UCI president David Lappartient was at the start of the first stage of the Tour de France in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île and made an impassioned plea to cycling fans not to lose faith in the sport and the UCI after the polemics and doubts sparked by Chris Froome's salbutamol case.
Froome's case was revealed by Le Monde and the Guardian on December 13 but was only resolved last Monday, with the Team Sky rider cleared of any wrongdoing after a legal battle about the WADA rules on salbutamol and the levels he was able to excrete via his urine.
Lappartient and the UCI have issued a long series of statements on why Froome was cleared as they tried to justify and explain why the case took so long. The Frenchman also called for understanding and support from disillusioned fans.
"I know there are doubts from the fans towards the institutions and the UCI," Lappartient said from the VIP area of the Tour de France start village.
"But I call on the fans to please continue to follow this sport. We are the sport of ant-doping, we're the cleanest sport because we're fighting doping, we have strong procedures in place. When you fight doping, you can find something. In this case, we had to follow the statement of WADA on June 28, where WADA agreed with Chris Froome’s explanations. Froome's sample does not constitute an anti-doping violation. So we had no choice but to close the case.
"If you look at cycling at 20 years ago and then today, you really see true cycling. I know this case is big news and a lot of fans think that things are still the same but they're not. One third of all the biological passport tests are done in cycling. We're doing all that we can do. The sport's stakeholders invest seven million Swiss francs to fight doping. Nobody else is doing this much."
The leak did not come from the UCI
Lappartient revealed the UCI spent 255,000 Swiss francs on lawyers and experts to fight the Froome case, with each side paying their own costs. Cyclingnews understands that Team Sky covered Froome's costs, which were apparently much, much higher than the UCI costs.
Lappartient firmly denied that the UCI was the source of the leak that lead to Froome's case being made public on December 13, and so has no intention of apologising to Froome for his case being dragged into the public arena months before it was resolved.
"If I apologise, that means the leak came from the UCI. That's not the case, so I won't apologise for something that was not the fault of the UCI," he said defiantly.
"I have a clear idea from where it comes from but I'm not going to say. There's a difference between what I've heard and what I can prove."
Lappartient is clearly not a Froome fan and bizarrely the two have never met in person. However, perhaps aware of the risk of Froome faces on the roads of the Tour de France this month, the Frenchman made a plea for fair play.
"In cycling, I'd say the fans are supporters of all the riders and they're peaceful. I think they'll respect Froome, even if they don't like Chris Froome but they'll respect him," he said.
"They have to respect him and they have to respect the judgment and they have to respect the riders. I call on them to do that. But with 12 million people along the roadside, you can have one or two guys who drink too much alcohol and get excited. I hope everything will be OK."
No double standards
Some fans and even riders of the calibre of Vincenzo Nibali suspect that Froome somehow managed to secure some kind of special treatment and was able to avoid a sanction for his high level of salbutamol. Team Sky could afford to hire the best lawyers and experts to fight his corner, with Lappartient insisting that was Froome's only advantage compared to other athletes caught up in similar cases.
"Everyone will have the same treatment, for sure. In the UCI there are no exceptions, everyone gets the same treatment," Lappartient insisted.
"But what is also sure and not only in cycling or sport but also in business and politics, is that if you have more money, you can afford more lawyers and more experts. This can sometimes help you to prove you are not guilty. But the rules from the UCI are the same."
Froome was cleared of any wrongdoing and so his case is closed. However, it has set a legal precedent that could shake up the WADA code regarding salbutamol use and even the wider anti-doping strategies of the fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
"The UCI is like a policeman but we don't have the instruments to catch the riders, that's not our job. If there's a problem, it's up to WADA," Lappartient argued after suggestions of a 'before and after' to the rules due to the Froome case.
"Our structure is solid. But I understand they will have a look after at the salbutamol rules after this. That's why I said there will be a before and after. Now there is a debate about being stronger on salbutamol. When even the guy who launched the test said they made a mistake, you have to look at it."