Chris Froome is looking forward to starting the 2018 season with the Ruta del Sol stage race in Andalusia, Spain, Wednesday despite a lingering salbutamol anti-doping case and possible suspension looming.
Team Sky’s star will head a seven-man team in southern Spain with David De La Cruz, Philip Deignan, Christian Knees, Wout Poels, Salvatore Puccio, and Dylan Van Baarle. According to news reports, however, the UCI’s anti-doping tribunal is ready to move this week or next.
Froome conveyed his thoughts about making his season debut on his Twitter account:
Froome spent his winter training in South Africa, where he spent part of his youth. He had been logging rides, some over 200 kilometers, up until he left last week. On February 9, he rode 170.37 kilometers and climbed 2,500 meters northwest of Johannesburg.
Froome’s start in the Ruta del Sol, also known as the 64th edition of the Vuelta a Andalucía stage race comes with controversy. During the Vuelta a Espana last September, which Froome won, he had double the allowed amount of the asthma drug salbutamol in his system.
Froome is allowed to race while the case continues, although many in the cycling community — including UCI president David Lappartient — said he should sit out until a ruling is made. A decision, and any appeals, could take up to one year.
The UCI is ready to refer the case to its anti-doping tribunal. La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote Tuesday, “starting from the end of this week, or from the beginning of the next, any of these days could be a good one to open the court proceedings.”
The judge will come from this group of tribunal members: American Emily Wisnosky, Dane Helle Qvortrup Bachmann, German Ulrich Haas, Greek Andreas Zagklis, and Frenchman Julien Zylberstein.
The judge will establish a time limit for the case and give Froome at least 15 days to submit his defense, with some saying that he could argue a kidney problem led to the high reading.
If the parties choose, the case can be expedited. Any ruling, however, will likely be appealed by Froome’s team in the case of a guilty verdict or by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) if the judge rules in Froome’s favor.
If found guilty, Froome could be suspended from six months up to two years. The ruling would likely see his Vuelta a España, and any results obtained while he is racing in 2018, stripped. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) would become the 2017 Vuelta victor if that happens.
Team Sky made the decision to race Froome because it said he did not knowingly violate the rules.
“He should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that,” team boss Dave Brailsford said.
“He’s done nothing wrong. It’s a difficult situation. I do believe that he’s innocent, though.”
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