Froome and the Giro’s Risk

As mentioned in the post looking at the overall contenders, to cite Chris Froome is to mention his ongoing case with the UCI following the adverse analytical finding for salbutamol in the Vuelta. While all riders have to watch out for the climbs, descents, corners, bad weather and more over the next three weeks Chris Froome runs the added risk of being taken out of the race by a tribunal or seeing his result disqualified after the race finishes in Rome, an obvious concern for the event itself too. The probability of these events is unknown but the risk exists which is awkward.

Background: if you’ve only tuned into the Giro after a long hibernation then last December it emerged that Chris Froome had an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during the Vuelta a Espana last September. Salbutamol is a “specified substance” on WADA’s list of prohibited substances, a substance athletes are allowed to take in some circumstances and up to a certain limit and Froome’s A and B samples confirmed a concentration of salbutamol in excess of the approved limit. Since then the case has gone nowhere in public, it is still open but unless you are part of the case then where things are at is anyone’s guess. If you want more on the procedural aspects, see Froome-quently Asked Questions posted here in February.

Whatever the outcome may be one frustration is the time this is taking, compounded by the lack of information: nobody knows where things are. It’s one thing to take months, another that nobody knows when it might end. These cases can take time, when Diego Ulissi had a positive test for the same substance in the 2014 Giro it took seven months for a verdict to arrive. Still with a major race at stake, a big name and now the Giro in play it’s odd that there’s no public commentary or guidance as to why it is taking so long. Nobody is expecting a live ticker to update followers with news of an expert witness being appointed here, a letter being submitted there. Nor is there a fixed timetable to wrap this up by.

If this blog is covering the topic, every TV commentator and journalist is probably groaning at the prospect of explaining the saga to their audience. The problem this topic is complicated, nuanced and open-ended with no obvious outcome nor timetable meaning it’s hard to condense into a few easy-to-digest bullet points. This in turn makes the topic more awkward.

For people tuning in for the scenery and sport this is a procedural bore but matters because if the UCI were to rule against Froome this month then he could be suspended on the spot and plucked out of the Giro. If he completes the race and the UCI rules against him then he could – let’s stress the conditional, more of this in a minute – find his results from the Giro disqualified. For viewers this means potentially watching an event where one of the protagonists risks being airbrushed out of the event but it’s not so simple as just deleting his results with a few keystrokes. You can’t edit away a rider like Kevin Spacefrom the Hollywood film “All the Money in the World”. Instead it’s real with a physical presence, a tactical scheme, a team in support and so Froome’s presence in the moment has a direct bearing on the race even if the outcome were to be altered ex post by a tribunal or arbitration panel.

Mauro Vegni

Giro director Mauro Vegni has been saying Froome’s Giro result will stand and that he’s had assurances for UCI President David Lappartient to this effect. The UCI shot this down in a tweet and rightly so because neither the Giro boss or the head of the UCI gets to decide and nor should they. There’s an element of Vegni having to say this though because to admit that Froome could be plucked out of the race mid-way or that the result could be overturned in a courtroom would put off a lot of viewers. Just as publisher would struggle to sell a book that was missing the final chapter, RCS surely have to say the Giro’s roads lead to Rome rather than the CAS in Lausanne and it’s why the matter has been causing Vegni so much angst of late.

Never mind the sales patter, let’s return to the actual rules in place. Here’s a screengrab of WADA Rule 10.8 (copy-pasted into the UCI rulebook too):

Translated into Froome’s case, if he gets a ban then it says he forfeits the Vuelta and all other results from the date of the positive sample through to the day the ban is imposed. However note the “unless fairness requires otherwise” wording: would it be fair to disqualify Froome from the Giro because of one salbutamol test last September? Sports arbitration lawyers argue back and forth over this wording. In the book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science and Law” by Marjolaine Viret – a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) arbiter and member of the UCI’s anti-doping commission – there are ample notes on past precedents including UCI cycling cases brought to the CAS that allow a rider to keep race results so again it’s possible but not certain. Inconclusive? Yes and so bound to add to people’s annoyance and swell the Damoclean question mark hanging over the race.

This blog post is about risk rather than certainty. Rather than saying what will happen it’s pointing out that nobody knows where the case is going and how this hangs over the race. Froome starts the Giro but could be suspended in the coming weeks or risks seeing a result from the Giro later disqualified although having looked at the rules and precedent maybe this latter scenario looks less likely now so maybe Mauro Vegni can’t get assurances but he can have advice that the result may stand. What the exact probability of this happening is anyone’s guess, whether it’s a verdict being reached let alone one that suspends Froome. Either way these risks exist as known unknowns and this uncertainty clouds the Giro. And if it’s not resolved by July it’ll cloud the Tour de France too.

45 thoughts on “Froome and the Giro’s Risk”

  1. It was explained to me by a employee of a National ADA (it doesn’t necessarily make them an expert btw) that 10.8 is more for results such as a tennis player getting a positive in the first round and then going on to win the tournament or an athlete failing a test in heats that allowed them to compete in the Nats a month later. This was a question I asked based on it being a specified substance as well which I believe makes a difference to the decision made.

    • There’s several parts to 10.8, as you say there’s subsequent results in the “competition” like a tennis player in a tournament or a cyclist in a grand tour… then there’s all the results from the day of the test to the day of the sanction, even if this takes nine months.

      • Which is where the ‘fairness’ out comes in. The stress on the exception is in favour of the athlete. I.e. Is it fair that the athlete should lose other results outside of the tested time. What with ‘fairness’ being extremely subjective, we can only assume legal argument and precedence will hold sway.

        The argument from Froome’s team is fairly obvious ‘fairness’ wise. Has he received any benefit from the extra Salbutamol in his system on one day in August 2017 that has affected a result in May 2018 for example? The implication of the statement “unless fairness requires”, could be looked at as; is it unfair to punish an athlete twice for a specified substance? Once for the ban that would start when the decision is handed down and again by taking away results that demonstrably were not effected by the consumption of the Salbutamol.

        I’m not sure why a decision on whether subsequent results stand or not, couldn’t be made at the very start of the process. Using the criteria of whether there’s any benefit derived from the positive result could be fairly black and white and mean at the very least, everyone from athlete to fans know where they stand.

        As they say, only the lawyers win out this.

  2. A pre-emptive comment to asking people not to conduct Froome’s trial via the blog comments (“I think he did this because of that” etc, it’ll get us nowhere and might just be easier to zap these type of comments. But if people want to explore the precedents/case law for the “unless fairness requires” then go ahead…

  3. I’m no lawyer but I suspect with the possible legal challenges (to any sentence as well as the verdict) could make this as interminable as the Brexit stuff… maybe Froome will have retired by the time it’s all over.

  4. For me a lot of the ambiguity in this case stems form salbutamol being a specified substance. If the substance was on the banned list and not a specified substance e.g. cortisone, then I believe Sky and Froome would have ceased racing since the positive A sample and the Giro would be clear of this issue.

    Specified substances seem to create further layers of complexity to the situation.

    • From a procedural point of view, thre adverse analytical finding of an excess of a specified substance is the same as the finding of a forbidden substance. And if the conclusion of an anti-doping is arrived at, it is also the same in terms of punishment.

  5. for me it simple.
    he tested over the amount by some margin in both a & b samples.
    the end. guilt of breaking the substance usage..
    i dont care about this that or whatever. get over it..
    they knew full well what they were doing.
    even taking the substance in the first place is at risk..
    suck it up take the punishment move on..
    for me ive lost total respect for froome.

    • “i dont care about this that or whatever. get over it..”

      I see you’re not a lawyer Andy. It is the job of any kind of legal procedure, and in the interests of justice, exactly to care about “this, that or whatever.” You are arguing that if anyone ever gets caught in something which LOOKS incriminating then it should simply be regarded as being incriminating. Now, unlike you, I don’t know what has happened. I don’t know how Froome’s team are arguing their defence. I don’t even know if they have a defence. But I do know that none of this is just about imputing guilt if something looks a certain way. Especially not where the case is about an amount of something that is legal in itself in certain doses administered by specified means. Legal procedure must be properly followed for any and every rider.

      • I believe Andy has a fair point. It’s rules after all, not laws. If you’re caught DUI over a certain limit than there’s a penalty. You can’t really argue with that. Anecdotally the same three beers that helped you over the limit one day may have you just under the limit the next. Still you can’t argue, you will get penalized if you’re over. It should be that simple with salbutamol.

  6. This is a sport where most of the rules are so loaded with grey areas and clauses and asterisks and vague wording that it’s impossible to ever have an idea what will happen. A clown show. Been 8 years since Contador’s tainted Spanish steak and the sport seems to have learned nothing from the debacle.

    • agreed, however note that this particular rule (and most rules around doping) is a WADA rule, not a UCI or otherwise cycling rule. as always, cycling is the sport that suffers most from drug scandals (possibly because few others test appropriately) but cannot in itself change the rules to clear things up.

  7. Obviously, going forward, the “fairness” grey area in the 10.8 should be either nixed or further explained.
    Sadly, it is not in anyone’s interest to remove the grey areas from the rules. At least anyone that has any power to change things.

    • Very well put. Among other things, because when you’ve got the power to change things, you often consider that a gray area will allow powerful people (i.e., you & friends) to take better care of selected interests, both while you’re at “serving and protecting” and when you need to “seek and destroy”.

      That’s why I find so interesting, from time to time, to consider how a rider’s career – and even the review of his past, or the role he’s allowed to continue holding in the sport – might be related to the diverse historical power configurations that happened to be in place (which is the huge and often neglected difference between *some* doped riders and some others – it’s too convenient to label them all in categories as “cheaters”, “unrepentant cheaters” and “as clean as pure water until proven otherwise by every possible court”).

  8. The number of loopholes in the rules, including TUEs, lends itself to so much abuse it stretches the credibility of the organisation concerned and makes one wonder how much they want to be effective.
    It’s so easy to make the rule ‘You’re over the limit, you’re banned, no excuses’.

    • I think it would be easier for the sporting authorities to have this attitude if the ban for a first offence was much shorter.

    • It seems simple, doesn’t it J Evans? And yet I note that no legal system anywhere in the world, sporting or otherwise, works like that. You have things like leniency for first time offenders, the ability to argue a defence and a host of other things which recognise that things which may look one way are actually, in the light of a bigger picture, something else.

      It would be nice to live in the simplistic world of Internet forums. But none of us do.

      • You do know that this isn’t actually a ‘legal system’, don’t you? It’s just rules for a sport. They can be a lot more simplistic – like banning someone when they dope.

        Were you always this lenient about doping or has something changed recently?

        • ‘It’s just rules for a sport’. If it was just some amateurs on a Saturday morning riding their bikes for the grand prize of a sausage from the local butcher that might be true. We’re talking about people with families whose livelihood depends on their ability to enter into competitions. And also about large sums of money being invested. With those things in mind it is not surprising that a bit more due process is in order here. Not quite the amount that you find in most legal systems of democratic countries, but a bit more than the simplistic rules you propose.

          • It’s a sport.
            There’s no divine right to do it.
            You don’t like the rules, you don’t do it.
            You break the rules and you’re out.
            Then, you get a different job.
            No-one’s family is going hungry because mummy or daddy (especially not mummy on their salaries) can’t be a cyclist.
            This is the same as most other jobs.
            Plenty of jobs have rules that you have to adhere to or you’re sacked, even though those things that are against the rules of that workplace might not be against the law.
            You might have to wear a uniform, not be drunk, be polite to customers, not watch pornography (not if you’re a British MP, but in most offices), no jeans, no vest tops, no trainers, etc.
            You might think some are unfair. You might be right. But if you want the job, you have to obey their rules.

          • That’s not the point. The point is how you determine whether or not someone has broken the rules. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but where I come from you can’t just fire someone because you say they broke a rule. You will have to show some evidence that they actually did.
            Furthermore, this is not about the team (employer) ending the contract. It is about an organisation that controls the entire profession prohibiting someone from doing their job. You don’t get banned from an entire profession if you fail to show up at work in the proper clothes. There are of course similar things for e.g. doctors or lawyers but again those procedures involve a lot of process

          • You’re right, it’s not an apt comparison.
            I should have just stuck with my first four lines:
            It’s a sport.
            There’s no divine right to do it.
            You don’t like the rules, you don’t do it.
            You break the rules and you’re out.

        • +1 Why is sport so often wrapped up in human rights, right to work, legal rights, etc? It’s SPORT folks! A game played under totally arbitrary rules. Don’t like the rules? Don’t play. Go paint houses for a living and ride your bike for fun. Nobody will stop you.
          I think CAS is not such a good idea. If the people who run the sport are idiots or crooks either work to get them replaced or…go paint houses. This whining to CAS about how athlete X was treated unfairly too often ends up being a bunch of legalese BS more suited to civil or criminal proceedings…none of which should have anything to do with SPORT.

          • That sounds quite naive to me. Whether you like it or not, it’s not just sport. It’s a profession for some. An investment for others. And when money is on the line, there will be disputes about the rules that won’t be settled easily. If there is not enough due process in the internal way of dealing with things, those disputes will go to real courts and be accepted there. And then they will take even longer and be more complicated. Things like CAS are there to have a bit of legalese so you can avoid a lot of it. So the judge can say: “what are you doing here, there’s a perfectly good system inside your sport to solve these kind of conflicts”.
            Also, “don’t like the rules , don’t play” is totally not in question here. Froome claims he likes the rules, and that he stuck to them. The rule is “if you can prove you took no more than x puffs despite having amount y of salbutamol in your urine you’re clean, and during the time you try to prove this, you are free to ride”. I don’t like the latter part of that rule but I can’t really do anything about it.

          • It still all comes down to a choice. If the sport wants, the sport could have rules that simply say ‘If you do X you’re banned for Y’.

      • @Ronde, you’re confusing conviction and sentencing. It would be unusual for a jurisdiction not to have any offences for which the conviction is, essentially, “you’re over the limit, you’re banned, no excuses”.

  9. I have no comments on tthe above, beyond naturally assuming that all cyclists are cheating. But, blimey, not having to hear Carlton Kirby arguing with his interior voices makes the TdY an absolute joy for the viewer.

  10. This case should never have been public but was leaked. I imagine that if it had remained private then Froome/Sky would have been able to lawyer their way out of it without anyone knowing.

    But the intense publicity means the stakes have been raised on both sides – for the investigators/tribunal as much as for Sky.

    Because of that, I don’t think he’ll escape a ban. They can’t afford to let him off.

    Which means Yes it is going to be frustrating to watch the Giro. (Although seeing his TT today, maybe he just won’t be a feature in the race … which would be odd but kinda cool.)

    • I think it’s going to be like the 2014 Vuelta. He’s probably not going to win, but will be on the podium and put up a good fight.

    • “This case should never have been public but was leaked. I imagine that if it had remained private then Froome/Sky would have been able to lawyer their way out of it without anyone knowing.” – I think you’re right.
      That is precisely the problem with the rules.

    • Uhmm, Anonyguys (or gals)… I could be dead wrong about this (I didn’t delve into it that much), but I think that since this whole thing passed the first stage and was passed over to the UCI antidoping tribunal, given that reportedly Froome’s *explanations* were rejected, it’s become more similar to other, more common, doping cases, that is, the special bonus phase you get because salbutamol is a specified substance eventually didn’t work. But I really don’t know – yet, it’s just that this very relevant step was made and we’re going on as if nothing changed since last Autumn.

  11. I think you nailed it with “Mauro Vegni can’t get assurances but he can have advice that the result may stand.” but then he shot his mouth off which caused the UCI to contradict his claims publicly.
    I’m starting to think there might be a positive outcome here in the long term – RCS might replace the hapless Vegni for someone who knows what he’s doing.
    Paging Angelo Zomegnan. Could you come back and save the Giro from these bozos?

    • I very much agree that the RCS in general and Vegni in specific has a pretty poor track record in terms of navigating between sport, politics and sport politics.

      Zomegnan certainly shook up the giro and brought it forward. That being said, Zomegnan didn’t exactly leave the giro in good standing, and I think his style would have fared even worse in todays cycling climate than in the last years of his reign. His time was up.

  12. In a funny way, this kind of madness makes me love cycling even more. You can’t imagine this in other sports — imagine Wimbledon having this sort of fuss over salbutamol! It shows how far we have come in many ways.

  13. Somebody compared this case to the Norwegian skier Sundby. He also got an adverse finding, but was allowed to compete until the final verdict came, more than a few months later. He lost the World Cup that year but he was allowed to keep the results from a certain point forward. If you equal that to Froome, then he could very well win the Giro and keep it, even if he loses La Vuelta.

    Pretty messed up. I just don’t understand why Team Sky is not part of the MPCC and why they don’t strive to higher standards in this case, when they say they do it for everything else? Beats me.

      • Of course the other teams didn’t make a song and dance about how clean they were for years. It’s that hypocrisy that really sticks in people’s craw – the cheating is nothing new.

        • Answering my own question, these are the ones that are part of it (Wikipedia):

          8 (of 18) ProTeams: AG2R La Mondiale, IAM Cycling, Team Dimension Data, Groupama–FDJ, EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale, Team Sunweb, Team Katusha–Alpecin, Lotto–Soudal

          Why aren’t the rest part of it?

          Most importantly, why wouldn’t the UCI make it clearer that any rider that has an adverse finding should be suspended until cleared? Ulissi was suspended by his team (which an MPCC member).

          We the fans need to ask more of these teams, not just Sky.

  14. When Vegni makes these kind of statements it makes it look like he doesn’t understand the rules of his own sport, that he’s not in charge of his own race.

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