about the issue of [salbutamol],” Lappartient said Saturday. “There must be a stronger procedure and I know that WADA will discuss this in the next executive board. When the expert from WADA says there has been some mistake in this, you have to make some decisions on this.”

And the case wasn’t cheap even if it was closed without moving forward. There are no details about how much Froome might have lavished on his defense, but Lappartient said the UCI spent about $250,000 on legal costs preparing the Froome case.

Despite the drama over the past several months leading to the final ruling this week, the Tour started Saturday with many questions still hanging over the Froome case. Froome’s legal team produced enough evidence to convince WADA and the UCI to close the case, but many are yearning for more information.

The UCI revealed several key data points this week on the Froome case, but Lappartient said the full, 35-page final dossier file will not be publicly released.

“We went as far as possible as it was allowed,” Lappartient said. “The UCI is not allowed to release this document. It is up only to the rider. And some of this information [in the final report] can be used by people who might want to cheat.”

Even if he’s been cleared, Froome’s reputation may never recover. Froome started Saturday expecting a rough reception from French fans, but there were no cheers when he lined up for stage one.

Team Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said it also has its own ideas of where the leak might have come from.

“We would like to know as well,” Portal said Saturday. “We have a few ideas of who it might be. We would really like to know because it was not fair, was it?”