If the Chris Froome case isn’t already exasperating and puzzling enough, it could get even weirder.
Here’s a twist: What would happen if the Froome decision is handed down in the middle of the 2018 Giro d’Italia?
According to at least one leading legal expert queried by VeloNews, Froome could be forced to withdraw from the race if a ruling came down against him.
The expert quickly added that is “highly unlikely,” but said if a ban was handed down during the Giro — which runs from May 4-27 — Froome would almost certainly have to withdraw from the race. [related title=”More on Chris Froome” align=”left” tag=”Chris-Froome”]
According to the expert, the only way Froome would be allowed to continue racing would be to make an emergency appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport asking for a stay on any sanction.
In other words, the Froome Salbutamol case might take a few more unexpected turns.
As it stands now, Froome has the green light to race the Giro. On Tuesday, Giro organizers released a preliminary start list that included Froome among the eight starters for Team Sky.
The Sky captain is poised to race the Giro despite the looming threat of a racing ban and disqualification hanging over his head for high levels of Salbutamol dating back to the adverse analytical finding at last year’s Vuelta a España.
Froome, 32, has insisted he’s done nothing wrong despite testing for double the allowed threshold of the asthma treatment en route to winning the 2017 Vuelta. Rules allow him to continue racing during the legal review, and he debuted his season at the Ruta del Sol in February. Froome, who also raced at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps, is fighting to clear his name with the hopes of avoiding a ban and a Vuelta disqualification.
Under WADA rules, the case was meant to remain confidential because Salbutamol is classified as a “specified substance” and does not trigger an automatic ban. A media leak in December threw the case into the public eye.
According to UCI president David Lappartient, the case is now in the hands of the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal, an important step in the review process.
There’s been speculation of when the panel will deliver its verdict on the Froome case. Officials now are hinting it will be resolved before the start of the Tour de France in July, suggesting a decision could come in June.
Of course, no one has any idea of when a decision will be made. Without a ruling, the WADA code indicates Froome is free to race the Giro even if it’s driving race organizers crazy.
If the decision is handed down during the Giro, the race could be thrown into turmoil.
Over the winter, after the case burst into the public eye, Giro race director Mauro Vegni insisted that the UCI “guarantee” a Froome result if he is allowed to race the Giro. Vegni is loath to see a repeat of the 2011 Giro, when Alberto Contador won that year’s edition and was later stripped of the title as part of a back-dated, two-year ban for Clenbuterol.
There are important differences between the Contador and Froome cases, however. The UCI’s anti-doping procedures have been restructured since the Contador case. Disciplinary cases are now adjudicated via the UCI Legal Anti-Doping Service (LADS) rather than through riders’ national federations.
Further, Froome’s case with Salbutamol is related to what’s listed as a “specified substance” — meaning that the product is allowed under certain uses and limits — and does not automatically trigger a provisional racing ban. Clenbuterol is and was a banned substance, and immediately results in a provisional ban. In 2011, Contador was allowed to race when the Spanish cycling federation cleared him of charges, but the case was later challenged to CAS. Contador lost that appeal and served his suspension, and was disqualified from his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro victories, among other results.
Another big question is when Froome would serve any would-be ban.
Legal experts agree that under the interpretation of WADA rules and based on other precedents — and the fact that Froome has not admitted wrongdoing — any ban would be forward-serving.
The other important wrinkle is whether or not the Giro and other subsequent race results since the 2017 Vuelta would be disqualified. The tribunal would have the ultimate say, but rules add an important caveat that subsequent results are disqualified “unless fairness requires otherwise.” That means Froome might only see the Vuelta disqualified and his other results could stand.
Here’s one possible scenario: Froome races and wins the Giro next month, but is handed down a ban in June. The ban would start on the date of the ruling, and the Giro victory would stand.
Of course, parties on either side of the ruling — the UCI and WADA on one side and Froome on the other — could appeal to CAS.
It seems there won’t be a quick push across the finish line to what’s already been a long-running drama.