Aigle, Switzerland, Jul 2 – British rider Chris Froome was cleared of doping allegations on Monday and authorised to compete in the Tour de France after organisers lifted a ban on the four-times winner.
Kenyan-born Froome, 33, said he is now looking forward to attempting to win a fifth Tour de France which gets underway on Saturday.
“I am very pleased that the UCI has exonerated me”, Froome said after the Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s ruling body, said a probe into Froome had been dropped.
The UCI announced the decision a day after Tour de France organisers barred him from taking part in the 2018 edition of world cycling’s biggest race over doping suspicions.
Froome’s appeal against the ban was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday by the French national Olympic committee in Paris.
But within hours of the UCI announcement, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told AFP that the organisers had dropped their opposition to him taking part.
“We were awaiting this decision (from the UCI) and now he has been cleared,” said Prudhomme. “When we are told he has done nothing wrong we are obviously not going to maintain (the ban). It’s just a shame the decision came so late.”
– Total confidence –
Team Sky leader Dave Brailsford said the way was now clear for Saturday’s start of the three-week Tour from the Vendee.
“Today’s ruling draws a line. It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France,” said Brailsford.
Earlier the Swiss-based UCI confirmed it had cleared Froome of doping suspicions that have circulated since he was found to have twice the permissible amount of the legal asthma drug Salbutamol in his system during last September’s Vuelta a Espana, which he won.
Froome recorded an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for Salbutamol, meaning he exceeded the allowed dose of a permitted substance.
The abnormal result triggered disciplinary proceedings by the UCI during which “Mr Froome exercised his right to prove that his abnormal result was the consequence of a permitted use,” the UCI’s statement added.
The World Anti Doping Agency informed the UCI four days ago that Froome’s sample results did not in fact constitute an adverse analytical finding.
“The UCI has considered all the relevant evidence in detail,” the statement said.
“In light of WADA’s unparallelled 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.”
The UCI has been criticised for dragging its feet over the Froome case, but the statement said that it needed to ensure that Froome had “a fair process, as it would have done with any other rider, and that the correct decision was issued.”
Team Sky have been heavily criticised for not suspending Froome while the doping probe was underway.
But Brailsford said they had made the correct decision based on “total confidence in Chris and his integrity.”
“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,” he said.
During the probe Froome continued riding and winning, notably with victory in the Tour of Italy in May. Froome’s Giro win made him the first man to hold all three Grand Tours at once since Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1983.
Hinault, five-times Tour de France winner, is one of Froome’s harshest critics. He dubbed Froome a “cheat”, and last week called on Tour riders to strike in protest if he starts the race on Saturday.
Froome is out to emulate five-time winners Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain when he competes for a fifth win in the Tour.
A win this year would also make Froome the second racer after Merckx to win four straight Tours.