Novelist Fedor Dostoevsky would probably get a kick out of the Chris Froome Adverse Analytical Finding. After all, it’s quite a rich story with a cast of fascinating characters. The Russian’s classic work, besides Anna Karenina, was Crime and Punishment.
We’re thinking that the modern revision would read Crime, Climate and Punishment. The prevailing weather conditions, both ethically and perceptionally, will largely decide the ruling on Froome’s penalty, reputation and career.
We’d argue that the climate, even more than the pure legal arguments, will impact Froome’s chances of acquittal. Our assessment: it’s a perfect storm that will lead to an inevitable suspension and the loss of his Vuelta title, if not his World Championship TT bronze. (After that, the world will watch Sky attempt to creatively amend its zero tolerance policy and keep Froome on board.)
Because while Team Sky and Froome will throw an an impressive number of resources and legal minds at the problem, he’s also dealing with a climate that’s already deeply unfavorable and unsympathetic to his cause. Trying to prove you somehow doubled the limit of acceptable salbutamol in your system is one near-impossible challenge. Asking people to also give you the benefit of the doubt is a doomed proposition.
Right or wrong, fair or not, Chris Froome is a victim of the many negative stories surrounding Team Sky. There’s Sky coach Shane Sutton’s quotes that he sees no problem manipulating the gray area of TUE usage to gain an competitive advantage. There’s the mysterious jiffy bag for Bradley Wiggins, sent from England to France, yet supposedly containing an over-the-counter medicine available at a low cost from any French pharmacy. The Fancy Bear hacks revealed a team more than willing to push the ethical limits.
There’s the UK Anti-doping investigation into Sky and the teams strange inability to know what meds are where, for whom and why — and the laughable excuse from team doctor Freeman that his laptop with all the information was stolen. There’s even the story that team boss David Brailsford tried to kill the Jiffy bag story by buying off the journalist with a story about another team. Sky, a team that boasted from day one about transparency and zero tolerance, has lost a tremendous amount of credibility.
That’s a lot of ugly weather to deal with when Froome is hoping for a little understanding and some trust-me points for always talking up clean cycling and releasing some training files.
The forecast gets worse. Multiple physiologists and medical experts doubt he could have unintentionally gone over twice the limit. They also highly doubt any attempt to prove his body somehow processes salbutamol in a way different manner than anyone else. Their conclusion is that it would be quite a long shot to pull that off — not matter how clever and aggressive your legal consel.
Then there are people like Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault both saying Froome should not be trusted and deserves a suspension. The Movement for Credible Sport shouts that Froome should be removed from competition until the matter is resolved legally. The UCI is caught between a rock and a hard place. Dick Pound, former head of WADA, states that WADA could go after Froome even if the UCI rules in the Briton’s favor.
Let’s not forget Giro boss Mauro Vegni and Tour de France head man Christian Prudhomme both essentially begging in the media to get a ruling one way or another before their two grand tours are stained and compromised. The last thing in the world cycling needs is to have Froome podium in both tours then be stripped later if he’s suspended.
All this in a sport just crawling out of the dark shadow of Lance Armstrong. A sport so financially weak that one World Tour squad, Cannondale-Drapac, had to launch a crowd funding campaign just to save the team while another, Team BMC, doesn’t even know if they’ll make it past another year without a new sponsor.
Given these climatic conditions, imagine the scenario where despite long odds and thanks to an amazing set of legal tricks, Chris Froome wins his case. The fact is, very few people will believe he’s clean except the die-hard Sky fans.
For the reminder of his career, Froome will be dogged by questions and innuendo and a million doubters. He’ll be under the microscope in every race for the rest of his career. “Not fun”, as Lance Armstrong, has already said, regarding Froome’s situation. Meanwhile the sport of cycling will have their biggest star besides Peter Sagan forever accused of cheating.
We suspect that the climate makes Froome’s suspension and loss of Vuelta title inevitable. There really is no other solution that protects the sport. Anything else will be rightly seen as a double standard and a travesty. Froome said the salbutamol issue won’t tarnish his reputation but he’s terribly wrong on that score. He’s a victim of the storm. Crime, Climate, Punishment.