Earlier this week Bernard Hinault, for many years part of the Tour de France organisation, spoke out strongly against Chris Froome. The Frenchman and Eddy Merckx were previously the riders to have won three different Grand Tours consecutively; Froome joined them on Sunday, and Hinault doesn’t approve.
“Froome does not belong on that list,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “He returned a positive test at the Vuelta, and afterwards his B-sample proved positive, so he has used doping and he has to be suspended. He should never have been allowed to start in the Giro.”
Hinault also pointed out that two other riders who had levels far in excess of the permitted maximum of salbutamol, Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi, were suspended far quicker. He expressed deep reservations about Froome riding the Tour, on the basis of the harm that might cause cycling’s image.
Hinault has retired from his Tour de France role but it seems his comments may also reflect those of the Tour organiser ASO. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, long-running rumours that ASO may seek to block Froome from riding the Tour have been reaffirmed.
The Italian newspaper has said that the organisers will do what they can to block Froome from starting the Tour. It cites unnamed French sources as stating that organisers have reservations about the salbutamol case and the fact that he could ride while it is still up in the air, without a final resolution.
According to La Gazzetta journalist Ciro Scognamiglio, ASO would try to prevent Froome from starting on the basis of the damage he could do to the Tour’s reputation. It has such a provision in its rules, as does the UCI. In March UCI President David Lappartient said that in theory the governing body could also take this course of action, but said at the time he didn’t want to.
“It’s possible and it’s true that we have this power,” he said, according to the Guardian.
“But for salbutamol, it’s never been done, and we have to respect the rights of Chris Froome. It’s not possible to have a specific treatment for him.
“And no other international federation has taken this decision for salbutamol. So if we were the only international federation to do this – and just for one rider – I think we would be in the wrong and could badly lose if it went to [the court of arbitration for sport].”
However ASO is a private organisation rather than a governing body and presumably feels that it would have a better chance of defending any legal challenge to such a decision.
Notwithstanding that, La Gazzetta notes that the Tour tried to block Tom Boonen from riding the race in 2009 when he tested positive for cocaine. He had already tested positive prior to the 2008 event and on that occasion, his QuickStep team pleaded with Tour organisers to let him into the race. He duly rode in 2008, but when he tested positive again in 2009 ASO tried to block him.
Boonen challenged this to the French Olympic Committee and it ruled he should be able to ride the race. It remains to be seen how successful ASO would be if it does try to block him this July.
Speaking in March, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said that he considered the long delays in reacting a final verdict in the Froome case as being ‘completely grotesque.’ He said the Tour de France needed a response from the UCI ‘so that there isn’t a rider they’ll later say shouldn’t have been at the start.’
Lappartient conceded recently that there was an increasing likelihood the case won’t be settled before the Tour. This appears to have left ASO in the position where it must itself act if it doesn’t want a rider still under investigation to race, and potentially win, the Tour.