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Froome facing unknown ahead of Ruta start

Ordinarily a sleepy early season race, Ruta del Sol will draw much more attention this year as Chris Froome returns to racing.

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MALAGA, Spain (VN) — In an ordinary season, Chris Froome’s season debut would attract attention worthy of any four-time Tour de France winner. That would imply questions about training, schedule, rivals, and ambitions.

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Things are far from ordinary, however, as the Sky captain lines up this week for the five-day Ruta del Sol. It will be his first appearance since his Salbutamol case blew up in December.

The stakes couldn’t be higher as Froome takes his first tentative steps back into the public eye since last fall.

Off the bike, Froome could face a possible ban and disqualification of his 2017 Vuelta a España victory after testing for high levels of Salbutamol. Some view it as a make-or-break moment in his career.

Now poised to be back on the bike, Froome is intent on leaving a good impression.

The 32-year-old will certainly be concentrating on the serious business of racing, but it remains to be seen what kind of reception the Sky captain will receive from the media, the fans, and his peers.

Froome’s presence draws a strong media contingent that will surely crowd in around the Team Sky bus on Wednesday morning on Spain’s Costa del Sol. This race typically goes without much fanfare from the international press corps — not this year.

There is no official press conference scheduled ahead of Froome’s highly anticipated season debut. Froome likely will be attending media inquiries before and after each stage, but it remains to see what he will want to say.

It’s unlikely Froome will talk in detail about the looming Salbutamol case. He has already said he would withhold comment until the case plays out, and it appears it’s not there yet.

“Obviously I understand that this situation has created a lot of uncertainty. I completely get why there has been so much interest and speculation,” Froome said last week in a release Monday. “I hope that people will appreciate there are limits to what I can say whilst the process is still ongoing but no one is keener than me to move things forward as quickly as possible.”

It’s hard to say exactly where he is at in the confidential review process. Some media have already reported that the case is before a review panel that could decide Froome’s fate, but that is unconfirmed.

Not everyone has welcomed Froome’s decision to race, although it is in full accordance with UCI and WADA rules. Critics have called for Froome to stand down until the final ruling is delivered. That could still be weeks or even months away.

It will also be interesting to see what kind of welcome he receives from his peers. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Froome’s decision to race, will miss a possible clash with Froome after a domestic accident that has sidelined him for two weeks.

Former teammate Mikel Landa will be making his debut in Movistar colors, and the Basque will likely be his most challenging rival for the GC.

With so much on the line, Froome will be want to be at his best in the one thing he can control right now. Froome has been posting some exceptional efforts on his Strava account and will be the favorite to win the tour he last raced and won in 2015.

And though Ruta del Sol certainly doesn’t attract the type of fans that the Vuelta a España or Tour de France draws, there will be fans. And there are sure to be a few curious onlookers among the robust population of English retirees living along the Costa del Sol.

The stakes couldn’t be higher this week as Froome tries to get on with the business of racing his bike.

To some, it appears the Sky is falling (no pun intended), but inside the team bus, it’s obvious the consensus is that the the best thing Froome can do is keep pushing forward.