Optimism is an opiate.
There’s a limit to optimism. New UCI president David Lappartient is hopeful about a timely resolution to Chris Froome’s doping violation.
In a normal universe and ordinary sport, eight months would seem to be plenty of time to decide Froome’s fate – innocent or guilty – before the start of the Giro d’Italia. Even in a worst-case scenario, it would seem reasonable to have a definitive answer in front of the Tour de France.
But sadly, Lappartient knows his hopes are hopeless.
The governing body can do nothing to stop the Team Sky captain from riding — and attempting to win — both the Giro and Tour. Since Sky is not a member of the Movement For Credible Cycling so his adverse finding for salbutamol does not mandate that Froome be pulled from competition until the matter is resolved. (Now we all understand why team manager David Brailsford never wanted to join the organization that’s committed to clean cycling – though at least eight WorldTour squads have been members for years.)
Having no legal authority to stop Froome from participating, UCI president Lappartient finds himself in the same powerless, bystander position as everyone else in pro cycling – riders, event organizers, WADA officials, team sponsors and millions upon millions of fans. He’s hopeful but he knows there are no real-world arguments to support that sentiment.
In essence, Froome and Sky have taken pro cycling hostage for the 2018 season. There’s an arrogance and selfishness to their decision not to sideline Froome until a verdict is reached. Yes, you can argue for the legal rights of the athlete but it’s a tough one to accept when you look at the particulars of his defense plan and the damage a long, drawn-out legal case will do to the sport — whether he’s found guilty or not.
Froome’s strategy has never been tried in a case like this and seems far-fetched at best. His scientific experts will claim that Froome was not remotely at fault because his kidney’s malfunctioned. Somehow, they retained all of the salbutamol on that day in the Vuelta a Espana instead of gradually releasing it. Then at test time, his kidneys suddenly opened up like a damn break, pouring out all the salbutamol at once and causing his twice-the-legal limit result. At least that’s the way we understand the surprising explanation.
That is a novel, unexpected and dangerous strategy. Proving it will be difficult and time consuming and high risk. Instead of claiming an accidental overdose and thereby securing a shorter suspension – as in the case of Diego Ulissi — Sky and Froome are going all in. Should they lose, the more likely punishment is a full two-year ban.
In that outcome, Sky would be forced to honor their zero tolerance policy and terminate Froome’s contract. Barred from competition for two years, his chances of ever winning a fifth Tour de France and joining the select club of legends like Merckx, Hinault and Indurain would be perhaps fatally damaged.
Given those disastrous implications and the complexities of his scientific argument, it’s a given this case will take forever — past the Giro d’Italia and into the Tour de France. Froome will end up riding both grand tours under a dark cloud of suspicion and mistrust, frustration and anger.
No one will be happy to see Froome and Sky line up in Italy and France. In private, Giro boss Mauro Vegni must be screaming and shouting obscenities while Tour head man Christian Prudhoome will probably punch a few holes in the drywall at home.
In his interview over the weekend, Lappartient threw out a scenario where the UCI would support the Giro and Tour if they could make a case for disinviting Froome. That was his life preserver tossed off the deck of the Titanic. He seemed to imply that race organizers might find a legal or ethical clause in their own rules that would keep Froome away.
But we’re guessing that’s just more wishful thinking. UCI president Lappartient knows his hopes are all hopeless.