Jan Bakelants (AG2R La Mondiale) spoke with Hln.be about his frustration with Chris Froome's doping case. The Belgian, who is currently recovering from a horrendous crash in October, said he believes suspending the Team Sky leader would be the right thing to do.
"He is going to be suspended and that will be right," Bakelants told the Dutch website.
Froome returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) at the Vuelta a España for twice the permissible 1,000ng/ml level of the asthma medication salbutamol. The test took place September 7 following stage 18. Froome went on to win the overall title.
Salbutamol is a 'specified' substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list and so Froome was not provisionally suspended. To avoid a conviction, Froome and his legal team must convince the anti-doping authorities that he did not exceed permitted dosage and that his sample was skewed by other factors such as dehydration.
Sky Team Principal Dave Brailsford has said, "There are complex medical and physiological issues which affect the metabolism and excretion of Salbutamol. I have the utmost confidence that Chris followed the medical guidance in managing his asthma symptoms, staying within the permissible dose for Salbutamol."
Bakelants made references to a similar case that involved Italian Diego Ulissi, who returned a slightly lower level of salbutamol in an anti-doping control at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. He was suspended for nine months.
"Ulissi was once caught with a value of 1,900 nanograms per milliliter and had to be on the side for two years. Later that was reduced to nine months, but Froome was in 2,000.
"I do not see how he will get out of this. There is a precedent, WADA will not go along with that [explanation] and he has the perception against it."
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Belgian hopes to return to racing in March
Bakelants is still in the recovery process from injuries sustained in a major crash at Il Lombardia in October, but he hopes to return to the peloton at the Volta a Catalunya in March and possibly be part of the AG2R La Mondiale team at the Tour de France in July.
"Gradually I started to rehabilitate in Pellenberg and at a physiotherapist here," Bakelants told Hln.be. "I do not feel much behind. I'm feeling good. Of course I will have lag, but it is not that I have to go from 0 to 100 [per cent]. I think I'm at 30. I hope to be able to resume in the Tour of Catalonia in March."
Bakelants crashed at Il Lombardia and flipped over the roadside barrier into a ravine on the descent of the Muro di Sormano. Laurens De Plus, Simone Petilli and Daniel Martinez also crashed in the same location.
He underwent surgery to correct four vertebrae [two thoracic and two lumbar] and seven ribs that were broken. In the month following the crash, Bakelants was not sure if he could race again. It was reported in November that he made tri-weekly visits to a rehabilitation centre in Leuven.
During the last three weeks, however, Bakelants recovered enough to be able to ride his bike daily, according to Hln.be.
Bakelants said he is in the final year of a contract with AG2R La Mondiale and is hoping to make the best of the 2018 season ahead, aiming to be part of the Tour de France team, even if he starts the year behind in his training program due to the crash.
"The team gives me time, but that is double," he said. "I am finishing a contract. The later I am good, the less likely I can go to the Tour as a [Romain] Bardet helper. And there is a lot of attention.
"I'm trying to see it as interesting. Or as a new start. I have been out for six months, which is not noticed in the winter, but how many riders get the chance in their career to start from scratch again? That's how I want to see it. As a challenge to find myself again."
Better safety standards needed in cycling
Bakelants is reluctant to put blame on the organisers of Il Lombardia for his accident, but he questioned why the sport doesn't have a better safety system in place.
"The most shocking thing was that a motorbike still wanted to pass by," Bakelants recalls the moments after he was lifted out of the ravine when he was laying on the road in a stretcher waiting to be put inside the ambulance.
"[I was] between the ambulance and the guardrail. But he wanted to go on and drove over my leg. In that ambulance, at least 30 years old, I felt every pit between Sormano and the hospital of Como. That ride lasted an hour.
"I dare not say yet whether the blame lies with me or with the organization. But then again: why don't you place crash pads or safety nets, or indicate the direction of such a curve with an arrow?
"In skiing they work with double safety nets and in the clothing there is a protective system that reduces the number of neck injuries to zero. Why do we still ride with jerseys from 1905?
"The UCI limits the teams from nine to eight riders, but that will not change safety. Traps are always at the front. In terms of safety, this sport does not evolve at all."