Jonathan Vaughters believes Chris Froome's decision to carry on racing while an anti-doping case hangs over him represents a 'huge problem' for professional cycling. The EF-Drapac manager told Cyclingnews on Thursday that if Froome wanted to protect the sport he would do 'the honourable thing' and withdraw himself from competition.
Froome and Team Sky announced on Monday that he will make his 2018 season debut at the Ruta del Sol next week, despite an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a España.
Given the asthma drug is a 'specified' substance on WADA's prohibited list, the AAF was not made public and Froome was not provisionally suspended by the UCI. The case only came to light through the newspapers Le Monde and The Guardian, and since then many have expressed concern about Froome racing with a possible ban hanging over him.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford sought to justify Froome's return to racing on Tuesday but Vaughters, likewise in Colombia at the Oro y Paz race, argued it was damaging to the sport.
"On the one hand you can say 'well, since it would normally be private, until there's a resolution he has every right to race'. And that's an understandable perspective. But the reality is it's not private, it is now public. So the reality is, in my opinion, that every race he shows up to, he becomes the centre of attention, the scandal becomes the centre of attention, and the race almost becomes secondary, and that is damaging to cycling," he said.
"In my opinion the honourable thing to do on his part would simply be to not race until that was done, if he was trying to protect the sport. That way he wouldn't make himself almost like a sideshow – not even a sideshow, actually, but the centre of attention."
Vaughters, manager of the Slipstream Sports set-up since its inception in 2007, said he understood 'both sides of the story' but argued that Froome's reluctance to be seen to be acknowledging guilt is superseded by his responsibility to the sport as a whole.
"I fully understand his rights to defend himself, because anytime you have a restricted substance it's not completely clear-cut until there's been a true determination. But the honourable thing would be to recuse yourself from racing until it's resolved. There's every possibility that he's innocent, but I feel like he should recuse himself from the racing until there's a determination," he said.
"Him being the centre of attention at all these races between now and the Tour is not going to be a healthy environment for the sport. It's not any fun for anyone. I think it becomes a distraction and that distraction becomes larger than the race and larger than the sport, and that's a huge problem."
Vaughters warned that the case will drag on and on, explaining that even in the event of the ban it would surely be appealed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport – by Froome if it's a long ban or WADA if it's a short one. Even when there is a resolution there is unlikely to be closure in the minds of many due to the grey area created by the rules surrounding salbutamol.
"With regards to salbutamol limit, it's a rule, and there's every possibility that maybe it was a genuine mistake that he was over that limit and it wasn't intentional, but at the same time it's still a rule, you know, so I feel like the rules need to be enforced regardless of the intention.
"Philosophically, this is something that cycling has got to overcome, something the media surrounding cycling has got to overcome. In a way, if it was an honest mistake maybe he should be penalised for that anyway. And if it's an honest mistake and he gets penalised we shouldn't make a huge hoopla over it, he should just be like 'sorry, can't race for a little while', and when you come back don't make the mistake again and we're all good.
"Take the emotion out of it and just apply the rules. There's a huge emotional cloud hanging over the whole thing."
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