World cycling chief underlines Team Sky star’s right to defend himself and says 1,500 pages of scientific analysis have been submitted on his behalf

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.

> Bernard Hinault: “Froome is not part of the legend of the sport"

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.

> Court of Arbitration for Sport member predicts Chris Froome vs ASO legal battle over right to ride Tour de France

“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.

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.