Chris Froome and Dave Brailsford defiant as Team Sky rider returns

Martha Kelner in Granada
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Chris Froome talks to the media prior to the first stage of the Ruta del Sol in southern Spain.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Chris Froome talks to the media prior to the first stage of the Ruta del Sol in southern Spain. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

Chris Froome and the Team Sky principal, Dave Brailsford, presented a united and defiant front as the four‑times Tour de France winner raced for the first time since his failed drugs test last year became public knowledge.

Froome was warmly received by crowds gathered on a palm-tree lined road in Granada, southern Spain, to witness a solid start to the Ruta del Sol, his debut race in a season during which controversy promises to reign. The 32-year-old rider insisted he will compete at the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France – where public reaction may be tepid or worse – even if his anti‑doping case, which has rumbled on for almost five months, remains unresolved.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that but I’m still allowed to race now and I don’t see why not,” Froome said.

The first stage of the Ruta del Sol contains repeated, lung-busting climbs over almost 200km heading inland from the Costa del Sol but the biggest examination of Froome occurred earlier, outside the Team Sky bus. In a dusty car park in Mijas, 200 metres from the race start, Froome delivered a steely eyed promise that he would prove his doubters wrong. He and a team of lawyers are constructing a case to prove there is a legitimate reason a urine sample given during the Vuelta a España last September indicated double the permitted amount of the asthma drug salbutamol.

“I know I haven’t done anything wrong and I intend to show that,” Froome, who suffers from asthma, said. The Guardian and the French newspaper Le Monde revealed the failed test in December and Froome admitted he would have preferred the adverse finding had remained a private matter while protestations were made.

“There are a lot of other athletes and riders who have been through this process and I’m not asking for the benefit of the doubt here,” he said. “I’m just asking for a fair process, to be treated the same as other people.”

At the Tour de France in 2015, Froome endured torrid abuse and even had a cup of urine thrown at him by a spectator. There had been suggestions this adverse test would escalate the abuse but a shout of “stay safe, Chris” from a crowd of well-wishers as he made his way to warm up set the tone for the day. Crowds of children, some wearing replica Team Sky Lycra, gathered round him at the finish and he duly signed autographs.

Froome took advantage of hours in the saddle to talk to members of the peloton about his failed test and why he chose to ride here, including a lengthy period riding alongside the Spaniard Mikel Landa, one of his biggest rivals. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a lot of guys since before this all happened,” he said, “so it’s great to catch up with people in person and amazing to see how much support there is out there. It’s really quite touching.”

Brailsford declined to comment on whether Froome or Team Sky were footing the legal bill but was bullish in his support of the team’s star rider. He also dismissed the suggestion from David Lappartient, president of the UCI, cycling’s governing body, that the team should have immediately suspended Froome.

“Nobody’s denying it’s a challenging situation but equally I think it’s only fair at this point that everybody abides by the process, and the process totally allows him to race in this situation and that’s what we’re doing,” Brailsford said.

“I’m not going to go into great detail about it, but 100% we’re behind him and 100% backing him.

“We’ve got full knowledge of the situation and we’re working closely to resolve the situation. The violation itself is all about the number of puffs [Froome took on his inhaler], it’s not about the urine. Has he taken more than 16 puffs in that allowable period? No, no. I’m confident he didn’t break the rules – 100% confident.”

The reputations of both Froome and Team Sky now hinge on whether they are able to satisfy UCI, the sport’s governing body, of this.

What to read next