UCI president David Lappartient admitted on Tuesday that Chris Froome's salbutamol case is unlikely to be resolved before the Giro d'Italia but has reiterated calls for a verdict or some kind of decision before the start of the Tour de France on July 7.
"I hope the decision can arrive before the Tour de France, even for Chris Froome. Can you imagine if he rides the Tour de France without a decision? It would also be difficult for him," Lappartient in Geneva said after presenting the UCI's new strategy to combat mechanical doping.
"We need it before the Tour de France. But due to the fact this case is really specific, it takes more times than we were expecting."
The UCI press office had warned that Lappartient would only speak about the new mobile X-ray cabinet created to scan bikes and other aspects of the UCI technological fraud strategy. However, the Froome case is the elephant in the room at every UCI event while lawyers from both sides debate the case. Lappartient is also keen to defend the UCI's position while avoiding entering into the merits of the case.
Froome exceeded the allowed levels for salbutamol en route to victory at last year's Vuelta a España, but because salbutamol is considered a specified substance, the Team Sky rider remains free to race pending the resolution of the case.
Froome has always denied any wrongdoing, saying he respected medical guidelines for the use of his salbutamol asthma inhaler. He began his season at the Ruta del Sol and recently rode Tirreno-Adriatico. He has been announced for the Tour of the Alps stage race in Italy and Austria later this month and is determined to push on with his plans to target the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 2018.
Lappartient has previously tried to pressure Team Sky to suspend Froome from racing but he acknowledges that Froome has a right to race under UCI rules. That has not stopped him suggesting that his presence at the Tour de France before a final verdict "would be a disaster for the image of cycling".
He repeated that position in Geneva.
"I think the decision must be on the table before the Tour de France. I hope so because it would be a disaster for everybody if it's not the case," Lappartient said to media at the event, including Cyclingnews.
"But we can't force a decision without respecting our own rules and the process. This case, believe me, is not so easy. We will not take an urgent decision just to have a decision before the Tour de France and not respecting the rules and also not respecting the rights of the rider."
Lappartient accepts it is the UCI's responsibility to handle the case and does not want race organisers to try to refuse a rider on ethical grounds. He also confirmed that the UCI would not try to provisionally suspend Froome before a verdict is reached.
"I think it's the job of the UCI to deal with this matter, it's not up to the organisers. Some of them are worried about the consequences for their race and they wonder if they will have to try to refuse a rider. I hope we will be able to resolve the matter as soon as possible, so that we will not have this discussion with the organisers. It's not their job or mission, it's up to the UCI, WADA, CAS, all the key stakeholders," Lappartient explained.
"It's true that we have this power [to provisionally suspend a rider] but for salbutamol, this has never been done in the past, so we must also respect the rights of Chris Froome. It's not possible to have specific treatment for him. We can see that all other international Federations, nobody has taken the decision for any athlete in the world. If we are the only international Federation and we suspend one rider just for salbutamol, then we would be on the wrong side and we'd lose if we went to CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport]. I also want to respect the rights of the riders."
However, Lappartient confirmed that if the Froome case was sent to the UCI Anti-doping Tribunal and he was found guilty of an alleged anti-doping violation, he would be immediately suspended. Froome could only appeal to the CAS to overturn the UCI Anti-doping Tribunal verdict.
"If this goes to the Tribunal it will be up to the Tribunal to decide. If they decide to give a penalty a one-year suspension or whatever, then this will apply immediately," Lappartient said.
Froome criticised Lappartient for suggesting to the BBC that it "would be a disaster for the image of cycling" if Froome rode the Tour de France sub-judice. Today Lappartient defended his right as UCI president to speak out.
"Can you imagine if the UCI had said nothing since December?" he asked with indignation.
"That's impossible due to the reputation (high profile) of the rider. I'd never make any comment or reveal any details of the case. But I think I can express the point of the UCI on the consequences for our sport, without dealing with the matter of the case."