There still remains almost a week to go until the start of the Tour de France, but Chris Froome is fending off an early attack on his bid to take a fifth Tour de France. Race organisers ASO have decided to exclude him from the Tour, seeking to force a Brexit on the Team Sky rider due to his ongoing Salbutamol anti-doping case.
French newspaper Le Monde reported on Sunday that ASO sent a message to Team Sky indicating that Froome would be unable to take part. According to a source Le Monde reports as being ‘close to the case,’ ASO is citing article 28 of its rules as justification.
This states, in accordance with the UCI’s own rules, that the organiser ‘expressly reserves the right to refuse participation in – or to exclude from – the event, a team or any of its members whose presence would be such as to damage the image or reputation of ASO or the event.’
This course of action was reported several months ago as potentially being on the table. Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme previously expressed frustration with the slow progress in the case, saying that he found it unacceptable that the matter could drag on until this year’s Tour.
He said that it was unfair that the rider could compete in the race with an ongoing anti-doping investigation surrounding him.
Froome’s case began last September 7 when he was tested after stage 18 of last year’s Vuelta a Espana. The sample was subsequently found to contain 2,000 nanograms per millilitre of salbutamol, double the permitted maximum set by WADA.
As per the rules for specified substances, it was not obligatory for the news to be made public. However the Guardian and LeMonde received information about the adverse analytical finding and approached Team Sky for comment.
Seeking to control the narrative, the team then issued a statement in the early hours of Wednesday December 13, with the two newspapers printing their stories very soon afterwards.
Froome claimed innocence and resisted calls by race organisers and others not to compete until his case was resolved. He lined out in the Giro d’Italia and while he appeared far from his best in the race, he won it with a final week fightback, including an 80 kilometre solo breakaway.
Contacted by Le Monde, a Team Sky spokesperson said the squad was “confident that Chris will ride the Tour, as we know he has done nothing wrong.”
The newspaper has reported that the team has appealed to the National Olympic Committee of French Sport (CNOSF). The case will be held in that body’s arbitration chamber on Tuesday, with a decision expected the following day.
That verdict could then be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, although it is uncertain if CAS could issue a ruling prior to the Tour start next Saturday.
ASO did not comment on the matter to Le Monde. However on Prudhomme told Europe 1 that he was frustrated that the matter was ongoing.
“It’s terrible that the sporting authorities have not managed to solve this problem before the start of the world’s biggest race,” he said. “I won’t say anything more but of course, rules have to be modified.
“An abnormal control doesn’t mean anything to a large public. It has to be black or white, positive or negative.”
It remains to be seen if ASO’s decision will stand up legally. In 2009, the company tried to prevent Tom Boonen from riding the event after 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. The rider lodged a challenge with the French Olympic Committee and it ruled he should be able to compete.
ASO’s decision follows recent statements from five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the race. He has stated that Froome should not be riding the race, and has called on the Briton’s rivals to strike if he is at the start of the event.
Froome and Team Sky have repeatedly said that they want the matter resolved as quickly as possible. However there have been suggestions that the UCI and its Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) have been saturated with documents, thus greatly slowing the whole process.
Froome said in the past that even if he was handed a sanction over the Vuelta case, that he believes that the rules would enable him to retain any results secured in the interim.