Wednesday 24 July 2019

Froome facing hostile reception after Tour reprieve

Chris Froome will be on Saturday’s Tour de France start line in Vendée. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Chris Froome will be on Saturday’s Tour de France start line in Vendée. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Lawrence Ostlere

Christian Prudhomme, the statesmanlike Tour de France race director, spent the past three weeks attempting to block Chris Froome from participating in the race. He had decided Froome's appearance would damage the image of the Tour, and he told Team Sky on several occasions that the 33-year-old's registration would be rejected.

So the news that Froome has been cleared and will not face suspension for exceeding the permitted limit of Salbutamol during last year's Vuelta a Espana has made things rather awkward.

Suddenly Prudhomme and the Tour organisers (ASO) must perform an almighty U-turn and welcome their reigning champion with open arms: invite in the post, an apologetic email sent, perhaps balloons and a giant banner to be unfurled on his release from purgatory: 'Welcome home, Froomey'.

"All that for this," was a rather miffed Prudhomme's reaction to the UCI's timing. "We have been constantly repeating, since we became aware of the abnormal control like everyone else on December 13, that a quick response was needed.

"(World cycling president) David Lappartient said that there would be no answer before the Tour ... and so we decided, three weeks ago, because we needed the response of an independent authority, to write to Chris Froome, Sky and the UCI to tell them that we would use Article 29 of the Tour de France regulations (to protect the image of the race).

Suspicion has long been a lingering theme around Froome's exploits in the Tour de France. Each fresh achievement draws a new round of scepticism to be fended off.

Froome (right) will be on Saturday's start line in Vendée and can expect a reception about as warm as the urine sprayed in his direction by one disbeliever in 2015.

The following year Froome punched a fan in the face in an act of self-defence and presumably catharsis; he might require considerable restraint to avoid repeated scenes this July.

The wider question thrown up is that of anti-doping as a rigorous preventative measure.

How is it that Froome's expensively assembled team of lawyers - led by Mike Morgan, who has successfully represented Maria Sharapova among others - and scientists were able to explain this problem away when apparently similar cases resulted in bans?

Why were Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi sent down for lesser levels of the same drug? (© Independent News Service)

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