'A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders' - Chris Froome reacts after being cleared by UCI in doping probe
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."
Team Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford added: "We have always had total confidence in Chris and his integrity. We knew that he had followed the right medical guidance in managing his asthma at the Vuelta and were sure that he would be exonerated in the end, which he has been.
"This is why we decided that it was right for Chris to continue racing, in line with UCI rules, while the process was ongoing. We are pleased that it has now been resolved."
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.
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.