Race organizers are holding their breaths as they wait to see how Chris Froome’s asthma imbroglio plays out.
Froome the most successful grand tour rider of his generation. He is on the peloton’s best-funded team. There’s a lot on the line for the grand tours. Will Froome race the Giro d’Italia? Will he lose his 2017 Vuelta a España win? And will he be able to try to equal the five-win record at the Tour de France?
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Publicly, organizers of the major grand tours are taking an official “wait and see” position, but one insider said officials are livid that they were kept in the dark about Froome’s run-in with anti-doping authorities over elevated levels of Salbutamol.
Froome and Team Sky were advised of his adverse analytical finding on September 20, yet news did not break until last week when The Guardian and Le Monde were tipped off by sources. During that interval, Froome made a very public announcement that he would attempt to win the Giro d’Italia in May before taking on a record fifth Tour de France.
Those plans are now on hold as the lawyers and lab technicians work feverishly behind the scenes to try to absolve Froome of a possible ban and disqualification of his 2017 Vuelta crown, or both.
Giro boss Mauro Vegni is less than pleased with the situation. The Italian has been trying for years to attract Froome to the Giro, and when he finally does, this happens.
“Maybe we are unlucky,” Vegni told Tutto Bici. “As soon as we announce it with great fanfare that Froome will race the Giro next year, then — boom! — the roof falls in.”
So far, Tour organizers are mum. ASO officials did not reply to an email from VeloNews. Last week, Vuelta officials chimed in, saying their position is “extreme caution” and they hope the case is “resolved as quickly as possible.”
There’s worry across the cycling community that the “Froome Affaire” will drag on for months. In an interview with VeloNews, one legal expert said the case is still in the exploratory phase. It could end there if Froome can convince officials via lab tests, or it could enter a disciplinary phase, which would certainly take months.
As of now, Froome is free to race. He’s been training with his Team Sky teammates on Spain’s Mallorca, with the full intention of racing next season.
So far, Team Sky has given away few details of how it will try to handle Froome case. Under UCI rules, Froome will have a chance to defend his spiked levels of Salbutamol, double the allowed limit in a urine control taken after stage 18 at the Vuelta.
Based on the fact that the adverse analytical finding was only released following a leak last week, it is apparent that Team Sky was hoping to resolve the situation without it ever becoming public knowledge.
According to experts interviewed by VeloNews, Froome will undergo controls in a laboratory to try to demonstrate that he did not take more than the allowed doses of Salbutamol. How far along Team Sky is in trying to absolve Froome remains under wraps. Team Sky did hire a high-profile lawyer to help handle the case.
Froome, however, continues to insist he will undergo his planned double attempt at the Giro and Tour.
Speaking Sunday evening to BBC for the “Sportsman of the Year” award (which he did not win) Froome said defiantly he is still preparing to race in 2018.
“We’re currently on a training camp, before getting stuck into preparing for next year’s Giro d’Italia — my first goal — before my biggest challenge, winning the Tour de France for the fifth time,” Froome said in a live feed.
If there is a cloud of a possible suspension and ban hanging over Froome, the last thing the grand tours will want is to see the Sky captain in their races.
The Giro start is still more than four months away, and the Tour more than seven, but none of the major race organizers will be keen to see a repeat of the fiasco of what happened with Alberto Contador in 2010 and 2011. Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol in 2010 and was banned by the Spanish cycling federation, but the Spaniard appealed his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. During his appeals process, Contador kept racing. He won the 2011 Giro and finished fifth in the Tour, and his case wasn’t decided until February 2012. Officials later disqualified his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro victories as well as other subsequent results.
“I believe that the Contador case was a unique affair, one that cannot be repeated,” Vegni told Tutto Bici. “Cycling cannot afford another situation like that. If a racer can compete, he should be able to do it with full confidence, to win or lose with certainty. I also believe the UCI must assume its responsibility.”
There’s been a lot of confusion swirling around the Froome case. Any doping case can be laden with legalese and fine-print minutiae, and Froome’s latest imbroglio is no exception. Many did not understand why Froome was not provisionally banned after giving an “adverse analytical finding” in both A and B samples.
On Monday, the UCI released an expanded explanation trying to parse the confusing language deep inside the WADA code.
On the heels of that news, the MPCC (Mouvement pour Cyclisme Crédible) issued a statement Monday pressing Team Sky to do just that. Sky did not respond and is not part of the advocacy trade teams group that features seven WorldTour teams.
Froome, meanwhile, said he understands the gravity of his situation, at least in terms of perception.
“Listen, I do completely get it — I understand the concerns,” Froome told BBC on Sunday. “I’ve been in this sport for 10 years, and I know how some people might look at our sport, and it’s a responsibility I do take seriously. I’ve had asthma since I was child … and I’ve never taken more puffs [of my inhaler] than I’m allowed. It’s a horrible situation if I’m honest, and we are trying to get to the bottom of this.”
Race officials are hoping that the Froome case will be resolved before the racing season begins, but that might be wishful thinking. So far, Team Sky shows no signs of sidelining its star. At least not right now.
Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast: