No matter what your opinion, you’ll probably agree that stage 19 of the 2018 Giro D’Italia was a historical moment for pro cycling.
Just as the Colle Delle Finestre, the highest mountain in this year’s Giro, turned to dirt, Chris Froome attacked a peloton which had already been neutered by the Sky train. From over 80km out, and with a defecit of 3:22 from the Maglia Rosa, this seemed like a simple face saving exercise. When Simon Yates broke at the Finestre’s base, it seemed like a podium position would be within reach for Froome.
Tom Dumoulin looked sure of a second GC win in this year’s Giro as Yates dropped back. After all, he had a 2:15 lead over Domenico Pozzovivo, his closest rival, and a 2:56 lead over Froome. However, over the next 80 kilometres, Froome’s solo ride to victory would put him at the head of the race, with a 40 second advantage and just one mountain stage to go.
On its own, a performance of this magnitude would raise eyebrows. When viewed in the context of Froome’s ongoing doping sanctions, it went as far as causing offence among many who follow cycling closely.
During the 2017 Vuelta a España, Chris Froome failed a drugs test for Salbutamol, an asthma medicine. Both his A and B samples were found to be more than twice the allowed limit. Because this is a ‘specified’ substance, which is legal for use up to a certain amount, a failed dope test does not result in an immediate suspension.
Fast forward to May 2018, and the case is still ongoing. Chris Froome is lining up for and winning races. Other riders who have broken the same limit by lesser amounts have received suspensions, and the same for Froome would nullify the results of any of the races he’s entered since. Including this Giro.
It’s hard to criticise Froome for entering races. It’s his job, and he’s allowed to do it. For an alleged €1.5 million appearance fee, I’d be entering the Giro too. And if he’s strong enough to win, why would he roll home in the bunch?
Don’t hate the player, hate the game. The fact that the case has been allowed to go on for this long has created a farce, and further damaged the reputation of the sport where ‘they’re all on the gear anyway’.
Regardless of the ultimate result of the hearing, this Giro’s result has an asterisk next to it. If Froome really is innocent, he should be more angry than anyone at the damage done to his reputation. For now, though, we have the carefully crafted Sky PR line to make us all uncomfortable:
‘As I said, when the time is right, all the information will be shared with everyone and I’m sure people will see it from my point of view.’
In spite of all this, I was glued to the screen on Friday. I turned on the Giro for the Finestre, expecting fireworks as the climb turned to gravel. It was exciting, and I was entertained. And that’s not wrong. Guess what? I also like watching the video of Lance and Pantani duking it out. Anyone who says it wasn’t a spectacle for the ages is blinded by their own righteousness. However, that doesn’t mean it was right. In a Giro bookended by controversy, with a start in West Jerusalem, it seems that pro cycling’s first grand tour of the year has done a huge amount of damage to the sport. Was it worth the news stories?