The four-times Tour winner called on Wada to publish the studies it relied on to exonerate him over salbutamol on the eve of a race for which he and Team Sky are in good shape.

Chris Froome’s fight to reverse what he has described as the “damage” to his reputation accelerated on Friday as both the four-times Tour de France champion and the UCI, cycling’s governing body, issued statements seeking to calm the hostile atmosphere surrounding Team Sky’s leader.

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But those efforts were then dealt a blow later in the day when the UCI president David Lappartient appeared to attribute Froome’s clearing to his wealth.

Speaking to the BBC, Lappartient said: “Froome had more financial support to find good experts to explain the situation.” Lappartient said that Froome “brought a lot of experts with him to try to demonstrate that he’s not guilty” and added that the UCI was “in the middle of a big battle between Team Sky and the test itself and Wada.”

After Froome was roundly booed by the crowd at the Tour’s team presentation on Thursday evening, he issued a statement on Friday that was surprisingly published on the website of Le Monde, one of the sharpest and longest-standing critics of doping in cycling.

“When I said I would never dishonour the yellow jersey and my results would stand the test of time … I won’t – and they will,” Froome said. “I love this sport. I am passionate about the Tour. To win any race based on a lie would – for me – be a personal defeat. I could never let that happen.”

Acknowledging the level of hostility towards him, Froome said: “I recognise that the buildup to this race has not been the easiest,” but, describing the French public as “fair-minded” he added: “There are complex issues involved that cannot be boiled down into a single sentence.

“I am a realist. I know the history of the sport, good and bad – and I would be the last to complain about scrutiny.

“We know that it is possible to take the same amount of salbutamol every day and to have very different readings. There doesn’t seem to be a reliable correlation between what you inhale and what you excrete. We also know that a reading can be significantly affected by dehydration.”

As his team had done this week, Froome called on Wada to publish the “scientific studies they relied on both to create the current testing regime and to exonerate me”, adding: “I am sure these will help everyone understand the complexities of the case and the risk of false positives for all athletes who suffer from asthma and use salbutamol to manage their symptoms.”

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A further statement from the UCI later in the day supported Froome and also denied the suggestion that he had exploited a “loophole” of any kind to avoid an anti-doping rule violation.

“Wada’s scientific department has access to information that UCI does not, including ongoing and unpublished studies on the excretion of salbutamol (which is – as confirmed by Wada’s Scientific Director – subject to considerable variations),” the statement said. “In those circumstances, the UCI had to trust Wada’s assessment of whether or not Mr Froome’s control amounted to an anti-doping rule violation as per the rules adopted by Wada.

“Pursuing the case when the world supervising authority in anti-doping – which is the entity enacting the rules and the tests – tells you that there is no case is simply not an option.” Opening proceedings against Froome, the UCI said, would be unfair.

The UCI statement also confirmed that Wada deemed a controlled pharmacokinetic study, in which the conditions surrounding the sample from the Vuelta a España were created, was “unnecessary before closing the case”. In contrast, however, in the case of Diego Ulissi, an Italian rider who also had a beyond-threshold level of salbutamol, the pharmacokinetic study was integral to his ultimately unsuccessful defence.

However, the two statements use contradictory language. The UCI stated that Froome “significantly increased his dose of salbutamol [to treat a chest infection]”, while Froome himself stated that he increased the number of puffs after experiencing “acute worsening of my asthma”.

After being dogged by scepticism during all four Tour victories to date, Froome, who spent much of his childhood in Kenya, outwardly appears to have developed the hide of a rhino. Now too, having been cleared to start the Tour instead of banned from racing, he is no longer an endangered species.

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Despite the furore over his case, Froome starts the 2018 Tour as clear favourite and will now focus on a record-equalling fifth Tour win. He is supported by the strongest Team Sky lineup that many can recall, an eight-man team that will shield him from sceptics and critics, fans and rivals, and over the cobbles of northern France and the cols of the Alps and Pyrenees.

Included in Sky’s is Geraint Thomas, winner this year of the Critérium du Dauphiné and a past winner of Paris-Nice and, intriguingly, Egan Bernal, the young Colombian climber making his Tour debut who has this year won the Colombian stage race Oro y Paz and the Tour of California.

Appropriately perhaps, given the divisive atmosphere, this Tour is split in two by a mammoth transfer after nine stages, from the Franco-Belgian border to the foot of the Alps.

Part one of the race is all about fierce flat racing and includes a team time trial, a hill climb finish and a punishing “mini Paris-Roubaix” cobbled stage that could create gaps as pronounced as any mountain stage. The second half of the race is almost exclusively about climbing with three Alpine stages and then three Pyrenean days, including the shortest road stage in 30 years of the Tour, the 65km stage 17 mountain race to the summit of the Col du Portet.

There is an individual time trial on the final Saturday before the long transfer north to Paris. Strategically placed to ensure a cliff-hanging finale, it may also provide a chance for Froome to increase his lead if, as is expected, he is in control by then.

Yes, there are opportunities for his rivals to attack Froome but the strength of his team and the inclusion of the irresistible Bernal suggests that any attempts to drop the Bernal-Froome mountain tandem will be doomed.

Even before this Tour begins Froome is battle-scarred but the indication is that far from being fatigued by his Giro d’Italia victory and the continuing polemics over his salbutamol usage, he is now primed for a vindication of sorts, out on the roads of France.

Article Source: The Guardian

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