Chris Froome says a “huge weight” has been lifted off his shoulders after he was cleared by cycling’s world governing body of any wrongdoing in a doping case.
Froome had faced the prospect of being barred from entering this year’s Tour de France by race organisers due to ongoing uncertainty over an adverse analytical finding related to a test during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
The four-time winner had always protested his innocence in the case, which stemmed from a dispute over what constituted a ‘permitted level’ of the asthama drug salbutamol.
Froome told Sky Sports News: “I’m just so relieved now that going into the Tour de France, our biggest race of the year, we can finally draw a line (under this) and have this behind us now.
“From the outset I’ve known I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve always had that confidence, but it’s obviously been quite difficult reading all these things in the media and opinions that have been completely distorted by facts that weren’t correct being leaked into the public domain.
“It was definitely a difficult process, but it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now.”
Froome’s desire to put the issue behind him is probably wishful thinking given the acrimony which has accompanied the episode, with five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault – who left his leading role with race organisers ASO last year – suggesting two weeks ago that fellow riders should strike if Froome lined up alongside them.
There are also likely to be lingering issues between cycling’s world governing body the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which indicated in the wake of the UCI’s ruling that it would not appeal against the decision, having accepted that Froome’s level “did not constitute an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF)”.
Although Froome’s disputed sample contained more than the allowed amount of salbutamol, excessive dehydration is widely accepted to be a mitigating factor, dropping Froome’s level to within an undefined region within which it is realistic to accept he may not actually have exceeded the legal dose.
The UCI said in a statement: “The UCI has considered all the relevant evidence in detail (in consultation with its own experts and experts from WADA).
“On June 28, 2018, WADA informed the UCI that it would accept, based on the specific facts of the case, that Mr Froome’s sample results do not constitute an AAF.
“In light of WADA’s unparalleled access to information and authorship of the salbutamol regime, the UCI has decided, based on WADA’s position, to close the proceedings against Mr Froome.”
Froome issued a statement through Team Sky in which he said the UCI’s decision had vindicated his conviction that he had done nothing wrong.
Froome said: “I am very pleased that the UCI has exonerated me.
“While this decision is obviously a big deal for me and the team, it’s also an important moment for cycling.
“I understand the history of this great sport – good and bad. I have always taken my leadership position very seriously and I always do things the right way.
“I meant it when I said that I would never dishonour a winner’s jersey and that my results would stand the test of time.”
The decision to exonerate Froome is likely to leave both the UCI and WADA with questions to answer. The UCI has been criticised as a result of the case ending up in the media, while WADA could face legal challenges from athletes it has previously banned as a result of excessive salbutamol samples.
Chris Froome has been cleared of any wrongdoing by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, after an adverse drugs test.
The announcement comes just one day after French media reports that Tour de France organisers were seeking to block Froome from riding in this year’s race.
Froome is now free to chase a fifth Tour title, with the race due to start on Saturday.
A drug test on Froome during last year’s Vuelta a Espana found a larger than permitted dose of the asthma drug salbutamol in his system.
In a statement on Monday the UCI said: “The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) confirms that the anti-doping proceedings involving Mr Christopher Froome have now been closed.”
More to follow…
The 2018 Tour de France begins in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île on Saturday with a 189 km stage to Fontenay-le-Comte before finishing in Paris on July 29.
Here we look at the five main favourites for overall victory.
Who do you think will win this year’s Tour?
CHRIS FROOME (Team Sky)
The reigning champion and four-time winner remains the favourite despite the uncertainty that hangs over his future with his still unresolved salbutamol case. Over the last five years he has always won at least two stage races before arriving at the Tour in July and this time around, his best result of the season is his scintillating victory at the Giro d’Italia. He will still be able to count on the Sky armada but the Kenyan-born rider certainly looks more vulnerable than ever before. Fatigue could prove a factor in the final week.
RICHIE PORTE (BMC Racing)
The Australian was forced to withdraw from last year’s edition of the race after a horrific fall on stage nine which kept him out of action for three months. Now, looking back to his best, the 33-year-old comes into the Tour with a win at the Tour de Suisse, as well as second at the Tour Down Under and third at Tour de Romandie. Porte has never won a Grand Tour but 2018 presents another opportunity to fight for a first podium place in France.
NAIRO QUINTANA (Team Movistar)
The Colombian has never looked capable of challenging Sky’s supremacy despite three podium finishes at the Tour since 2013, but this could be the year when his cards finally fall into place. The 28-year-old comes into the race after securing third at the Tour de Suisse last month, as well as achieving second place at Volta a Catalunya and Colombia Oro y Paz. Races on instinct but needs to show more aggression in France if he is to finally win that elusive Tour title.
VINCENZO NIBALI (Bahrain Merida)
The 2014 Tour de France champion showed his class and racing instinct when clinching a stunning victory at Milan-San Remo in March. Aside from his win in Italy, his season has been mixed, finishing 11th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 12th at Tour of Oman and 24th at Criterium du Dauphine. At 33, he needs to stretch those racing legs again and show he still has the pace, power and race-craft that has seen him widely regarded as one of the best riders of the past decade.
MIKEL LANDA (Team Movistar)
The Spaniard is one of three team leaders – alongside Alejandro Valverde and Quintana – although it is not clear who Movistar will want to lead their fortunes at the Tour. Landa and Quintana have raced together just once this season at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and it was Landa who prevailed, clinching second behind Primoz Roglic. The 28-year-old former Team Sky rider has the potential to win a Grand Tour one day, but his teammate Quintana looks slightly better on paper to dethrone a rider of Froome’s calibre.