Lance Armstrong has weighed in on the recent scandal surrounding Chris Froome, saying that, no matter the result of the case, Froome's reputation has been tarnished forever by the intense media reaction.
Armstrong, who had all seven of his Tour de France titles scratched from his palmarès after he was handed a backdated ban for doping, also said that next year's Tour will be 'complete mayhem' for the Team Sky rider.
Froome is currently under investigation from the UCI after an adverse analytical finding for the asthma medication salbutamol. The test, which was taken during the final week of the 2017 Vuelta a España, recorded twice the permitted levels of the substance, which is not banned outright. Froome has not been suspended during the investigation, is cooperating with the UCI, and has said that he did not exceed the dosage allowed for his asthma medication.
"He could be completely exonerated and he is tarnished forever. Damage is done," Armstrong said in his Stages podcast. "You might think I am talking about him caring about whether they write negative articles about him - he may or may not. I don't know and it doesn't really matter. But, come next July, when this all gets cleaned up, it is already unpleasant for him, this is going to be complete mayhem and I know exactly what that fucking feels like. And it ain't any fun."
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Armstrong also criticised the response by some media outlets to the controversy, saying that cycling was given a raw deal when it came to the reporting of these issues. However, he admitted that he had to shoulder much of the responsibility for that.
"Cycling is the sporting world's doormat. I have to say that I take a lot of blame for that," said Armstrong. "The article the day after in the New York Times was the biggest bunch of bullshit that I have ever read. If you are a fan of Baseball who gets the New York Times every day and you read that story, and it is just so harsh on Chris Froome, and our sport, and our sport's history.
"I am sure we deserve a lot of that and I am trying to accept some responsibility here because I have sort of you know tainted the entire equation obviously. But you don't get an accurate depiction of this situation by reading that article. I read that and I was like, 'you have got to be kidding'. You had read that article and thought Chris Froome had a gallon of EPO for breakfast. And that is not accurate and fair to him."
Froome must now challenge the findings in a series of laboratory tests by showing that, while the results were higher than permitted, he did not exceed the permitted dosages. Diego Ulissi had to undergo the same process after he returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. It wasn't until January 2015 that he was handed a reduced nine-month ban. Froome's case could take just as long, or perhaps longer, meaning that it could drag over the 2018 Giro d'Italia and into the Tour de France.
Armstrong called the structure of the sport fundamentally weak and said that the drawn-out process had a detrimental impact on the sport.
"You want to talk about the process and system? This could go on until late spring. This could go on for a long time and this is what happens in the sport of cycling," he said.
"It just hangs over and the structure of the sport is so fundamentally weak because you have this structure which was built one hundred years ago and really not much has changed since, if anything, you might even argue it has gotten worse. All the while you see the global impressions, you see the impact the sport has in the world psyche and it doesn't match up."