Floyd Landis, the American former cyclist stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after testing positive for testosterone, has said that the Chris Froome salbutamol case could lead to the end of Team Sky.
The 42-year-old, whose testimony helped lead to his former US Postal Service team mate Lance Armstrong being banned from cycling for life and losing the seven yellow jerseys he won between 1999 and 2005, also hit out at Team Sky’s much vaunted “zero tolerance” approach to doping.
Froome, who last year won the Tour de France and the Vuelta, becoming just the third rider to win both races in the same season, was found to have twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol in his urine following an anti-doping control conducted during the Spanish Grand Tour.
The four-time Tour de France champion has vowed to provide an explanation to the UCI in a bid to clear his name, but Landis told the Guardian’s Martha Kelner that he believes the 32-year-old will receive a ban.
He said: “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.
“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.”
News of Froome’s adverse analytical finding for salbutamol broke in December at the end of a year in which Team Sky had been in the spotlight due to the Jiffy Bag controversy involving Bradley Wiggins, among other issues, calling into question the “zero tolerance” approach that was trumpeted ahead of its debut season in 2010.
Former Team Sky coach Shane Sutton poured further fuel on the fire last year when he said that use of otherwise banned drugs under a therapeutic use exemption – which require there to be medical grounds for a rider to be allowed to take the medication in question – was acceptable in pursuit of “marginal gains.”
Referring to the delivery to former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman of testosterone patches at his office at the velodrome in Manchester, Landis told the Guardian: “Sometimes random or coincidental things happen but I’ve got to be honest.
“I find it very hard to believe a package of testosterone was accidentally mailed to a velodrome.
“We can take from what Shane has said they were at least pushing the limit with certain things.
“Now, with Froome’s failed test, if you take all those things together, there’s no defending that team. Any reasonable person would have more questions.
“There’s no belief in that zero tolerance system any more; that was never a real thing,” he continued.
“It was just great PR about marginal gains and all these cute little sayings they thought up.”
Talking about the prospect of Froome being found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation, he added: “When you have someone that high profile who suffers a ban it usually means the whole thing implodes.
“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.”
Landis initiated the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong that will go to court later this year and which has since been joined by the US Department of Justice.
The lawsuit alleges misuse of federal funds in the shape of the US Postal Service’s sponsorship of the team, which was found to have had a institutionalised doping programme.
Armstrong, should he lose the case, could be liable for punitive damages of around $100 million – three times the amount of the sponsorship – while as the initiator of the action, Landis could receive a third of any sums recovered.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.