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Froome denies reports of plea deal

A new report suggests that Chris Froome will take the plea bargain in Salbutamol case, but the Tour champ denies it.

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Another media report speculating on Chris Froome’s Salbutamol case, and another denial.

Just weeks after L’Equipe published alleged sources outlining what Froome’s defense might look like, this time it was Italian daily Corriere della Sera. In Tuesday’s edition, the paper reported that Froome is ready to make a plea in exchange for a reduced ban that would allow him to return in time to race in the Giro d’Italia in May.

See report in Italian >>

Froome was quick to deny those reports, posting a message on Twitter in what was a rare public comment on his ongoing Salbutamol case.

The latest exchange reconfirms the high stakes of Froome’s case and underscores the lack of hard facts available to media and fans.

Both the UCI and Team Sky are keeping their public comments to a minimum as Froome’s future plays out behind closed doors.

Early indications were that Froome and his lawyers would make a case to have a total absolution, arguing for no ban and no disqualification. Of course, that could open Froome to a maximum two-year ban if the arguments were to backfire. It’s a high-risk, high-payout strategy.

The L’Equipe report from two weeks ago spelled out a possible defense (citing malfunctioning kidneys), but those close to Froome quietly discredited that report.

What was different about Corriere della Sera’s report (again, citing unnamed sources) is that it suggested Froome could be considering a sort of “plea bargain” by admitting to erroneously taking too much of the asthma treatment in exchange for a smaller ban. That’s similar to the approach taken by Diego Ulissi in 2015, allowing him to return to race following a relatively short ban of nine months.

Froome was quick to discount that report, posting the following message on Twitter:

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“I have seen the report in Corriere della Sera this morning — it’s completely untrue.”

Froome has remained far from the public eye since his adverse analytical finding for high levels of Salbutamol was leaked to the public in December. This month, he’s been training in South Africa, clocking more than 4,000km on his Strava account since late December.

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There is much speculation about what is happening behind closed doors. Team Sky insists that its star rider is free to race — the UCI has not imposed a provisional suspension in the case — and are working to push forward to a fast resolution of the case.

There is no specific time limit on how long the process could play out, but everyone is hoping that the case is resolved before Froome lines up for a race. Froome has said he will race both the Giro and Tour this year, and it’s likely he could race as soon as February or March.

Froome’s legal team now has the pressure to try to demonstrate to UCI anti-doping authorities how he reached a level of 2,000 ng/l of Sabutamol in his urine — twice the allowed limit — from a sample taken following stage 18 at the Vuelta a España on September 7.