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Bardet growing weary of questions surrounding Froome case

Romain Bardet is growing weary of the questions and controversy surrounding Chris Froome's salbutamol case.

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Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) feels like just about everyone else with less than one month to go to the Tour de France.

The last thing the French star wants to talk about is Chris Froome’s ongoing salbutamol case, but the questions keep coming.

Racing this week at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he ended Saturday’s explosive stage third overall, Bardet is growing weary of talking about Froome’s likely presence in the Tour.

“I regret that this controversy is getting bigger and bigger as the Tour approaches,” Bardet told AFP. “It’s a shame that the sport is second fiddle to these questions about Froome’s possible participation in the Tour. It’s too bad we had to keep talking all about this instead of the sporting aspect of the race.”

Many might share Bardet’s sentiments, but the Froome story shows no sign of just going away.

Bardet was one of the most outspoken riders in the peloton when Froome’s case broke last winter, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. In an interview earlier this week with the Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad, Bardet said he would be “ashamed” to race the Tour if he were in Froome’s place.

Froome, however, insists he’s innocent and shows every intention of racing the Tour next month despite the threat of a ban hanging over his head. Hot on the heels of his come-from-behind victory at the Giro d’Italia, Froome is expected to start the Tour with all indications pointing to that case will not be resolved before the July 7 start in France’s Vendée.

Bardet said he “respects” Froome’s right to race (as the rules allow) but he’s growing weary of talking about it.

“I feel uncomfortable talking about it non-stop when everyone, with Froome being the first, wants the case to be resolved,” Bardet told AFP. “My position hasn’t changed from when I first spoke about it, but I also respect Froome’s choice to race.”

Pressure is mounting on all fronts as the Tour approaches.

This week, Tour de France officials said they would not bar Froome from starting, but insisted that the UCI should make a decision.

So far, cycling’s governing body has resisted imposing its powers to sideline Froome as provisions in its rulebook allow. Such a move would break precedent and likely provoke a legal challenge.

Froome’s case also reveals the fracture within the WorldTour over membership of the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling), a volunteer organization that abides by stricter rules than spelled out in the WADA code. One of the tenets of the volunteer group is that any rider facing a possible sanction — be it for a banned substance or so-called “specified” substance like salbutamol — to sit out while the case plays out.

Only seven of the 18 WorldTour teams are part of the MPCC, among them Bardet’s Ag2r-La Mondiale and Tom Dumoulin’s Sunweb team.

“Just like Dumoulin said, all I said it would be impossible for me to race in his situation because I am part of the MPCC [Movement for Credible Cycling],” Bardet said. “It’s a voluntary rule that I choose to follow.”

This week, Bardet is racing at the eight-stage Dauphiné where nemesis Team Sky is dominating the race. Sky took big gains in a team time trial and Geraint Thomas defended the leader’s jersey in Saturday’s explosive climbing stage across the French Alps. Bardet attacked and climbed into podium range at third overall at 2:01 back.

“It was a very hard stage,” said Bardet, speaking of the race for a change. “Geraint Thomas is looking strong, but I will keep giving 100 percent, and there is still a hard stage tomorrow.”

As much as he might not like it, Bardet is facing the unsavory position of facing Team Sky both this week at the Dauphiné and next month at the Tour, and having to talk about the Froome case as well.