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Defying pressure, Froome expected to start Tour of Alps before Giro

Chris Froome (Sky) is expected to race the Tour of the Alps next month as he continues on his sometimes-bumpy road toward the Giro d’Italia.

Froome, 32, has raced twice this season under the cloud of his pending Salbutamol case, and will likely start the five-day Tour of the Alps in northern Italy from April 16-20, sources told VeloNews. Team Sky officials Wednesday would not confirm Froome’s schedule.

The Sky captain continues to target the Giro in May and Tour de France in 2018 despite calls from many inside the peloton for him to step aside until his Salbutamol case is finalized.

“It’s not a good situation for the sport, and I am working as hard as I can to get this resolved as fast as possible,” Froome said during Tirreno-Adriatico. “I’ve had to learn how to compartmentalize things, and I am here to race. I’m focused on that, and building toward the Giro d’Italia.”

Froome’s expected start at the Tour of the Alps confirms he’s serious about winning the Giro. It also hints that he knows he needs to improve his form ahead of the season’s first grand tour. He debuted his season with a highly anticipated appearance at the Ruta del Sol in Spain in February.

The four-time Tour de France winner was discreet during the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing a distant 33rd overall at 13:31 back. He played a helping hand in supporting teammate Michal Kwiatkowski win the overall title, but Froome was far from his typical sharpness. He was gapped on the decisive climbing stage and was 11th in Tuesday’s final time trial.

“It’s tough racing, but that’s what I needed at this point of the season,” Froome said over the weekend. “I feel all right in the first big test. I’m not up there yet, but I know that there’s work to do before the Giro. I’m more or less content with my condition. It’s OK, we are in March.”

The Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino) is a favored honing ground for Giro-bound contenders. Sky has won the race three years in a row, with Geraint Thomas last year, Mikel Landa in 2016, and Richie Porte in 2015.

This year’s route once again serves up plenty of climbing kilometers for riders heading toward the Giro, which starts May 4 in Israel. There are two summit finales plus two passages on the 2018 world championship finishing circuit in Innsbruck in the final stage.

Other likely starters include Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), all Giro contenders looking to sharpen their form.

While Froome presses forward with his racing calendar, political pressure continues to mount. Last week, UCI president David Lappartient revived calls that Froome should not race until his case is decided.

Rules allow Froome to compete during the review of his case and he has not been provisionally suspended after testing high for asthma treatments en route to winning the Vuelta a España last year. A leak in December blew open what should have been a confidential process, and Froome insists he did not break WADA rules last year.

That hasn’t stopped many of his rivals from saying it would be better for Froome to wait on the sidelines. The latest to join the chorus of riders was George Bennett, who told a New Zealand newspaper that Froome’s presence in the peloton is a “distraction.”

“It’s a strange situation. I think most people, just for cycling’s sake, would prefer it without it,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “If he sat out the big races, just because you come to a race like this, the main race is going on and the attention is focused on Froome and should he be here and now we’re talking about it when we should be talking about Rohan Dennis and how fast he went today. It just distracts from the racing.

“I think for cycling it’s just not good at all. Everyone is saying, ‘The quicker we get a resolution the better.’ I really hope we have a decision soon especially before the Giro … It’s just not good for our sport.”

It’s unclear where Froome case stands. There have been unconfirmed reports that the case is poised to be decided by a panel. Froome could face a two-year ban and disqualification of his 2018 Vuelta victory. In the meantime, it’s full steam ahead toward the Giro d’Italia.

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