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Froome calls on skeptical fans to let him ride Tour in peace

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SAINT-MARS-LA-REORTHE, France — Chris Froome has asked Tour de France fans to let him race in peace, even if they doubt the recent ruling that cleared him of doping allegations.

The British cyclist has been targeted by spectators in the past. During the 2015 Tour, he said a man threw a cup of urine at him while yelling “doper”.

With the latest edition beginning on Saturday, five days after the International Cycling Union finally ruled Froome had won last year’s Spanish Vuelta cleanly, the four-time Tour winner offered an alternative way for skeptical fans to show their distrust.

“Support the race in a positive way, don’t bring negativity,” he said on Wednesday in western France. “In terms of safety I obviously would encourage fans of the sport to come watch the race, and if you are not necessarily a Chris Froome fan or a Sky fan, come to the race and put a jersey on of another team you do support. That would be my advice.”

A cloud hung over Froome after a urine sample taken during the Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

After months of silence, the UCI said Froome’s result did not represent an adverse finding, which could have led him to be stripped of his Vuelta victory, and a suspension.

The UCI’s ruling ensured he could compete at the Tour after race organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it would forbid Froome from entering until the doping case was decided.

His use of asthma medication has been well documented and he often uses inhalers during races. World Anti-Doping Agency rules state an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.

Froome said he understands it may take time for fans to believe he is not a cheat.

“But that data is available, and I would like to think that as people understand that more, they will understand my decision to keep on racing knowing I have certainly done nothing wrong,” Froome said. “Of course it has been damaging. As it is right now I’m just happy to draw a line in the sand and move on and focus on bike racing.”

UCI president David Lappartient has also issued a call for calm.

“(Froome) has the right to operate in a safe environment. I have heard calls, sometimes completely irrational, to violence on the Tour de France,” Lappartient said. “I cannot accept that and I call on all spectators to protect all the athletes and to respect the judicial decision so that Chris Froome can compete in a safe and serene environment.”

Teammate Geraint Thomas said Froome has shown poise even when fans are at their worst.

“I’ve always been impressed by the way he is off the bike,” Thomas said. “But the last nine months have been the most impressive, really, how he was able to still perform and train and commit to all that while everything else was going on.”

Thomas, however, said possible run-ins with the public are part of riding down roads lined by people, most of who are there to cheer on the athletes.

“It’s not like football – it’s not in just a closed stadium when you can check everyone,” he said. “So there is that element of risk so to speak.”

Froome is aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.

With Yates’ win at Vuelta, British domination is complete

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PARIS — When Lance Armstrong won the last of his seven Tour de France titles back in 2005, there was not a single British rider on the starting line. The face of cycling has dramatically changed since, with Armstrong erased from the records books for doping and British cycling now ruling the Grands Tours.

Simon Yates capped a fantastic year for British riders on Sunday by winning the Spanish Vuelta, completing a clean sweep of cycling’s biggest races for the country following the successes of Chris Froome at the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas at the Tour de France.

It is the first time in cycling history that each of the three titles have been held by three riders from the same nation.

“It’s astonishing really. Growing up I was so accustomed to seeing the French, Italian and Spanish riders lead the way, so for myself, Chris and Geraint to all win a Grand Tour in the same year just shows how far the sport has come in this country,” the 26-year-old Yates said. “It has not happened by accident.”

Like Thomas, Yates is a pure product of British cycling, having joined the country’s renowned academy program when he was 18 years old. At the time, Britain had already started its cycling revolution under the helm of coaches Dave Brailsford and Peter Keen, who masterminded the rise of homegrown talents, on both the track and the road.

The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona were a milestone in British cycling history. In Spain, Chris Boardman, who was coached by Keen, won the gold medal in the individual pursuit, Britain’s first cycling gold medal in 72 years. From 1997-2004, Keen was in charge of the elite performance program of the British cycling federation and developed a plan focusing on track cycling to attract funding from the National Lottery, which had just started to invest millions of dollars into British sport federations.

“Britain has invested heavily in lower ranks,” said Brailsford, who runs Team Sky. “It does not happen overnight.”

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jason Queally won the gold medal in the 1-kilometer time trial and the harvest of track medals expanded in Athens and Beijing under Brailsford’s leadership. But successes on the road remained scarce despite the emergence of a talented generation of riders including Mark Cavendish and Thomas, who developed their skills through the academy program run by Rod Ellingworth.

In 2009, Bradley Wiggins achieved a fourth-place finish at the Tour – he was later awarded third place after Armstrong’s disqualification – while riding for Garmin. He became an obvious choice for the newly-created Team Sky that Brailsford helped to create and then managed, and was recruited as the team’s leader. With his “marginal gains” philosophy and unmatched budget, Brailsford produced the first British Tour de France winner in 2012 with Wiggins, just a year after Cavendish became world champion at the road race championships.

Success has not stopped since.

“There were no British winners in any of the first 259 Grand Tours, yet following Yates’s victory in Madrid this weekend a British rider has now been victorious in nine of the last 20,” read a British Cycling statement after Yates won the Vuelta.

This year’s British dominance has, however, been met with skepticism outside the country after Froome returned an abnormal doping test at last year’s Vuelta. Froome was cleared to compete at the Tour de France just days before the race started but was subjected to abuse by some fans on the roads of France, repeatedly spat at and even punched.

Thomas was also booed and jeered this year because he rides for Team Sky, which has been accused by a British parliamentary committee of crossing an “ethical line” after preaching zero tolerance and is now often associated with doping. In March, the British legislators said they received evidence showing Team Sky sought a therapeutic use exemption for Wiggins to take a banned corticosteroid to enhance his performance while preparing to win the 2012 Tour.

Yates, who competes for the Mitchelton-Scott team, was suspended for four months for non-intentional doping two years ago after testing positive for a banned substance during Paris-Nice. He had been treated for asthma, but his team failed to apply for a therapeutic use exemption.

Geraint Thomas selected for world championships

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LONDON — Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have been included in the British squad for next month’s road world championships.

The Team Sky riders were selected for both the time trial and the road race in Innsbruck, Austria, from Sept. 23-30. The road race squad also includes twins Adam and Simon Yates.

The road race circuit in and around Innsbruck features several demanding ascents and is likely to favor riders with strong climbing skills like Thomas and Froome, a four-time Tour de France champion. Froome won the Giro this year while Simon Yates posted three stage victories and wore the pink leader jersey for 13 days at the Italian race.

British Cycling performance director Stephen Park says “Innsbruck promises some challenging yet exciting racing and we will confirm our final squad selection in due course.”