UCI president David Lappartient has said that should Chris Froome’s salbutamol case extend past the start of the Tour de France next month a decision is unlikely to happen during the race itself. Though Lappartient has no say as to when and how a decision is reached, he says that it could deprive Froome of his rights to defend himself if a hearing was to be held while the race is happening.
"I still see it as wrong if, tomorrow, the case was to be referred to the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal and the court holds its meeting, where the rider still has the right to be heard, during the Tour,” Lappartient told Le Parisien. “In which case, we could still consider that it deprives him of his ability to defend himself. So, I do not see a decision happening during the Tour de France.”
Lappartient has previously called for Froome to self-suspend himself while the investigation is ongoing, but the Team Sky rider has continued to race, which he is allowed to do under current regulations. Froome intends to defend his Tour de France title after winning the Giro d’Italia last month, but there is the possibility that race organiser ASO could try to prevent him from doing so.
Previous similar investigations, such as Diego Ulissi’s, have taken many months to resolve, but Froome’s has gone far beyond that. An anti-doping test conducted during the final week of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana was found to have twice the permitted levels of the asthma medication salbutamol. He was notified of the findings on September 20 and news of the investigation broke in the press on December 13.
The investigation is about to reach its ninth month and Lappartient told Cyclingnews during the Giro d’Italia that he is unsure if it will be tied up before the Tour de France begins on July 7 - though he hopes that it will. The stretching out of the case has been a source of frustration for fans and riders alike. Lappartient understands that frustration, he says, but adds that the case’s length is nothing to do with laziness but is down to the complexities of it.
“The case is much more complex than others, and perhaps [Froome] has more means to demonstrate this complexity precisely, where others might have abdicated for not being able to carry out more cumbersome procedures,” explained Lappartient. “My wish has always been that it be judged before the Giro d’Italia, but it was not to be. Now, I would like it to be settled before the Tour de France. Well, you have to be realistic: I think that will not be the case.
“This is not a laxity of the UCI. It's just that there is a procedure, and this case requires experts. When you have 1,500 pages of scientific report you have to analyse them. It requires answers, and we must respect the procedure, and the rights of Chris Froome. Naturally, it takes longer than expected.”
Bernard Hinault, who Froome joined as one of three riders to win all three Grand Tours consecutively, was one of those calling into question the length of the investigation. Speaking in the Belgian press earlier in the week, Hinault was also explicit in his belief that Froome should not be racing. His comments elicited a response from former DS Johan Bruyneel, who told him to ‘shut his mouth’. Despite Hinault’s criticisms of the handling of the case, Lappartient defended his compatriot.
“As a political leader said in a presidential debate, in some people the past becomes passive. For Bruyneel, this is the case,” said Lappartient. “When he tells Hinault to shut his mouth, if there is one who has to start doing it, it is him. If there is such a passion for cycling, it's because there have been athletes like Bernard Hinault, not sports directors like Johan Bruyneel.”
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