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Lizzie Deignan: Chris Froome hasn't had a fair process

Lizzie Deignan has said that Chris Froome has not had a ‘fair process’ in his salbutamol case, adding that his reputation has been irreparably tarnished. Deignan also criticised the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) for not doing more to protect her own reputation after she was cleared of three whereabouts failings.

Froome is currently under investigation after an anti-doping control conducted during the 2017 Vuelta a Espana returned an elevated level of salbutamol. Froome was notified of the findings in late September but the case was made public in December. Deignan says that the leak should not have happened.

“He hasn’t had a fair process because already people have made up their minds, unfortunately, and that is based on the not full story,” Deignan told sports journalist Orla Chennaoui in her ‘When Orla met’ podcast.

“Unfortunately for Chris his reputation is tarnished and will be forever. Whether he’s innocent or not, it’s kind of irrelevant to some people at this stage. A leak in a legal process should never happen.

“A rider should be protected because inevitably there will be things that happen, grey areas that should be looked at logically, scientifically, and analysed in court. That’s an inevitable part of having asthma and taking an inhaler and I think unfortunately he hasn’t had a fair process.”

Froome is allowed to continue to race under UCI rules because salbutamol is a specified substance. After winning the Giro d'Italia he intends to target a fifth Tour de France in July. 

Deignan declined to comment on the case itself, saying “It’s a very personal thing that is happening to him right now and that’s why I would reserve judgement on it until the courts have made up their mind.”

Deignan found herself in the spotlight ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when the Daily Mail reported that she had risked a ban following three alleged whereabouts failures. Deignan challenged the ruling and was cleared when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) determined that an anti-doping officer had not tried sufficiently hard enough to locate her for one of the tests. Deignan said that they didn’t do enough to own their error.

“I felt really let down by UK Anti-Doping at the time that they didn’t publicly defend the fact I was tested within a day of both missed tests and obviously all my samples have proved negative. I’ve never doped,” said Deignan.

“All I needed was for them to say ‘We made a mistake, we’re an organisation that’s totally funded to do this job and we’ve made a mistake.’”

Asked if she thought that UKAD had made any improvements since her case, Deignan was damning in her verdict. “I don’t think so. I think that the system is still massively underperforming,” she said.

“They’re still so many times when I’m trying to update my whereabouts and the ADAMs system is down and I can’t upload my data, and yet if I make a filing error I am taken to court. Financially, it cost me a serious amount of money that not many athletes can afford and yet they haven’t taken ownership or apologised or anything. You’re still working with a system that isn’t good and I think that there is a long way to go to be more transparent themselves.”

A two-year plan for Tokyo

Deignan is currently on a sabbatical from cycling while she is pregnant with her first child. The baby is due in September and Deignan hopes to return to racing next season ahead of the World Championships in Yorkshire later that year and the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Deignan had originally planned on waiting until she had retired to begin a family but is looking forward to the challenge of balancing a young family with life as a professional athlete.

“I’m still ambitious, I’m still determined and focused and it doesn’t mean the finish line that I thought it meant. Rather than it stopping my career, I’ve seen it as a chance to prolong my career,” she said.

“Sometimes I’ve been frustrated that my life has been very one-dimensional and very cycling focused. That works for a certain amount of time but there becomes a point when that isn’t enough. Our lives are going to be so busy and so full but it’s a two-year project until the Olympic Games and I think that we can both get our heads around the fact that we’re going to be busy for two years. We see it as an adventure.”

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