Chris Froome’s failed drugs test (for that is what it is) is a disaster for him, for Sky, for British cycling and for cycling as a whole and caps a year for him and Sky that is triumphant and catastrophic at the same time – a rare achievement.
It is hard to see how he can fail to be stripped of his Vuelta title and given a lengthy ban; after all both Diego Ulissi and Alexander Petacchi both served bans for the same offence and the amount of salbutamol found in their bodies was less than that found in Froome’s. And if he manages to escape a ban by proving it was as a result of dehydration (Ulissi tried that and failed) or some other physiological effect, people will say he got off because the sport does not want to see its current greatest rider brought down, or that Sky somehow bought him off – shades of Contador’s infected steak and Armstrong’s easy ride by the UCI for too long. That, in many ways, would be even worse.
And can Sky survive? The Lanterne’s earlier post on Sky’s travails stated that Sky’s sponsor – Sky (believe it or not) – would not put up with any more cock-ups. What makes this worse is that Sky has just been sold to the Disney Corporation; I can’t see them putting up with a reputational or doping cloud hanging over them for any longer than it takes to end (or break) a sponsorship contract.
As other commentators have pointed out, salbutamol is not performance enhancing and Froome – as the leader of the Vuelta – would know he would be tested every day and so why would he risk it? Unfortunately, none of that is relevant. He is responsible (not the team doctor) for what is in his system and for how it got there. He either has less than the permitted dose in his system or he doesn’t. And he did. And it seems both the A and B samples show the same result.
Froome may be better advised to stop fighting it, plead guilty, serve a ban and come back in time for the Tour in 2018 or the Giro in 2019. The more he fights it and protests about how he’s not a doper, the more people will lose faith. I, for one, haven’t lost faith; I don’t believe he’s a doper but he’s made a catastrophic error and that I find hard to forgive. He was never my idol but even those who aren’t my idols turn out to have feet of clay.
At the moment the Sky brand is looking toxic and they will struggle to regain their reputation – if they ever can. However, every cloud has a silver lining and I suppose it gives Geraint a chance to be leader at the Giro and it might make next year’s Tour interesting.