2018 Tour de France: Divisions remain after Chris Froome’s drug case

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This was supposed to be the year Chris Froome was warmly welcomed into cycling royalty with an expected record-tying fifth Tour de France title.

Instead, the Team Sky rider finds himself only freshly cleared of doping after an asthma drug case that dragged on for 10 months and revealed divisions with Tour organizers and France’s greatest living cyclist.

Before the International Cycling Union (UCI) cleared Froome on Monday, the Amaury Sport Organisation had informed Sky it didn’t want Froome on the starting line Saturday in order to protect the image of the race, Le Monde newspaper reported Sunday.

Froome had also been the target of a proposed rider strike by five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault, who had suggested the rest of the peloton pull out in protest if he shows up at the start in the Vendee region along the Atlantic coastline.

Froome had been racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

But the UCI announced on Monday that his sample results did not constitute an Adverse Analytical Finding.

“I appreciate more than anyone else the frustration at how long the case has taken to resolve and the uncertainty this has caused. I am glad it’s finally over,” Froome said.

“Today’s ruling draws a line. It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France.”

Froome’s use of asthma medication has been well documented, and the Kenyan-born rider has often been spotted using inhalers during races.

World Anti-Doping Association rules state that an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves that it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.

Still, Froome faces the prospect of fan dissent along the roads of France – having already had urine thrown at him a few years ago when he was still emerging as a multi-Tour champion.

“Over the years, we have always had a small crowd who aren’t happy to see us, for whatever reason,” Froome said last week. “We have always come up against adversity over the years. That is something you deal with in the moment. Hopefully that doesn’t interfere with the race.”

GRAND NUMBERS

With one more Tour victory, Froome will match the record of five shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour titles before he was stripped of them all for doping.

Froome can also match Merckx’s record by winning his fourth straight Grand Tour, having followed last year’s Tour title with victories in the Vuelta and the Giro d’Italia.

Furthermore, Froome can become the first rider since the late Marco Pantani in 1998 to achieve the Giro-Tour double in the same season.

RIVALS

The list of Froome’s rivals has grown.

Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana has surrounded himself with two title candidates in their own right in Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde on the Movistar team.

“It’s probably the best squad I’ve had by my side for a Grand Tour,” said Quintana, a three-time podium finisher in the Tour. “We’ve got to take advantage of that strength in numbers to chase the victory.”

Then there’s 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali, Dutch time trial expert Tom Dumoulin, Froome’s former teammate Richie Porte, French hope Romain Bardet, last year’s runner-up Rigoberto Uran and rising British rider Adam Yates.

COBBLESTONES, CLIMBS AND TIME TRIALS

While the team time trial in Stage 3 will shake up the overall classification, the first big individual test should come in Stage 9 in a leg that follows the cobblestoned route of the annual Paris-Roubaix classic.

Held on the same day – Sunday, July 15 – as the World Cup soccer final, the road to Roubaix takes riders over 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, covering nearly 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) altogether.

Then the clockwise route heads down to the Alps and the legendary climb up Alpe d’Huez and more ascents in the Pyrenees before a possibly decisive individual time trial in the penultimate stage in the Basque Country.

The Tour concludes July 29 with the usual parade along the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

GRID START

Stage 17 in the Pyrenees will mark the introduction of an experimental grid start.

The top 20 riders in the standings will start first, with the yellow jersey wearer in pole position, in a format that will resemble an automobile race.

Lower-ranked riders will start in four more groups further behind.

If one team has several riders in the first group, it could enhance an early attack.

While the stage is brief at 65 kilometers – the shortest regular leg of the race in three decades – it’s almost entirely uphill. The route concludes with the never-before used Col du Portet, a beyond-category climb of 16 kilometers at an average gradient of nearly 9 percent.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme has labeled it a “dynamite stage.”

Andre Cardoso banned four years for doping

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AIGLE, Switzerland — The International Cycling Union says it imposed a four-year ban on Portuguese rider Andre Cardoso for doping with EPO ahead of the 2017 Tour de France.

The UCI says its anti-doping tribunal gave its verdict, in a case opened almost 17 months ago.

Cardoso tested positive for the endurance boosting hormone two weeks before the Tour.

He was suspended by Trek-Segafredo, which selected Cardoso as a specialist climber to support team leader Alberto Contador.

The 34-year-old Cardoso had career top-20 finishes in the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta, and competed in the road races at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Pro riders union upset by doping control during cycling gala

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PARIS — The professional cyclists’ union is urging anti-doping authorities to treat athletes in a more respectful manner after a Belgian rider was forced to leave a cycling gala to follow anti-doping inspectors for an out-of-competition test.

Pieter Serry, who rides for the Quick Step team, missed the Gala of the Flandrien on Tuesday after doping inspectors came to the ceremony to take samples.

In a statement published Wednesday, the riders’ association (CPA) complained about “another case of non-respect for the privacy of the riders” and criticized the odd timing of some doping controls.

“There have been cases reported where the riders were checked on their wedding day, during a funeral or on their child’s first day of school,” said Gianni Bugno, the president of the CPA. “Now we read about the case of Pieter Serry, controlled in the offseason, out of the hour scheduled, while at the Flemish cycling festival. … The riders pay 2 percent of their prizes to make these controls possible, they are the only athletes in the world who pay the anti-doping from their own pockets,” Bugno said. “The riders respect the measures required for the fight against doping, but at least they ask for the respect of their private life in return.”

Belgian media quoted Serry as saying he had already been tested two weeks ago and told antidoping authorities he was available from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. at his home.

“I understand that there must be checks and that people have to do their work, but two checks immediately after each other, out of season, is simply a waste of money. I feel like a prisoner with an ankle monitor,” Serry was quoted as saying.

The CPA added it will try to find out whether it was the Belgian anti-doping agency, the national cycling federation or Cycling’s anti-doping foundation (CADF) which ordered Serry’s test.

“In addition, the CPA will present an official request to all the bodies involved in the fight against doping and the UCI to establish a code of conduct for the controllers, to ensure the respect for the private life of the athletes, at least in certain circumstances,” the CPA said.