A dark cloud that has hung over professional cycling has finally cleared, paving the way for the sport’s biggest star to take part in the Tour de France later this week. It was announced earlier today that the UCI (cycling’s governing body) has cleared Chris Froome of all doping charges stemming from a failed drug test at last year’s Vuelta Espana. Froome and his Team Sky will now go to France as scheduled where he will attempt to not only defend his title but win a fifth Tour, putting him amongst the best riders in history. The ruling also avoids serious controversy for cycling at a time when it continues to battle the court of public opinion.
This story begins last fall when Froome tested positive for elevated amounts of salbutamol – in asthma treating drug – in his system. The medication is not banned by the UCI, but riders are not allowed to have more than a designated amount in their system. The cyclists, who suffers from sports-induced asthma, had twice that allowed amount however, throwing his performance in doubt.
The UCI, Froome, and WADA – the World Anti-Doping Agency – have gone round and round since the failed test, with the rider continually reiterating his innocence. What should have taken a few weeks to resolve, went on for months, allowing Froome to compete in – and win – the Giro d’Italia last month in Italy. The results of that race could have been nullified had the case against Froome gone the other way. Instead, he is now just one of three riders to ever win all three of cycling’s Grand Tours.
In commenting on this particular case, representatives of the UCI released a statement saying “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.” In other words, WADA had the final ruling, and the organization didn’t find any issues with the rider’s use of salbutamol, clearing him of all charges.
This news comes just one day after it was announced that the Amateur Sports Organization (ASO), the organizers of the Tour de France, would ban Froome from participating. The race was looking to prevent further damage to its reputation in terms of champions who have gone on to test positive or admit to the use of performance enhancing drugs. The Team Sky rider was set to challenge that ruling in a court of arbitration tomorrow, a step that will no longer be necessary.
With his name cleared by the governing bodies, Froome will be on hand to start the Tour de France on Saturday. But, he could potentially be at his most vulnerable ever in that race. Not only is coming off a tough challenge at the Giro, the course for this year’s race was specifically designed to test him and the other great climbers. He is certainly the odds on favorite going in, but the competition may be closer than ever.
Froome will likely face a different reaction from the crowds on the road in France. Cycling fans have not always been willing to forgive and forget in these kinds of cases and he may find that they are less than kind to him during the race. Again, this is just another distraction that he’ll have to deal with as he looks to defend his title – and reputation – in France.
Bring on the Tour.
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