David Walsh, the Irish journalist whose investigation of Lance Armstrong helped pave the way for the Texan’s lifetime ban from cycling, has said he has lost trust in Chris Froome as a result of the Team Sky rider’s adverse analytical finding for twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug, Salbutamol.
Walsh, author of the book Inside Team Sky, was embedded with the UCI WorldTour team for much of the 2013 season, a year in which the rider won the first of his four overall victories in the Tour de France.
In September, Froome added the Vuelta title, but Wednesday’s revelation that urine samples taken on Stage 18 of the Spanish race showed double the legal amount of Salbutamol has left him fighting to save that title and escape a ban.
Writing in today’s edition of The Sunday Times, Walsh, who has in the past defended Froome’s reputation, revealed that he had a “fraught, difficult” phone call with the rider on Friday.
He said that the affair “leaves him [Froome] with a question that will take some answering.”
Walsh wrote: “There is a threshold level and Froome exceeded that by 100 per cent.
“He has to explain how that amount of Salbutamol got into his body.
“If the authorities are not satisfied, he will be banned and stripped of his Vuelta a Espana title.
“The greater punishment will be to his reputation,” Walsh went on. “He will be seriously damaged. Four Tour de France victories diminished in one asterisk.”
He added: “The hardest thing about our conversation on Friday evening was telling him that I no longer trusted him in the way that I once did.”
On 20 September – the same day that Froome was notified of the adverse analytical finding – Walsh defended him on an Irish radio show.
He told the Irish broadcaster RTE: “I believe he's clean and I don't see any reason for not believing.
"The case against Chris Froome is powerful in so many ways, all it lacks is evidence.
"Make up your own mind. I'm making up mind and exercising my right to call this as I see it,” Walsh added.
Meanwhile, his former colleague at The Sunday Times, Irish ex-pro cyclist Paul Kimmage, highly critical in the past over Walsh’s defence of Froome and Team Sky, has written a scathing piece about the rider in today’s Sunday Independent.
AG2R-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet, who finished this year’s Tour de France third overall behind Froome and Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, has also been speaking about the controversy.
He told AFP: “This is not good news for cycling. Pretty much everyone gets hit by something like this, cycling's credibility first and foremost.
"We really could have done without it. It's not something anyone can rejoice about.
“Let's hope that a swift and objective probe can clarify the facts and leave no doubts about what happened," Bardet added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.