FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — With the 2018 season starting, the uncertainty surrounding Sky’s Chris Froome and his salbutamol anti-doping case is bad for cycling and race organizers.
Froome tested well over the limit for the asthma drug salbutamol during the Vuelta a España last summer. His urine from stage 18 showed 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), exceeding the limit of 1,000 ng/ml and triggering an adverse analytical finding. The case remains under investigation by the Cycling Anti-doping Foundation (CADF) and, for various reasons, the evidence, results, and ruling may never surface.
The 32-year-old Brit, winner of four editions of the Tour de France and last year’s Vuelta, continues to train — according to his Strava account, he starts at 5 a.m. and rides for more than 200 kilometers. The 2018 WorldTour season kicks off in Australia with the Santos Tour Down Under on January 16.
[related title=”More on Chris Froome” align=”left” tag=”Chris-Froome”]
It’s unclear when Froome will start his season, perhaps mid-February in the Ruta del Sol, but he’s planning to race Tirreno-Adriatico in March and the Tour of the Alps in April on his way to the Giro d’Italia in May. The uncertainty of his case, which could lead to a suspension, leaves these race organizers concerned.
“I know about the doubts,” president of the Italian Cycling Federation and UCI Management Committee member Renato Di Rocco said at the team Wilier Triestina launch.
“Doping or not doping, now we can only speak of alleged doping. It’s bad for all of the cycling world, also the organizers, who don’t know if they can count on the winner of the Tour and the Vuelta.”
Depending on how the case evolves, Froome risks being stripped of his Vuelta title and the bronze medal he won at the world championships last fall. A suspension would block him from races like the Giro, where the organizer invested heavily on his participation.
Rocco Taminelli, a lawyer for Diego Ulissi during his salbutamol case, suggested the case may rumble on for months. During this time, Froome has the legal right to race. However, a suspension down the road could strip his results.
Di Rocco said, “We are at risk of having another season like 2011 with Alberto Contador.”
Contador’s anti-doping positive for clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour de France saw a legal case drag on for months. In that time, he raced with the legal burden on his shoulders and won the 2011 Giro d’Italia. The eventual ruling stripped the Giro title and all other results back to his 2010 Tour win. It left a giant black brush stroke over cycling’s canvas, even with procedures followed and legal rights fulfilled.
“I firmly believe that Contador’s was a unique affair, which must no longer be repeated,” Giro director Mauro Vegni told Tutto Bici last month.
“Cycling cannot afford such a situation: if a cyclist can race, he has the right to do so in full power, to win or lose with certainty. And I believe that in [Froome’s] case, the UCI must assume its responsibilities.”
The UCI cannot force Froome to sit on the bench while the experts analyze and lawyers argue. Sky is one of the 11 WorldTour teams not in the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC). He would have to sit out if Sky was in the movement and followed the stricter anti-doping rules.
The movement has already asked team Sky “to suspend its rider on a voluntary basis, until the end of the procedure” so the team could “focus on their defense with serenity, but also to avoid tension among many managers and riders.”
Froome may not participate in any ASO races until the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and the Tour de France in July. Tour director Certain Prudhomme, who announced the race’s four wildcard teams on Monday, is watching the Froome case.
“We must get out of the ambiguity, so he must have an answer and it must arrive as soon as possible, and that means before the Giro,” Prudhomme told France Info. “Giro organizers are certainly more anxious than us.”
Italians applauded Froome’s decision to race the Giro. Now they simply throw their hands in the air in resignation.
“You’ll need much time before reaching a decision,” Di Rocco said. “The question now becomes a challenge first among the scientific experts and then among the law firms.”