FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Even cycling insiders are puzzled by Wednesday’s revelation that Chris Froome was over the limit for Salbutamol in an anti-doping control at the Vuelta a España.
“Most teams follow a code of conduct or ethics code, and when this type of thing happens it’s pretty normal that a team suspends the rider until his case has been judged,” Team Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews. “Where is the code of conduct and ethics code?”
Of all the pro team managers, Copeland is perhaps most familiar with the sticky situation Salbutamol presents. While manging Lampre-Merida, his rider Diego Ulissi exceeded the limit for Salbutamol at the 2014 Giro d’Italia. After a protracted legal battle, the Italian rider was handed a nine-month ban, about six months after the news broke.
Now, Copeland wonders what is going on with Sky and Chris Froome and how the matter will be perceived by average sports fans.
“This is not an attack on Chris Froome or the team, it’s more attack on the system,” Copeland said. “It’s always difficult to explain to your man in the pub how sport works. It is confusing for even people internally, so you can imagine externally!”
Froome returned a high reading for asthma drug Salbutamol after stage 18 of the Vuelta a España but went on to win the overall. Copeland is troubled by the fact that Froome later raced the world championship team trial and place third in the individual time trial. The champion also took part in ASO criteriums in Japan and China and made a deal with RCS Sport to race the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
However, since September 20, the 32-year-old Brit and his British WorldTour team knew that his urine registered 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of Salbutamol. The legal limit is 1,000.
“And the UCI governing body? They made the announcement on Monday about [pro team] licenses and the four teams had to go to present paperwork to get theirs, but not Sky. Then the story comes out that the situation has been there since the end of September. The UCI so strict with its four [license] criteria, so I had to ask myself how does this work if Sky was not even called to explain itself? What’s the deal?” Copeland added.
“I would never say it’s favoritism. I’m just saying it should be clear for everyone. In normal circumstances, a team who has an ethics code will suspend the rider until the case is over. He kept racing and went to the worlds and went to Japan, and negotiated with RCS Sport to race the Giro while the situation was not cleared up.
“It makes it difficult for us teams who do everything correctly to see something like this. We need to clear the situation up for the public because it’s damaging for our sport.”
Unlike Sky, Copeland and his Lampre-Merida team suspended Ulissi in 2014 when they caught wind of the adverse analytical finding at the Giro.
“The first thing we did was suspend [Ulissi] until the case was clear,” Copeland said. “Most teams do that and have a code of conduct. Sky is one of the best teams in the world, if not the best, but does not seem to apply the code of conduct and that’s a bit strange.
“For sure Ulissi’s case will be of help to Chris Froome because Salbutamol is always difficult to understand and many things can affect the levels and I saw that with Diego Ulissi’s case.
“It’s very complicated to sort the case. [Ulissi] had to do so many tests and redo them because the conditions were not right. It’s a long and tiring process and I think it took him about eight months. They give him a nine-month suspension, but by the time that came out it was almost all backdated.”
Ulissi left the Lampre team after 2016 to race with UAE Team Emirates.
With Ulissi gone and that matter resolved, Copeland is focused on the 2018 season. His Bahrain-Merida team leader Vincenzo Nibali aims to win the Tour again after his 2014 title. Although Nibali dreams of becoming one of the few riders with three Giro titles, he wants to give the Tour another go next season.
“It’s a decision that we discussed with the sponsors before the team project started. He wanted to do the Giro in the first year  because it passed Sicily and we respected that with the idea and that he would race the Tour in the second year. The sponsors Bahrain and Merida wanted this,” said Copeland.
“He likes the route and agreed to respect the deal and it worked out well — Vincenzo Nibali is a champion and he always races for the victory. As long as he putting the biggest effort and does the best he can, that’s all we can ask for, but I know that he will race for the win in the Tour.”
Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast: