One of the main critiques of David Lappartient when he was running for UCI president was that he might not be independent enough from A.S.O., the most powerful organization in pro cycling.
On the campaign trail, the Frenchman offered reassurance after reassurance that he wasn’t in bed with ASO, the company behind the Tour de France and many high other profile races. He insisted he wouldn’t be hesitant or afraid to stand up toA.S.O. for the greater good of the sport.
In light of Chris Froome’s ugly and on-going legal battle over his adverse analytical finding for the asthma medication salbutamol, we may all hope and pray that Lappartient really is in bed with ASO. I mean the whole works — pillows, down comforter, King size mattress.
That might be the only way to keep Froome from riding the Tour de France and thus damaging the reputation of the sport at its biggest, most global event. The Tour is a giant magnifying glass and for most fans, especially the more casual kind, the Tour is everything. In this case, the story gaining magnification is the negative image that pro cyclists are all dopers and that nothing ever changes to clean up the sport.
For most fans watching Le Tour, that message will come out loud and clear: that Team Sky isn’t the ethical and honest clean team and that their star rider Froome, a five time winner of the Tour, is engaged in a contentious battle to save his reputation at the expense of his sport.
Lappartient isn’t happy, the Giro isn’t happy, the Tour isn’t happy, the cycling media, pro peloton and team sponsors aren’t happy. Almost nobody wants Froome on his race bike in a bike race.
“I honestly thought it would all be settled sooner. I’d imagined that it would be done for the start of the Classics. But the whole procedure is complex. He has more resources than the others and has good lawyers, like we do. Because he argues that he has followed the rules, that has made the investigation a lot bigger.”
That brings us right back to the UCI’s Lappartient and A.S.O.’s tour boss Christian Prudhomme. Lappartient has kept up a steady, disenchanted monologue — he wanted Froome’s case resolved before the Giro d’Italia in May, and now he’s pretty much conceded Froome will ride Le Tour without any legal decision on guilt and suspension.
For his part, Prudhomme has been adamant that he wanted an answer before his marquee event. He said it would be “completely grotesque” if that didn’t happen. He is crazy mad about being put into this situation.
Now, there has been loose talk about A.S.O making plans to keep Froome from riding their beloved Tour de France on ethical grounds. Somewhere in their code of conduct is some legalese that basically says if you’re a poor reflection of the values of Le Tour, they can decided to revoke your invitation. But given the size and financial resources of Froome’s legal team, any move to exclude Froome will go straight to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It would be a nuclear option by A.S.O but one they’re cautious to put into action.
That’s where the close relationship between A.S.O. and Lappartient and the UCI is going to be extremely critical to any attempt to keep Froome out. This is going to take the collective force of both organization to prevent the Briton from pinning on a number in France.
That’s why today’s quotes from Lappartient were intriguing in a back-story kind of way. It almost sounded like he was setting the ground work for A.S.O. Not only that, he opened another line of argument against Froome’s participation: it wasn’t just ethics but also protecting Froome from three weeks of negative reactions by French spectators.
“I don’t think we’ll have a decision before the Giro but I hope before the Tour. It puts everyone, the organizers, the UCI and the rider himself, in an untenable situation. We don’t want to see a rider targeted by part of the public,” said Lappartient.
“I don’t know how the public will react. He’s ridden two races (the Ruta del Sol in Spain and Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy) but not in France. Most people are well behaved but there are always some who get fired up and who are less respectful of the rules. Our goal is not to place him in such a situation.”
Well, isn’t that incredibly thoughtful of Lappartient to be so protective of Froome’s well-being? Now, it’s a war on two fronts and it sounds very much like A.S.O. and the UCI are working on a multi-pronged joint strategy.
A.S.O. will use their ethics clauses and the UCI will invoke the need to rescue Froome from angry French crowds howling for his head.
We suspect there is a serious, back-channel weapons and tactics conversation going on between Prudhomme and Lappartient. Yes, they’re in bed together and yes, they’re going to kick Froome out of the Tour de France.