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Is Team Sky's decision to race Chris Froome compromising its own morals?

Joe Robinson
6 Feb 2018

As Froome gets set to return to racing at the Ruta del Sol, we ask if Team Sky are breaking their own rules

Chris Froome will start his 2018 season at the Ruta del Sol on 14th February despite being the subject of an anti-doping investigation led by the UCI.

Despite calls for the rider to withdraw from racing until the case has reached conclusion, Froome and his team have decided to continue racing while arguing their case of innocence regarding his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana.

While Froome riding in Spain next week does not conflict with any UCI rules and the rider is within his rights to continue racing until a decision is made, it does pose the questions as to whether Team Sky will be compromising their own rules for the sake of their star rider.

The case of Sergio Henao

In the spring of 2016 Team Sky were presented with a case not too dissimilar to what they face currently. Colombian climber Sergio Henao was contacted by the UCI and Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation regarding concerns surrounding his Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), informing the rider that they were investigating a 'potential anti-doping rule violation'.

The UCI and CADF asked Henao to provide further information regarding his ABP values to be submitted for review to the independent experts of the Athlete Passport Management Unit, an operation run by the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

Opened in April, the investigation had been closed by the end of May, with the UCI deciding it would no longer proceed with the review into Henao's biological passport data stating, 'The independent experts came to the conclusion that there was no basis to proceed further.'

Despite the investigation, Henao did not return a positive drug test. Nor did the rider return an adverse analytical finding. Regardless, Team Sky decided to withdraw Henao from competition while the investigation took place.

Regarding the withdrawal of Henao from racing, team principal Dave Brailsford gave the comment, 'This is team policy if and when a formal process such as this begins.'

Fast forward two years to February 2018. Chris Froome is currently under investigation for an 'adverse' drug test for asthma drug salbutamol returned at the Vuelta a Espana in September last year.

The 32-year-old had double the legal limit of the substance in his urine sample. If he is unable to provide suitable explanation for this finding, a ban of two years could be handed down.

He, his team and a collection of lawyers are now thought to be compiling evidence to prove that this adverse finding was due to a medical anomaly. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Legal Anti-Doping Services has already sent the case to the UCI anti-doping tribunal.

As the investigation rolls on behind closed doors, Team Sky released a statement regarding Froome yesterday morning. It was announced that the four-time Tour de France champion would start his 2018 season at the Ruta del Sol.

In the statement that included words from both Froome and Brailsford there were multiple references to having the situation resolved 'as soon as possible' yet neither mentioned the fact that Froome would be racing while under investigation by WADA and the UCI.

Brailsford made no reference to the 'team policy' that is enacted when formal processes are opened against a rider and that was used to withdraw Henao from competition in 2016 while under investigation by the UCI and CADF.

In fact Brailsford made no direct reference to the issue of Froome returning to racing in what was an unusually short statement for someone who is usually so confident and wordy when addressing the media.

Team Sky appear comfortable with allowing Froome to take the start line in Spain next week, something they were not comfortable to do with Henao in April of 2016.

Of course, the Froome case and Henao case are no mirror images of each other, with the former producing a singular test result and the latter having to explain a pattern of suspicious results. However, it does remain that both were or currently are under investigation from the UCI regarding an anti-doping violation.

So this spurs the obvious question: Has Team Sky changed their policy regarding racing riders under investigation for doping violations or is it simply a case that different rules apply for different riders?

Cyclist approached Team Sky for a comment, but the official response was that they didn't want to comment at this time.

Since Cyclist approached Team Sky for comment team principal Dave Brailsford has commented on the siutation while attending the Colombia Oro y Paz race.

After being questioned by local journalists about the decision to allow Froome to continue racing he commented, 'The two situations are quite different.'

'With Sergio, we did some testing where he came back to Colombia, but the situation with Chris is... he’s not been charged with anything at the minute, he’s just been asked to provide information, and it should be confidential.' Brailsford added.

We stick to the rules of the UCI – their rules. The rules of the sport are there, we follow the rules, so that’s why on this occasion we’ve taken the decision that we have.'