Gianni Bugno has defended Chris Froome’s decision to continue racing while trying to explain his Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for salbutamol, insisting the Team Sky leader is innocent until proven guilty.
Bugno, double world champion in 1991 and 1992 and now the president of the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA) riders association, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he is “on Froome’s side”, but called for a rapid verdict in the case.
Twice the permitted level of salbutamol was found in Froome’s urine after stage 18 of the Vuelta a España as Froome fought to defend the leader’s red jersey. The 32-year-old denies exceeding the permitted dosage of his asthma drugs. Given that salbutamol is a ‘specified’ substance on WADA’s prohibited list, Froome has not been suspended by the UCI, but the onus is now on the British rider to convince the authorities his sample could have been skewed by other factors.
On Tuesday L’Equipe suggested that Froome’s defence could be based on an unusual accumulation and then release of the drug via his kidneys. However, Froome and Team Sky have not revealed any details of their defence or spoken about the case since initial statements in December. It is understood that Froome and his legal team are still responding to questions from the UCI, with an eventual disciplinary hearing and verdict some time away.
Froome has continued to train for the 2018 season since TheGuardian and Le Monde exposed the on-going case on December 13, with the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France remaining as major goals. He could possibly make his season debut at an early-season stage race in Europe in February as he builds up to the May 4 start of the Giro.
Riders often suspend themselves while caught up in a doping case, or are suspended by their team due to internal rules or those of the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible (MPCC). Team Sky is not a member of the MPCC. The World Anti-Doping rules allow time away from racing under a self-suspension to be included in any eventual ban. However, Froome seems determined to race as he fights to clear his name, convinced he has not done anything wrong.
Bugno agrees with his position.
"I’m totally on his side. Froome is innocent until proven guilty and so it’s right he can race," Bugno told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"If he can’t manage to prove his innocence he’ll pay the consequences. That’s the way it is for everyone, not only him. The important thing is that sporting justice quickly decides things."
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However, the risk of Froome racing sportingly sub-judice has sparked anger in many parts of the sport. On Tuesday, his Tour de France rival Romain Bardet said it would be “catastrophic” for cycling’s credibility if the Team Sky rider were to start this year’s Tour de France with a verdict still pending.
The director of the Giro d’Italia Mauro Vegni called on the UCI to ‘sort out’ Froome’s case, saying: “Whatever happens, we can't accept a compromise solution as with Alberto Contador in 2011, where his win was cancelled from the record books for a positive test that happened in another race [the 2010 Tour de France -ed].
“There are eight months to find a solution. I want to believe that's enough time, otherwise, we have to despair about our ability to run our sport. The public wouldn't understand it and neither would I."