A collection of Froome and Sky loose ends. First one of this week’s blog topics was going to be how Team Sky could be coming to an end. No, not for the reasons in the news, instead down to corporate activity far away on Wall Street. Disney has announced it is buying 21st Century Fox, the company which ultimately owns Sky. You might have seen the 21st Century Fox logo on the Sky kit. It seems probable the Sky brand lives on, the threat to the team comes from the Murdoch family,nif James Murdoch goes and does something else. He’s been the pro team’s biggest backer and without him the new owners may decided enough is enough… or current management think their sponsorship has had a good run, time to try something less accident-prone.
Who would replace Sky? Once upon a time we might have imagined a queue of sponsors, for example Ford who currently sponsor the team. But would any company board back linking their name to Team Sky right now given the doubts? Remember corporate marketing is very risk averse and the slightest chance of scandal or just negative headlines can scare off backers.
Zero tolerance? A more sudden exit could be because Chris Froome gets a ban at the end of this, a formal anti-doping sanction. This is conditional but were it to happen Sky would either have to enact their zero tolerance policy and sack Froome or try to pin it all on a team doctor and say “not that kind of doping” line but good luck spinning that. It’s not impossible, FDJ’s Yoann Offredo missed three tests after a Whereabouts bungle but this never brought much suspicion. Perhaps because Marc Madiot’s not declared war on sections of the cycling press while Dave Brailsford’s feud with cyclingnews and others means they’ve got a lack of friends in sections of the media.
What sanction awaits? Froome risks anything between a reprimand and a two year ban, there’s no total absolution, the minimum is a reprimand is just that, a warning but it signifies a breach of the rules. Normally banned substances incur four year bans but salbutamol is different. It is a prohibited substances but has the sub-classification of a “specified substance”, this week’s catchphrase. Here’s WADA’s definition:
8. What is a ‘specified substance’?
It should be clear that all substances on the Prohibited List are prohibited. The sub-classification of substances as “Specified” or “Non-Specified” are important only in the sanctioning process.
A “Specified Substance” is a substance which potentially allows, under defined conditions, for a greater reduction of a sanction when an athlete tests positive for that particular substance.
The purpose of the sub-classifications of “Specified” or “Non-Specified” on the Prohibited List is to recognize that it is possible for a substance to enter an athlete’s body inadvertently, and therefore allow a tribunal more flexibility when making a sanctioning decision.
“Specified” substances are not necessarily less effective doping agents than “Non-Specified” substances, nor do they relieve athletes of the strict liability rule that makes them responsible for all substances that enter their body.
This special classification means any ban is up to two years rather than four. It likely to be less given we know Froome has been using salbutamol for asthma. Note there’s no sanction for the team in case you wonder if the medics involved are on the line. If there is a ban then Froome will lose the Vuelta title and the accompanying ranking points but as it’s a specified substance – that catchphrase again – the rules say all subsequent results can stand, whether the bronze in Bergen or the Shanghai “criterium”.
What next? As for the timing of all of this Le Monde explained yesterday that this is going to drag on well into 2018. Diego Ulissi’s case from the 2014 Giro wasn’t resolved until the following January. Now Le Monde says Froome has yet to undergo the pharmokinetic testing and this won’t be happening this year meaning the evidence gathering aspect has some way to go before any hearings… and any eventual appeal too.
Tony Martin’s right to speak up but wrong on the details: in the past when any doping story erupted most riders would avoid comment so it’s refreshing to read Martin venting on a Facebook post. However he’s wrong when he claims there’s a conspiracy of silence at the UCI in handling this case. It’s all down to that sub-classification of a “specified substance” – again – so this triggers a different rule, here it is from Part 14 of the UCI regulations:
7.9.3 Provisional Suspension based on an Adverse Analytical Finding for Specified Substances, Contaminated Products, or for other Anti-Doping Rule Violations
For any potential anti-doping rule violation under these Anti-Doping Rules asserted after a review under Article 7 and not covered by Article 7.9.1 or 7.9.2, the UCI may impose a Provisional Suspension prior to analysis of the Rider’s B Sample (where applicable) or prior to a final hearing as described in Article 8.
Here the UCI may suspend a rider on the A sample or ahead of any hearing but “may” as this is conditional, whereas for the non specified substances the UCI “promptly imposes a provisional suspension”. So the only double standards here are caused by following the rulebook rather than anything more murky. We shouldn’t blast Martin over this, after all if he is confused what is the ordinary public supposed to make of this when they just hear 40 second radio report or glimpse a headline?
MPCC: some of this confusion could have been avoided if Team Sky was a member of the MPCC group of teams. Once again this self-regulatory group plays by higher standards than the rules and if a rider is notified of an A-sample they have to suspend the rider. It’s harsh on the rider but this would have prevented Tony Martin polemics and other suspicions.
Suspension: Froome may actually want to be provisionally suspended. Because if he is going to be banned for a few months then time spent during the provisional suspension counts towards the actual ban. Being provisionally suspended over the winter months means not missing any races – like when Giovanni Visconti and Pippo Pozzanto served bans for working with Michele Ferrari – and in the event of a six month ban he’d be eligible come the Giro or Tour. Obviously the flip side is headlines of “suspended” and the association with guilt some might make. But this is not his decision, you can’t volunteer to suspend.
Known unknowns: We still don’t know how often if at all others have been invited to explain any salbutamol levels above the WADA threshold of 1,000ng/ml without being suspended but this PDF on testing stats from WADA shared by Larrick in the comments does give light into how many cases are opened and then proceed to publication and about one in four cases don’t become public because they’re explained away.
From pink to red: this brings us to the concerns of RCS and ASO, owners of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. RCS ‘s Mauro Vegni must have been tickled pink to announce Chris Froome as the Giro’s star rider for 2018 but now he’ll be red-faced given his participation is now dependent on a UCI tribunal. If he shows up with the case ongoing he’ll come with more baggage than Malpensa, especially if the heading could be concluded mid-race where there’s the possibility of being ejected mid-race. This would be a farce but pro cycling is adept at these scenarios. But there’s nothing to do here, Chris Froome is innocent for now and there’s a process to follow, it’s hard to imagine RCS or ASO saying he’s persona non grata.
And finally it’d be nice to look at the Giro route or the consequences of Froome’s decision to ride the Giro and what this means for other teams but it would all get engulfed by this week’s news… normal service next week. Enough of specified substances? Here is 75 seconds of slapstick from Lotto-Soudal over on Youtube.