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.
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.