The long weekend here in the U.S. delayed the post of this news and while it may be a bit old at this point, I thought it was still worth sharing. Over the weekend, four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome won the Giro d’Italia, the Grand Tour of Italy. After winning Le Tour last July, and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) in September, he is now just the third person to hold the title of “defending champ” in all three of these major races at the same time. Only Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault can match that claim. And while this is definitely a major win for Froome, it also casts a large shadow over a sport that continues to struggle with scandals and doping allegations.
Make no mistake, Froome’s achievement is without a doubt an impressive one. Particularly when you consider he was viewed by many – including this writer – as being out of the race heading into the final stages of the Giro last week. But, he turned in a mind-blowing performance on Stage 19 to not only shred the peloton, but leave all of his rivals in the dust. He went from being 3+ minutes back on Simon Yates – the leader at the time – to claiming the pink jersey and taking the overall lead. Yates would end up losing more than 35 minutes of time as no one could keep pace with Froome on the slopes of the legendary Finestre, a climb so tough that it makes even these great riders seem mortal.
But here’s the problem. At last year’s Vuelta, Froome tested positive for an elevated amount of salbutamol in his system. The drug is used to control asthma – which he happens to suffer from – and is not outright banned, although how much a rider can use is tightly regulated. Froome was found to have more than twice the allowed amount of salbutamol in his sample, which of course immediately raised alarms. In the weeks – and now months – that followed, there has been all kinds of legal jockeying, and while the positive test probably should have landed him a suspension by now, the Team Sky rider continues to compete. Now, the question is will he be suspended, and if so will his Giro win be stripped away?
The lingering issues with Froome’s drug test and potential suspension have been looming over cycling for too long. This is a sport that continues to reel from ongoing controversies with riders testing positive for one type of banned substance or another on a regular basis. The fact that Froome is the sport’s biggest star has made this a tricky minefield to navigate, as he could be going for his record-tying fifth Tour de France victory this summer. On the other hand, he might be barred from that race and could find himself sitting at home watching the event instead. Neither Froome, his team, nor the fans no for sure, and at this point of the season that is unacceptable.
As a big fan of pro cycling, I salute Chris Froome for his efforts in the Giro and that amazing win this past weekend. He is truly the best rider of his generation and probably deserves to be ranked amongst the best ever. But, in reality he probably shouldn’t have been riding in the Giro at all and his win puts the race, and the whole sport of cycling, in a precarious spot. How this all gets sorted out remains to be seen, but it is another strike against a sport that has already had far too many strikes in the past. Hopefully this will all get sorted out before the start of the Tour de France in July or things are going to get truly mess indeed.
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