Chris Froome (Team Sky) has hired one of the world's most prominent sports lawyers as he bids to avoid sanction after returning an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during the Vuelta a España in September.
According to the Daily Mail and the Times, Froome has appointed London-based lawyer Mike Morgan, whose list of previous clients in cycling include Lizzie Deignan, Sergio Henao, Alberto Contador and Johan Bruyneel. Morgan was named sports lawyer of the year at the 2017 Who's Who Legal Awards.
Morgan's firm, Morgan Sports Law, has also represented tennis players Maria Sharapova and Marin Cilic, athlete Veronica Campbell-Brown and footballer Mamadou Sakho in anti-doping proceedings. Other clients include the former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam, who was banned for life by the FIFA ethics committee in 2011.
Morgan represented Lizzie Deignan at the Court of Arbitration for Sport ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics, and succeeded in having one of her whereabouts violations overturned to allow her to compete in the Games.
Morgan Sports Law successfully defended Froome's teammate Sergio Henao during his biological passport case against the UCI in 2016, and the firm also represented Daryl Impey when he was cleared of wrongdoing after testing positive for probenecid in 2014.
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Mike Morgan was Johan Bruyneel's legal counsel before the American Arbitration Association in 2013, but he failed to prevent Lance Armstrong's former manager from receiving a 10-year ban for his part in the systematic doping programme in place on the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.
The firm's first high-profile involvement in cycling came in 2011, when Morgan worked alongside Spanish lawyer Andy Ramos as part of the legal team in Alberto Contador's unsuccessful appeal to CAS against his ban for testing positive for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. In February 2012, Contador was handed a retroactive two-year suspension.
The doping case involving the former Liverpool footballer Sakho is perhaps the most similar to the Froome case on Morgan's resume. Sakho tested positive for Higanamine following a Uefa Europa League tie against Manchester United in 2016, but later had his case dismissed. Like salbutamol, Higanamine is a beta2-agonist and a Specified substance under the WADA code, but the Morgan Sports Law legal team convinced Uefa to drop the case after querying whether the substance should have been included on the prohibited list.
Froome risks a potential two-year ban and the loss of his Vuelta a España victory after he returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol following stage 18 of the race. Froome's sample contained twice the permitted limit of salbutamol, a finding confirmed by analysis of the B-sample.
As salbutamol is a Specified substance, Froome has not been served with a mandatory provisional suspension, but he must offer an explanation for the elevated amount of salbutamol in his system if he is to escape sanction. Froome was informed of the adverse analytical finding on September 20, but the news was not made public until Wednesday morning following investigative work from journalists at Le Monde and the Guardian.
Froome has denied wrongdoing and pointed to his use of an inhaler to treat asthma, but he must explain to the UCI how his sample contained 2,000ng/ml of salbutamol, twice the limit of 1,000ng/ml. In 2014, Diego Ulissi received a nine-month ban after he returned a sample that contained a lower level of salbutamol during that year's Giro d'Italia.