How the hell … ? is a new regular column to the blog, courtesy of the newest member of the team, Euan (aka Journal Velo). We’re hoping these will give readers food for thought and topics for discussion, either here or on Twitter. And to show he means business, he’s jumping right into the deep end, as he tackles one of the stickiest questions around … How the hell is Chris Froome still racing?
Chris Froome kicks off his season at the Ruta Del Sol today (14 February). That’s the same Chris Froome whose urine sample on the 7th of September last year contained twice the permitted level of Salbutamol.
You won’t, however, find Pierpaolo De Negri at that race or any other this week. He failed a drugs test in December and found himself suspended by the UCI. Nineteen other riders are also provisionally suspended and can’t race currently. Heck Lance Armstrong isn’t even allowed to turn up at the Tour of Flanders and, as we all know, he “never tested positive”.
So how the hell is Chris Froome still racing?
A couple of months ago, I got a letter accusing me of breaking some rules. My ‘A’ sample was positive – I’d been photographed driving in a bus lane. I didn’t think I had driven in a bus lane so I appealed and they let me off. However, while I was waiting for that appeal to come through, I didn’t pay the fine they were demanding nor did I take myself off the roads for the good of others.
And that’s kind of where Chris Froome and Sky are at. Outwardly at least, they don’t believe they’ve done anything untoward. Why should they suffer while they clear the matter up? Froome’s case is different from De Negri’s because of the substance involved. The rules allow Salbutamol up to a certain level rather than banning it outright. Having too much of it in your test gets you in trouble but it doesn’t get you a provisional suspension.
Sky could have voluntarily removed Froome from racing but they chose not to. I imagine that’s based on legal advice. It’s not a great look for a sponsor either.Embed from Getty Images
But now we’ve got a circus on our hands. For the first time in memory, the Ruta Del Sol will be on the back pages of the papers. It will feature in many outraged tweets and have acres more pixels devoted to it than any time before (at least outside of Andalucia).
Only we won’t be hearing about the racing, the GC or the new-season form. It’ll be all about that failed test and the man riding, in spite of it. That is going to continue, perhaps for many months, until the case gets resolved.
Let’s not forget, this is cycling. If there’s an administrative mess that can be made, the UCI will make that mess with all the gusto of a toddler with a box of crayons and a freshly painted white wall. And if there’s a loophole in the rules, teams will jump straight through it, feet first, to get the greatest benefit.
For me, given the circumstances, Sky have made the right decision to race Froome. Yet I don’t think there should have been a decision for them to make.
Having a rule in place that suspends riders such as Froome until there is a resolution to their case would stop the circus. It would encourage a quicker resolution and it would let the cyclists with no questions to answer be the stars of the show. Fans could watch the races without big question marks in their heads.
If the new UCI President is as action packed as he says he is, then he’d be drafting those rule changes now.
Froome is just sticking with the system. He’s allowed to race the Ruta Del Sol and he will. If that makes you angry, it’s the system that deserves your ire.
So to answer the question, how the hell is Chris Froome still racing? It’s because he can.
Header image: © GETTY/Action Plus/ Simon Gill