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Race against hostility


Froome still dogged by controversy as he seeks fifth tour title

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Chris Froome has faced
hostility at the Tour de France before and come through to win.

On the 14th stage in 2015, as he was on his way to his second Tour win, he had a cup of urine thrown at his face by a fan, who yelled “doper” at the British cyclist. An angry Froome accused a minority of fans of “ruining the race.”

Yet that is what many fans feel that persistent doping accusations are doing.

Monday’s decision by the UCI, cycling’s governing body, to clear Froome of a doping violation on the advice of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – and in the nick of time for the Tour, which begins tomorrow in the Vendee – was met with widespread incredulity.

An excessive amount of the asthma drug salbutamol was recorded in a urine sample given by Froome at last year’s Spanish Vuelta.

Australian pharmacologist Robin Parisotto, who helped develop the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation’s Biological Passport programme, told Cyclingnews that it was “it’s hard to comprehend how a salbutamol level that high could not constitute an AAF (adverse analytical finding).”

But UCI President David Lappartient defended its decision, asking for Froome to be treated fairly.

“Everyone’s having a go at the UCI today, but when I get a letter from WADA on June 28 that tells me that Mr Froome’s tests show no violation of the anti-doping regulations, I don’t see how I can sanction Chris Froome in light of that,” UCI President David Lappartient told French newspaper Le Figaro.

“I understand people’s reaction but they wanted Froome’s head on a spike whether he is guilty or not,” Lappartient said.

Perhaps the image of baying mob is far-fetched, but Team Sky are concerned enough to have bodyguards on the payroll – just as was the case with Lance Armstrong, a man who long proclaimed his innocence of doping and was later found to have done it for years.

On Wednesday, Froome made his first public appearance in France – without bodyguards, incidentally – and appealed to the fans for fair treatment.

“If they don’t like Chris Froome they should put on the jersey of a team that they support and not bring anything negative into the race,” he said.

But Froome can have little hope of that. At his Giro d’Italia win in May his extraordinary stage 19 performance, which saw him take an unlikely lead, took place against a backdrop of ridicule. Two men dressed in medical gear approached him, one of them waving a giant inhaler.

Froome’s rivals have chosen their words carefully when pressed on the matter, preferring to focus on the controversial handling of the case by the UCI and the WADA, who took nine months to come to their decision.

“I’m not making an accusation. He’s been cleared,” Sunweb captain Tom Dumoulin said. “But the chaotic way in which it was handled is something that cycling doesn’t need.”

Dumoulin is one of the chief threats to Froome’s bid for a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title and fourth consecutive Grand Tour victory.

But the Briton must overcome the circus that is bound to accompany him – whether, as Lappartient says, he is guilty or not.