Froome’s name has been cleared after the nine-month probe into the adverse analytical finding for salbutamol he returned while on course to victory at La Vuelta in September, and following a public trial which began when the news was leaked in December.
Facing the world’s media for the first time since, Froome repeated what he has said throughout the process – that he has done nothing wrong and always believed this moment would come.
But the Team Sky rider admitted he could understand why organisers of this race – in which he is the three-time defending champion – had moved in recent days to bar him from taking part while the case was unresolved, and that there would still be doubters he would never win over.
“Of course it has been damaging,” he said when asked about his reputation. “As it is I’m now happy to draw a line in the sand and move on.”
Froome raced under the cloud of the ongoing investigation at the Giro d’Italia in May, but put it to one side as he staged a remarkable comeback in the final week to win the pink jersey, meaning he now holds all three Grand Tour titles.
Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford hailed his star rider for the way he had handled himself.
“This situation has been his worst nightmare but throughout he has maintained his dignity and maintained his performance, winning the Giro and coming here to try to win the double,” he said. “He’s been exceptional.”
Team Sky have faced criticism from several quarters over the past two years, ever since the ‘Fancy Bears’ leak led to questions over Therapeutic Use Exemptions granted to Sir Bradley Wiggins, but Monday’s announcement gave some good news to Brailsford – who has faced plenty of questions about his own future.
“It was never in doubt to us that this whole thing was going to be cleared up,” he said. “Of course, people were very quick to make judgements but we’ve finally got to a point where he has been exonerated and that whole episode is over and I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled that situation.
“So it is with a little bit of extra pride that I’m part of this team leading into this Tour.”
Both Froome and Brailsford faced questions as to whether they would release any of the evidence they submitted in the rider’s defence, but Brailsford said that was not up to the team.
“The people that made the decision were the UCI and WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), not Team Sky, and I think that’s where the information about how that decision was made should come from, not necessarily ourselves,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sky had released plenty of other data, relating not to the salbutamol matter but to Froome’s stunning victory on stage 19 of the Giro, which set him up for overall victory.
BBC Sport published a large tranche of data released by the team relating to Froome’s preparation for the stage, and his refuelling plan and power output during it.
With the anti-doping investigation behind him, if perhaps not all of its ramifications, Froome’s next challenge is trying to become the first man to do a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998 – a mission that begins with stage one from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte on Saturday.
“I think this year’s race is going to be the biggest challenge of my career,” he said.
“It’s a massive goal for me, trying to target a fifth win here and fourth Grand Tour consecutively and the Giro-Tour double. It’s something I’ve never done before so it’s completely unknown to me.”
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…