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Ever since his adverse analytical finding was leaked in December, he’s been able to draw a line between his training and racing and the behind-the-scenes legal wrangling in his defense. A brief media scrum on Wednesday is going to do little to shake his focus as he returns to the Giro d’Italia intent on victory.
“I feel ready,” Froome said. “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt and we’re ready for the challenge ahead.”
Froome’s presence in the Giro continues to rile up controversy, however. He’s defied calls from the UCI president to step aside as his case plays out. Defending Giro champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) said Wednesday that Froome’s case is “definitely not good for cycling.”
A swarm of media descended on the Giro to talk about Froome’s still unresolved Salbutamol case. About half of the questions during an allotted 20-minute press conference had little to do with the race. As he’s done with other media encounters since his case broke last fall, the Sky captain deftly answered questions about his unresolved Salbutamol case without giving too much away.
Here’s a sampling of some of the queries:
Question: Are you worried that your result might be disqualified if you lose your case, similar to what happened to Alberto Contador in 2011?
Chris Froome: “It’s a very different situation [than Contador]. That is not something that I am even thinking of. I am not entertaining that idea because I am coming from the starting point that I have done nothing wrong. There is nothing that says I shouldn’t be here racing. In that sense, it’s not something I am going to entertain.”
Q: What about concern from voices such as Tom Dumoulin and UCI president David Lappartient that the case is harmful to cycling?
CF: “I can understand the frustration. This whole process was meant to be confidential and we are going to respect that. There is a process in place for me to prove I’ve done nothing wrong and that is what I intend to do. I am not going to keep giving a running commentary. If there is something new, we’ll talk about it. As it is now, we are middle of that process set out by the UCI. … I can understand why everyone is frustrated by the lack of information. I am confident that people will see it from my point of view when all the details are out there.”
Q: On the possibility of a ban, perhaps you are racing at the Giro for last time …
CF:: “No, no, no, no. For me, mentally, to be here on the start line, thinking of racing to try and win the race — I’m not thinking about July. I am here to give my absolute best in the next three weeks to try to step on that top step when we reach the finish in Rome.”
Froome shows no strain despite facing a possible two-year ban and disqualification of the Vuelta crown and perhaps other races. If he can pull off winning the Giro despite intense pressure, former teammate Elia Viviani said it would be Froome’s “biggest win of his career.”
Froome’s answers Wednesday were similar to what he has been saying all spring. Rules allow him to race, and he’s shown no intention of stepping aside as the case plays out behind closed doors. In fact, Froome claims he’s innocent of any wrongdoing and said he expects to exonerated.
Froome arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening looking race ready. In his winless run-up to the Italian grand tour, Froome said he had time to preview a few of the key stages, including the Zoncolan climb and the major time trial stage. He also suggested that the first stages in Israel could prove decisive, especially with the heat and the short but technical opening stage Friday.
“I am not going to be able to rely on time trialing to try to win the Giro,” he said. “The race is extremely well-balanced race this year. There are a lot of mountains. It’s not going to be a one-terrain that wins this Giro. It has to be the full package.”
When asked if he’s ready to win the Giro despite all the off-race pressure and distractions, Froome said, “That’s the hope.”
“I think I am ready for this. I have a fantastic team to support me. We’ll see,” Froome said. “I can never sit here and say this will be the result in three weeks’ time.”
With a victory at the Giro, Froome has a chance to complete cycling’s version of the “Tiger sweep” by winning all three grand tours in a row over parts of two seasons. With the 2017 Tour de France and Vuelta a España already in the bag, a Giro victory this month would be something for the record books.
Even with the threat of a two-year ban, Froome is acting and racing as if all those victories will stand despite testing for double the allowed limits of Salbutamol en route to winning last year’s Vuelta.
Officials are hopeful a decision will come down by an anti-doping panel before the start of the 2018 Tour. Will he receive a ban? Will he be disqualified not only for the Vuelta but other results as well? Would Team Sky fire him if he were to receive a ban?
All those questions will be asked again, but the answers likely won’t come any time soon. And certainly not within the next three weeks before the Giro ends in Rome.