Cycling’s world governing body the UCI could impose a provisional ban on Chris Froome if it feels his anti-doping case is dragging on too long, Press Association Sport understands.
The 32-year-old Briton is soon expected to announce where he will be racing for the first time since his third-place finish in the time trial at the Road World Championships in Norway on September 20.
That was the day he learned he had returned an adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug salbutamol two weeks before, on his way to victory at the Vuelta a Espana – the second half of last year’s historic Grand Tour double, having already won his fourth Tour de France.
Tour de France
Tour de France 2022 - Who is riding? How can I watch?
Athletes are allowed to take up to eight puffs of an inhaler every 12 hours and the Team Sky leader denies taking more than the permitted amount that day.
But a urine sample he gave after the Vuelta’s 18th stage had twice the permitted concentration of salbutamol and he must now provide an innocent explanation for that reading or face an anti-doping rule violation.
Despite a recent Italian report that he is considering accepting a reduced ban on the basis of negligence, Froome and his team have said they believe there is a physiological reason for the elevated reading and intend to clear his name.
As salbutamol is what is known as a specified, or threshold, drug and he has not yet been charged with an anti-doping rule violation, he has not been suspended by the authorities.
He could, though, have opted for a voluntary suspension and not raced until his case is settled. This would enable him to backdate any ban he may receive to the start of his self-imposed ban.
It would also avoid the possibility of having to give up results or prize money he might earn while riding under the threat of a UCI-imposed ban, which would not start until the date of his anti-doping hearing.
This would be the worst outcome for both Froome and his sport, as his case could take months to be resolved, during which time he intends to ride cycling’s other Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, in May and go for a record-equalling fifth Tour victory in July.
Speaking to reporters at last month’s Tour Down Under in Australia, new UCI president David Lappartient said he thought it would be better for cycling if Froome suspended himself but said the governing body could not force him to do so.
The UCI has, however, since clarified this position with regard to article 7.9.3 in its anti-doping rules.
This states that the Switzerland-based body can impose a provisional ban when there has been an adverse analytical finding, it just has never done it before for a salbutamol case or any other specified substance, for that matter.
Press Association Sport understands that the UCI is actually continuing to evaluate its position and may trigger article 7.9.3 if the case is not moving along fast enough.
In the meantime, Froome has been riding huge distances, at high altitude and great speed, while training in South Africa.
He is expected to announce where he will make his 2018 season debut in the coming days and the choice appears to be between the Ruta Del Sol in Spain or Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve, which both start on February 14.
Tour de France
Tour de France team guide: Star riders, memorable moments, which French food are they?
Tour de France
‘It won’t get better than this’ – Jakobsen on horror crash return and Tour bow