It’s been an interesting 48 hours for pro cycling. On Sunday, the news broke that the ASO would try to block Chris Froome (Sky) from racing the Tour de France. By Monday morning, his case was closed. The four-time Tour winner is now back on track to make the start after being cleared by the UCI, with WADA approval.
What does all this mean for the Tour, for Froome, and for pro cycling? Let’s roundtable.
What does the decision to clear Froome mean for the upcoming Tour de France?
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Fred Dreier @FredDreier: Here’s the tricky part. As a fan, I am happy that Froome will get to participate in the Tour de France. I want to see him compete against the best, and see if his tired legs from the Giro can withstand the race. And I saw ASO’s decision to ban him as a major overstep of power. Let’s allow the process to play out, see the results of the pharmacokinetic study, and then determine whether rules were broken. As a believer in the anti-doping movement at large, I see this news as a major retreat. As someone who wants cycling to be a credible sport, I am bashing my head against a wall. The way that the UCI, WADA, and ASO played this out is completely ridiculous. ASO called the UCI’s bluff, then the UCI leaned on WADA’s wishy-washy decision, and we got this mess.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Let’s look at the bright side of things! It means this won’t be an “asterisk” Tour — leave Froome out and whoever wins yellow will never be given their due (just ask Vincenzo Nibali about the 2014 TDF). We should also see some very creative roadside signs and costumes to troll Froome — giant inhalers, fans in lab coats … maybe someone dressed as Puff the Magic Dragon? Get creative, people.
Dane Cash @danecash: For the millions of casual fans that tune in to watch just the Tour de France, clearing Froome may put the issue to bed and open up the possibility for three weeks mostly focused on racing. Plenty of people won’t just be moving on from all of this, however, and the fact that Froome is going to race after all will just pour salt on the wound. I’m expecting a very frosty reception for Froome on French roads.
Does the outcome of the Froome case have bigger ramifications for anti-doping generally?
Fred: Yes. I think the Froome story sets a scary precedent because it shows that a high-profile athlete with enough legal backing can completely bully the doping authorities and the sport’s governing body. We were told that the proper process for this type of situation involved a pharmacokinetic study or at the very least a detailed explanation for why Froome’s urine sample contained double the allowable limit of the asthma drug. We didn’t get that. In my opinion, this scenario has completely de-fanged WADA and the UCI at a time when anti-doping has been under attack for its inability to have a meaningful impact on sport in general. The Russians overcame WADA’s Olympic ban. Froome beat the Salbutamol AAF.
Spencer: This case shows us how someone with limitless financial resources and a Team Sky-esque legal squad can squash any anti-doping case, apart from egregious violations. A few lower-tier riders have been booted for lesser infractions.
Dane: We need to see more info on the decision, because at first glance, it looks like the UCI and WADA are saying that tests for Salbutamol are inherently suspect. What about those who have been suspended for going over the limit in the past? What about those who go over in the future?
How do the events of the last nine months affect Froome’s legacy?
Fred: I think it will be a small paragraph on Froome’s Wikipedia page. Most fans will remember the Tour de France victories and forget the Salbutamol AAF.
Spencer: His legacy is in tatters now. It is really unfortunate, because there have been some moments of great panache in his career so far — think of his bold attacks in the 2016 Tour, or his insane attack in stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia this year. Were those wins aided by nefarious means? We can’t conclusively say, but now that there is a shadow of a doubt, he’ll have a hard time making amends with dubious fans.
Dane: My initial response to this would be “a lot,” because I think there are many fans out there who will never really be able to put this behind them. Upon further review, however, maybe the impact isn’t all that great, because it seems like so many people had already made up their minds about believing Froome’s performances even before the Salbutamol saga. Where fans fell on the issue during this whole story appeared to line up with the opinions they had on Froome and Sky long before last year’s Vuelta.
What is your prediction for the Tour de France now that Froome is cleared to race?
Fred: I think Froome wins No. 5 in a close battle with Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana.
Spencer: I like Froome’s odds for this Tour, but I’m not convinced he’s a shoo-in to win his fifth yellow jersey. He really won the Giro by the skin of his teeth — maybe that was purposeful, but if he tries a similar tactic in France, a far more talented GC field might not let him escape.
Dane: Froome may be more deserving of favorite status than any one other rider in the race, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s going to win. I’m betting on the field here. The Giro-Tour double is just too hard, and Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte, and Co. are going to put up a big fight.