Froome at the Giro: racing towards confusion
The first Grand Tour of 2018 is only days from starting and yet there’s no clarity on exactly who the winner of the previous Grand Tour is. Some courageous decisions need to be made.
Four years ago a landmark ruling was made about an “adverse analytical finding”. It related to a high-profile pro cyclist who had been suspended from racing until a matter pertaining to clenbuterol was resolved. For 127 days, Michael Rogers was banned from competing because of the AAF.
Rogers was in the twilight years of an impressive career that included three TT world titles (one awarded retrospectively after an admission of doping by the original winner). Then, on 23 April 2014, he was advised that he could indeed race again. He was cleared of a “positive” test to doping.
“It has been a long few months for my family and myself,” he said when cleared four years ago. “It’s certainly a relief to get the news from the UCI that no sanction will be held against me and that I didn’t have any significant fault in what happened there in China.”
The synopsis is simple even if the full story far more complex, but here is an overview of what happened:
- Rogers raced the new UCI WorldTour race, the Tour of Beijing from 17-23 October 2013.
- While in China he consumed food that had been contaminated with clenbuterol.
- The next weekend he contested the Japan Cup, won the race and, as per protocol, was subjected to a doping control.
- His sample was found to have an AAF, showing traces of clenbuterol.
- On 23 December the UCI called Rogers six times, eventually leaving a voicemail to state that he had returned a positive test.
- 14 minutes after that voicemail, the UCI issued a press release to state that Rogers had tested positive for clenbuterol.
Rogers was suspended from racing, first by the UCI then by his team, while the matter was investigated. His reputation was in tatters and for the following four months, he set about attempting to clear his name. All the while, he trained and maintained a professional attitude even if he was never sure he’d get to compete again.
Eventually, on 23 April 2014, the UCI cleared him of any doping violation and he would race again. Shortly after his suspension was lifted, he contested the Giro d’Italia. He would go on to win two stages, including the penultimate stage atop the Zoncolan climb.
In July 2014, he competed in the Tour de France where he won the 16th stage. It was the final victory in a career that had almost had a premature end because of contaminated meat.
(Note: two years and two days after Rogers’ suspension was lifted, he was forced to retire from competition because of a bi-cuspid aortic valve, a congenital heart condition.)
Chris Froome is yet to win a race in 2018.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
“We don’t know if it will be a landmark case,” Rogers told RIDE Media in April 2014 when he was advised that the doping violation was void and that he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I think a lot can be learnt from it. Once again, the UCI has stated that they’ll continue to assess – in the foreseeable future – such matters on case-by-case basis.”
According to the rules, there is no limit with clenbuterol: if it is in your system, you’re positive. That’s how it was for the original winner of the Tour de France in 2010. Alberto Contator’s urine sample from the 17th stage showed traces of clenbuterol and, ultimately, he was suspended from racing. Before that decision was formalised, however, he would win the Giro d’Italia (in May 2011).
The decision on the Contador case was in limbo for 14 months; during that time, he continued to race while his matter was heard by the CAS. Eventually the authorities deemed his AAF to indeed be positive and he was subsequently stripped of the 2010 Tour title and 2011 Giro title.
The records were altered, asterisks added, retrospective champions announced – Andy Schleck and Michele Scarponi, originally runners up in the Tour and Giro, were declared the winners. And pro cycling looked stupid.
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“All I can say is that I hope a lot will be learnt from my case from both sides of the coin. And when I say that, I mean that, I hope that the relevant authorities will learn a lot from my case and that the athletes can learn a lot from my case as well…
“There are a lot of challenges and it’s a really sensitive case. It’s so complicated.”
– Michael Rogers after being cleared of an AAF
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All this leads us to one of the key topics of conversation surrounding pro cycling in 2018. With five days to go before the start of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, we still aren’t certain exactly who the official winner of the 2017 Vuelta a España is. A question mark still lingers about the champion of that race.
One of the favourites for the title of the Italian Grand Tour is Chris Froome, a rider who is currently presenting his case in relation to an AAF for Salbutamol from when he won the Vuelta of last year.
One of cycling’s biggest stars is still trying to prove his innocence in a matter that relates to a substance that’s on the banned list. Unlike clenbuterol, salbutamol is allowed to be used according to the WADA code – but there is a limit. Froome returned a sample that had almost double that limit but he remains able to compete because it’s not considered a ‘positive’, rather it’s an ‘adverse analytical finding’.
There has been no suspension but plenty of commentary about the matter. The upshot is that Froome is being supported by his team. He has been racing (but not yet winning again) since the news broke in December 2017.
As with the Rogers’ case (and even the Contador matter) there are indeed “a lot of challenges”. It is also “a sensitive case”. And it goes without saying that it’s “complicated”.
But pro cycling again runs the risk of looking stupid.
If Froome does escape punishment, retains his Vuelta title and is allowed to compete as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, it will be a landmark case. Many before him have been suspended for similar errors. Salbutamol has limits, but numerous athletes have overstepped that mark in the past and, because of that, been ruled ineligible for competition.
There are processes that need to be followed and, as Team Sky has long maintained, Froome has every right to compete as his result is not a ‘positive’ but something ‘adverse’, an anomaly… one that suggests excessive use of a banned substance – but also something that the team believes it can explain.
A win that got away… Contador celebrates victory in the 2011 Giro d’Italia. It’s a title that wouldn’t stand the test of time: the result was nullified and the original runner-up, Michele Scarponi, is now considered the champion of that edition.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
The Grand Tour season of 2018 is upon us. Team lists have been announced and Chris Froome will be at the Giro d’Italia for the first time since 2010 when his name is denoted with a “DNF”. The 32-year-old has been nominated as the leader of Team Sky.
“Froome now takes aim at the Giro as he attempts to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time,” says the official release about the team line-up. “Now widely considered as the best stage racer in the world, Froome will turn 33 during the Giro, which he tackles for the first time as a team leader. The race presents an exciting new challenge for the Brit, who will also target a fifth Tour de France title in July.”
In other words, it’s business as usual for the British team. They’ll continue backing Froome, send him to races and hope that the whole kafuffle will just blow over. It’s just like 2010 all over again, only with references to an asthma inhaler rather than contaminated meat.
Joining Froome in Jerusalem for the Grande Partenzaare seven riders from Team Sky representing seven other nations: Spaniard David de la Cruz, Frenchman Kenny Elissonde, Colombian Sergio Henao, Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka, Germany’s Christian Knees, Dutchman Wout Poels, and Italian Salvatore Puccio.
The relevant authorities are said to be doing all they can to resolve the matter but until that happens, Froome will continue racing even if the results he’s achieved since the AAF was announced risk becoming redundant or, at the very least, denoted with asterisks.
The UCI president has urged for a resolution to be found before the Tour de France in July, but really he – and the rest of the cycling community – would prefer if it is tidied up before the Giro’s start on Friday.
We wait to see what will unfold on the road to Rome. We wonder what the outcome of the ongoing saga relating to Salbutamol will be. We recognise that modern sport can create some confusing scenarios. And we hope that the right result is achieved.
There are “challenges”. It is “sensitive”. It is “complicated”. But at this level it should be managed better. For the sake of cycling’s credibility, a decision should be made.
– By Rob Arnold