FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The end could be near for cycling’s top team, according to former professional cyclist Floyd Landis.
Landis said he believes the Chris Froome salbutamol case will “implode” Team Sky, the British super team that counts five Tour de France wins over the last six years.
The American, who was briefly the 2006 Tour de France victor before he was disqualified for doping, gave evidence that led to the eventual case and lifetime cycling ban for Lance Armstrong.
“When you have someone that high-profile who suffers a ban, it usually means the whole thing implodes,” Landis told The Guardian.
“If I was on the board of directors or an executive at Sky, or any of the companies who sponsor them, I would be long gone. At some point they have to make a decision that looks ethical.”
Team Sky runs on the highest budget in cycling at $42 million per year. The team stumbled when it first debuted in 2010 but hit full-stride thereafter. It conquered the Tour with Bradley Wiggins once and with Froome four times.
It looked to withstand the Wiggins TUE and jiffy bag scandal over the last year, but the new Froome case could be too “high-profile” for the board.
The case involves Froome’s anti-doping test finding for the asthma drug salbutamol during the Vuelta a España, a race he won. He recorded 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of urine, double the allowed limit of 1,000, on stage 18. The news that anti-doping authorities are investigating the case emerged on December 13.
Before news of the salbutamol case emerged, Froome announced an ambitious 2018 plan that sees him racing the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France on the heels of his Tour and Vuelta victories. The Giro welcomes the return of Froome, but organizers now worry about the baggage an ongoing anti-doping case may bring.
“This time Froome’s case emerged in September 2017, and the Giro starts in May, so that means a solution can be found in eight months,” Giro d’Italia director Mauro Vegni told L’Equipe.
“I want to believe that’s enough time because if not, we lose all hope in our ability to run this sport. The public wouldn’t understand it, and neither would I.”
The Giro begins May 4. Froome, according to VeloNews sources, signed a deal for 1.4 million euros with organizer RCS Sport to race.
Froome risks losing his Vuelta a España title and faces a ban of six months to two years. Any UCI decision could be appealed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or the U.K. Anti-doping Agency (UKAD).
“It’s all in the hands of the UCI. They have to guarantee that everything will be sorted out between now and then,” Vegni added.
“The Giro is a major race that attracts attention from fans worldwide, that public support can’t be abused.”
There is also the possibility that Sky could collapse if Froome is sanctioned. The team began with and runs on a zero-tolerance stance. That led to several riders being dismissed in 2012, although critics have said it does not go far enough or that a zero-tolerance approach is impossible to implement in cycling.
“There’s no belief in that zero-tolerance system anymore; that was never a real thing,” Landis said. “It was just great PR about marginal gains and all these cute little sayings they thought up.”
The 2018 season began this week with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia. Froome is due to debut next month, perhaps at the Ruta del Sol in Spain, while trying to defend himself in a case that is destined to ramble on.
“There is evidence that salbutamol can be performance-enhancing if it’s used orally or intramuscularly. It’s very difficult to get to the level Chris Froome showed by using an inhaler. If that will form his excuse I think it’s nonsense and I don’t think many buy it,” added Landis.
“He’s trying to defend himself because he has everything to lose. I feel sympathy for him but if he doesn’t face it now, he will have to later.”
Landis’s 2006 Tour title was eventually stripped due to a high testosterone reading. He gave evidence in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) cases against Armstrong, and kick-started the ongoing Justice Department lawsuit that seeks $100 million.