Team Sky’s star won the Tour de France four times, the Vuelta a España last summer, along with the 2018 Giro d’Italia this May. During the three weeks of Spain’s Vuelta, he tested over the allowed limit for asthma drug salbutamol after stage 18. It was a “nightmare scenario” that only came to an end Monday – less than a week before the 2018 Tour.
“Oh, it’s huge,” Froome told The Times. “These were severe allegations. For an athlete, it doesn’t get much worse. This was a nightmare scenario for any clean athlete. It was challenging to a level I’ve never experienced before.”
Many said he should sit out. Others said worse. Former French professional, and five-time Tour winner, Bernard Hinault called Froome a “cheat” and called on his rivals to strike during the Tour.
“For any athlete, to go through something like this, it can define your career. If you’ve done something wrong, that stays with you forever. So it’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Froome said.
“It’s been a long process getting to this point but out with Wout [Poels on Tuesday morning], our last ride before leaving for the start of the Tour, my phone buzzing off the hook with messages from friends, colleagues, people I’ve known right back to school, I’ve been inundated with people saying they knew the truth would come out eventually and it did.”
With his lawyer Mike Morgan and their scientific experts, they looked at the big picture. Instead of focusing on the details of stage 18, when he tested over the limit for salbutamol, they took the whole three weeks into consideration.
The article detailed that with a statistic model, they could show the chances of a false positive by someone regularly using an asthma drug. In Froome’s case, tested almost daily due to stage wins and time in the red leader’s jersey, data was not lacking. The UCI governing body’s experts tested the model as well, and as The Times wrote, “there was an alarmingly high chance of a false positive.” The UCI had to drop the case.
“The most frustrating part was when I’d see stuff that was totally incorrect but supposedly leaked,” Froome continued. “Because then everyone would assume it was a fact,” Froome said.
“The classic from the start was of my result being double the limit when it was less than 20 percent over with the figure corrected [for specific gravity, taking into account dehydration] and with the decision limit of 1200, not 1000. That figure of 2000 is half the calculation but no one seemed to pick up on how it is established. They took the leaked information as fact.
“Then it was said that I would do some kind of plea bargain which was never on the table. I would never have accepted anything other than a full exoneration from the word go. Knowing I had done nothing wrong, I was going to fight to clear my name, absolutely.”
Froome refused to sit out during the time from September until the news came out this July ahead of the 2018 Tour. He raced, and in Froome style – won convincingly. He cracked Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Giro d’Italia race leader for 13 days, and rode clear on an 80.3-kilometer solo attack to take the race lead and two days later became the first Brit to win the Italian tour.
“To be forced to withdraw from racing didn’t make sense. Other athletes in similar positions have carried on,” Froome added.
“I can understand it’s difficult, but I’m very glad I continued racing and I think clearing my name is a testament to the fact we made the right decision. The result shows it.”
Froome starts the Tour on Saturday in Vendée. He must convince the doubters of his natural talent. UCI president David Lappartient asked, “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 like all other athletes.”
“Hinault? I can’t say anything bad about Bernard. He’s one of the great champions. I imagine with age sometimes your wires get a little bit crossed, but if I see him I’ll very happily explain it all in a bit more detail,” continued Froome.
“I do have empathy with people. Cycling has its troubled history and being a multiple Tour winner comes with a level of suspicion and questions that need to be asked. I appreciate where people come from with those questions but I am pleased to be able to put those questions to bed and continue being an ambassador for the sport and clean cycling.”