The prospect of the Chris Froome salbutamol case being resolved prior to the Tour de France seems more distant than ever, with UCI president David Lappartient admitting that he “does not believe” a decision will be forthcoming ahead of cycling’s biggest race and that it would be unfair on the rider for it to be heard during the event, which starts on 7 July in the Vendée.
That’s 10 months to the day since the Team Sky star returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for twice the permitted levels of the anti-asthma drug during last year’s Vuelta, which he won.
Froome, who in winning the Giro d’Italia last weekend became just the third rider in history to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time, joining Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault – an achievement that left the latter distinctly unimpressed – is aiming to win the Tour de France for a record-equalling fifth time.
Since salbutamol is a specified substance rather than one that is banned outright, he is permitted to race under UCI rules while putting together his defence.
While Lappartient – who learnt of Froome’s AAV within an hour of being elected UCI president last September – is among those to have said that he should have voluntarily suspended himself while the case is ongoing, the Frenchman said in an interview with Le Parisien that he “respects his right” to continue racing.
He insisted that the governing body was not dragging its heels and that the length of time it was taking the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation – which operates independently of the UCI – to decide the case was due to the sheer volume of evidence submitted on behalf of Froome as he seeks to clear his name.
“My hope has always been that this would all have been decided before the Giro,” Lappartient said. “Now, I hope that the file will be closed ahead of the Tour. But we need to be realistic; I don’t think that will happen.
“This isn’t down to laxity on the part of the UCI,” he continued. “But when you have 1,500 pages of scientific reports, you really have to analyse them. We need to respect procedure, the rights of Chris Froome as well as our own.”
Should resolution of the case not happen before the Tour de France – and Lappartient acknowledged that whatever the decision, it would be likely to be appealed by one or other party to the Court of Arbitration of Sport – the UCI president said it was unlikely that a decision would be forthcoming during the race.
That’s assuming that Froome participates in it, although there is a strong prospect that organisers ASO will seek to exclude him to protect the image of the race, something that could result in a legal battle between them and the 33-year-old as well as Team Sky.
“If the case were referred to the UCI’s anti-doping tribunal tomorrow,” Lappartient explained, “the tribunal would hold its hearing, where the rider would still have the right to be heard, during the Tour.
“In that case, we still need to consider that it would take away his ability to defend himself. So I can’t see a decision being made before the Tour de France.”
In the past, Froome and his Team Sky colleagues have had to deal with urine being thrown at them and punched by spectators during the Tour de France, prompted perhaps by not-so-subtle insinuations of doping on the part of television pundits including former rider Laurent Jalabert.
So it’s therefore with what many would see as an excessive dose of optimism that Lappartient has appealed to people watching next month’s race to respect Froome and not pre-judge him.
“I was in Italy [at the Giro d’Italia] and I didn’t feel any hostility [towards Froome] from the Italian people,” he said.
“I don’t know if Chris Froome will be at the start of the Tour, although he plans to be there.
“But even if the case has not been decided, I think that the public must respect him.
“I say to people: have faith in sporting justice and our ability to manage the process in an impartial and equitable way.
“The decision will come in time,” he promised.
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.