Team Sky fields impressive Tour lineup in support of Froome

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After being cleared of doping, Chris Froome is ready “to make history” in France.

Froome will be on the starting line of the Tour de France on Saturday in the western region of Vendee, aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain in the elite club of five-time champions of cycling’s biggest race.

“The last twelve months have been the hardest but also the most incredible of my career,” Froome said on Tuesday in a statement submitted by Team Sky, a day after cycling authorities cleared him of any wrongdoing despite an abnormal doping test result.

Froome has raced all season under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample provided during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. The International Cycling Union ruled on Monday that his sample results did not constitute a breach to the anti-doping rules and closed all proceedings against the British rider.

The decision also meant Froome will be able to hold onto the Giro d’Italia trophy he won in May, which gave him three straight Grand Tour titles.

“I’ve never started the Tour de France after riding the Giro d’Italia, and it has meant a completely different approach to my season,” Froome said. “But I learnt a lot from riding the Vuelta straight after the Tour de France last year, which has given me confidence coming into this race.”

Team Sky will again field a very strong team in support of Froome, including Egan Bernal, Jonathan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas.

“I want to make history with a fifth Tour de France win and fourth consecutive Grand Tour,” Froome said. “I am under no illusion about the challenge, but I am feeling ready and I couldn’t ask for a better team to support me.”

Aged 21, Bernal will make his Tour debut and will play a key role in helping Froome in the mountains alongside Poels and the experienced Castroviejo, who is also a strong climber. Kwiatkowski, a versatile former world champion, was impressive last year in helping Froome to a fourth title in France, while Thomas can also aim for the yellow jersey if Froome can’t live up to expectations. Moscon is also a Tour debutant who rode in support of Froome at the Vuelta last year.

“We go into the Tour with a lot of confidence. Chris is in great shape after the Giro, mentally and physically, and the whole team wants to build on the success we had in Italy,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “Chris is already one of the greats of the sport. This is a chance for him to cement that reputation even further.”

The Tour starts on Saturday from the island of Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile.

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.