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Froome closer to 2011 Vuelta win as Cobo receives official sanction

The UCI's confirmation of Cobo's sanction means Chris Froome could be named the official winner of the 2011 Vuelta a España

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Chris Froome remains in a French hospital bed, but he is one step closer to being named the winner of the 2011 Vuelta a España.

The UCI confirmed Tuesday the official sanction of Juan José Cobo in a biological passport violation that was revealed last week.

The ruling, posted Tuesday on the UCI’s website as part of a listing of all current anti-doping violations, is a three-year ban through 2022 and disqualification of the 2009 and 2011 editions of the Vuelta.

The first part doesn’t matter to the now-retired Cobo, who is reportedly teaching surfing and delivering milk in northern Spain since leaving the sport in 2014. What’s important are the Vuelta disqualifications, which could further open the door for Froome, who was runner-up to Cobo in 2011, to be declared as the official winner.

Last week, the UCI revealed a biological passport case against the 38-year-old Cobo without mentioning a sanction. The update did not reveal which prohibited substance or method was employed to trigger the sanction.

Many have wondered why it took so long — nearly 10 years — for the case to be revealed. The UCI has yet to offer public comment on details of what happened. The Spanish daily MARCA reported last week that Cobo had already been advised of a possible biological passport violation, but that the UCI did not have sufficient evidence to pursue a case despite revealing a suspicious “off-score.” Improved testing methods, however, allowed new controls on blood and urine samples collected during the period of the supposed violations. Those new tests were convincing enough for the UCI to move forward with the case, MARCA reported.

There is still no official word from the UCI if Froome will be officially awarded the 2011 Vuelta title. The cycling governing body typically awards victories to runner-ups in doping violations — as was the case with Andy Schleck being named the winner of the 2010 Tour de France after Alberto Contador tested for high levels of clenbuterol — but not always. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins from 1999-2005 remain blank on the official results.

A new 2011 Vuelta podium would see Froome declared the winner, with Bradley Wiggins in second and Bauke Mollema in third, in what would be the Dutchman’s first grand tour podium. Cobo’s stage victory at the Anglirù in stage 15 would go to Wout Poels. Also, Cobo’s stage victory during the 2009 Vuelta into Avila on stage 19 would be awarded to runner-up Alejandro Valverde, who would later serve a two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal dating back to 2006.

Froome, meanwhile, continues to recover in a French hospital following his harrowing training crash last week that will see him missing a shot at a record-tying fifth Tour de France in July. The wire service AFP reported that Froome could remain in intensive care until Saturday, before remaining in another ward at the hospital and beginning his recovery that is expected to take months.