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Froome asks for ‘fair process’ as his Salbutamol case plays out

The Sky rider faced an onslaught of questions before making his season debut Wednesday at the Ruta del Sol.

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CALAS DE MIJAS, Spain (VN) — Chris Froome asked for a “fair process” in his ongoing Salbutamol drama as he lined up to race Wednesday for his controversial season debut.

Throngs of media crowded in around the Team Sky bus with pressure continuing to build as Froome returns to competition for the first time since his Salbutamol case was leaked in December.

“I am not asking for a benefit of a doubt, I am just asking for a fair process,” Froome said before the start of the Ruta del Sol. “There have been a lot of riders who have been through a similar situation, and all I am asking is to be treated the same as other people.” [related title=”More Chris Froome news” align=”left” tag=”Chris-Froome”]

The four-time Tour winner tested for double the allowed Salbutamol limit en route to winning the Vuelta a España in September. Any hope of carrying out a review process in confidentiality as outlined in WADA rules was blown when word of the case was leaked to French and English journalists in December.

Since then, there’s been a chorus of voices across the peloton demanding that Froome wait on the sidelines until a final result is confirmed by anti-doping authorities. Instead of heeding those calls, Froome was looking trim and ready to race Wednesday morning along Spain’s sunny Costa del Sol.

“It’s not going to go any faster if I am sitting at home,” he said. “A lot of riders have gone through this process before. I don’t why I should have any different treatment from the others who were allowed to race during their process.

“I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” he continued. “That’s my starting point. There is a process in place for me to demonstrate that, and that’s what I intend to do.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Froome or Team Sky. Froome faces up to a two-year ban as well as disqualification of his Vuelta crown if his defense strategy falls short. Because there has not been a preliminary suspension and Froome is showing no intention of a “plea bargain,” any ban would start from the date of issuance.

When asked if he would continue to race in this year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France if the case remained unresolved by then, he said “I don’t want to speculate. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that far.”

“No one wants this result faster than I do,” he said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there and a lot opinions from people who don’t quite fully understand everything. I think when all the facts come out, people will see it from my point of view.”

Froome’s presence drew more than 100 European TV and print journalists to the five-day Ruta del Sol in southern Spain. Fans also packed in around the Sky bus, with one yelling out, “We believe you, Chris!”

Froome seems intent on remaining focused on racing his bike as his legal team handles his case. After Ruta del Sol, it’s likely he will race Tirreno-Adriatico before taking on the Giro-Tour double.

“It’s been a difficult period, and this is meant to be a confidential process,” he said, adding a quick thanks to the riders and public who have spoken out in his favor. “I am keeping my head down and keeping focused on my training to look ahead to the season.”

Many are worried that Froome could receive a ban and have his subsequent results erased, with some comparing his case to Alberto Contador. The Spaniard raced and won the Giro in 2011, only later to see a ban for Clenbuterol and his subsequent results stripped from the books. Froome stopped short at that comparison.

“His case was very different. It was for a banned substance,” he said. “Mine is not.”

After warming up on the rollers, Froome joined the peloton as it rolled out for the first stage. As much as he is trying to race as business as usual, that may not be the case until a final verdict comes down from authorities.