Chris Froome (Team Sky) described reports that his salbutamol case has been sent to the UCI's Anti-Doping Tribunal as 'fake news' on Friday evening, only to delete the twitter message a few hours later.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported on Friday that Froome's case had been transferred from the UCI Legal Anti-Doping Services (LADS) to its Anti-Doping Tribunal, suggesting that the UCI LADS had rejected Froome's explanations as to why his level of salbutamol was double the 1000ng/ml permitted level.
Froome's urine sample from an anti-doping control, taken after stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, was found to have exceeded the permitted limit of the asthma drug salbutamol. The 32-year-old has always denied any wrongdoing and says he is a long-term asthma sufferer. He insists that he knows the rules and has never taken more salbutamol than he is allowed.
A few hours after the Le Monde story was published and reported by French news agency AFP, Froome tweeted: "Fake news making the rounds again this evening. What journalists and publications won't do for a couple of clicks…"
That tweet garnered both support and criticism but was later deleted.
The latest posts on Froome's official Twitter account are now a retweet of the official Tour de France account announcing 100 days to the start of this year's race and a scan image of the baby Chris and his wife Michelle are expecting in August.
Case likely to be resolved after the Tour de France
Last week, Froome did a reconnaissance ride on the cobbles that will be covered during the Tour de France and is now believed to be training at altitude on Mount Teide with several of his Team Sky teammates. He is expected to ride the Tour of Alps (April 16-20) as his final race before the Giro d'Italia (May 4-27).
Le Monde's detailed report suggests that the UCI's Legal Anti-Doping Services considered that there was no objective data to lead to a dismissal in Froome's case, hence it being transferred to the UCI Anti-doping Tribunal. A source close to the proceedings says the case will likely take some time to conclude, most likely after the Tour de France.
"It will not be done before the Giro. There is a small chance that this is the case before the Tour," Le Monde reports its source as saying.
The tribunal will reportedly be led by German arbitrator Ulrich Haas, a notable anti-doping legal expert who served on the Court of Arbitration panel that reviewed a similar case involving Alessandro Petacchi that led to the Italian receiving a 12-month ban. Haas also sat on the CAS panel that ruled on Alberto Contador's Clenbuterol case. The Spaniard was eventually given a two-year ban.
To avoid the risk of a ban, Froome would have to convince the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal that he did not exceed the maximum permitted dose of salbutamol and that he did not use a prohibited method of administration (oral and injectable uses of salbutamol are banned in and out of competition).
According to L'Equipe, Froome's lawyers have tried several unconventional arguments, including requesting B-sample analyses of samples taken in the days before stage 18. The request was denied. Froome's defence could still include suggestions that his kidneys somehow retained a quantity of salbutamol and then released it on the day of the test.
According to Le Monde, Froome's legal team could be preparing to call into question the salbutamol test and the 1000ng/ml urine limit, taking on the WADA Code itself.
"They are looking for all the elements that would allow them to challenge the test itself, to convince that it is not valid scientifically," according to another Le Monde source. However, it appears that WADA is ready to defend its salbutamol procedure.
"WADA is already in contact with the UCI on these issues," said Olivier Niggli, WADA's managing director. "We will provide the UCI with all the elements they need concerning the test itself."
WADA scientific director Olivier Rabin doubts that the salbutamol threshold could be successfully questioned. "The rule has been established for a long time, the threshold has not changed and has already passed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport."