Chris Froome seems certain not to race again this season but could end it with a seventh Grand Tour title all the same.
As the Team Ineos rider awoke following a six-hour operation to treat multiple fractures suffered in a horror crash, news broke that 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo has been found guilty of a doping offence and stands to lose his title.
That could elevate Froome to a second Vuelta win, and make him the first British Grand Tour winner, some 10 months before Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France.
Not that Froome is currently in any state to celebrate. The 34-year-old underwent lengthy surgery after suffering a broken femur and broken ribs in a high-speed crash during his reconnaissance of stage four of the Criterium du Dauphine on Wednesday morning.
He remains in intensive care in hospital in St Etienne, where he has been joined by his wife Michelle and Team Ineos doctor Richard Usher, and he is expected to remain there for at least two further days.
Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said Froome was being looked after in “exemplary fashion” but that it is too soon to put any sort of timetable on his rehabilitation programme.
“First things first,” he said. “For now, let’s just concentrate on today and getting him through today, and then tomorrow et cetera and see how this situation develops from there.
“The first thing in all these situations is to get that first stabilisation, that first phase of medical surgery done really and then go into the recovery process.”
In a statement, Dr Usher said Froome had already discussed a rehabilitation programme after waking up following the operation.
“Chris will remain in hospital for the next few days for observation, but he is already actively engaging in discussing his rehabilitation options, which is very encouraging,” the statement said.
Froome was riding the Dauphine during the final stages of his preparation for the Tour, where he was looking for a record-equalling fifth victory.
Such a target must now wait and, given Froome’s age, looks a much taller order. Only one rider has ever won the Tour over the age of 35, and Firmin Lambot’s victory aged 36 came almost a century ago in 1922.
However, Froome appears likely to end the year with a seventh Grand Tour win all the same with Cobo facing a fight to retain his 2011 Vuelta crown.
A statement from the UCI said the 38-year-old Spaniard, who retired in 2014, had been found “guilty of an anti-doping violation (Use of a prohibited substance) based on abnormalities from 2009 and 2011 detected in his Biological Passport” and ruled ineligible for a period of three years.
Cobo, riding for Geox-TMC, beat Froome by 13 seconds, with fellow Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins third, one minute and 39 seconds down.
Cobo has 30 days in which he can lodge an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
If awarded the title, Froome will add it to a collection which includes his Tour de France wins in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, his Vuelta win in 2017, and the 2018 Giro d’Italia title.
A spokesperson for La Vuelta told Press Association Sport organisers were awaiting the full ruling from the UCI before making a statement.