Belfast Telegraph

History man Froome still faces questions

 

By Alasdair Fotheringham

Chris Froome wrote yet another page of cycling history yesterday as he pedalled through the streets of Rome towards the very last finishing line of the 21-stage Giro d'Italia as Britain's first ever outright champion of the 101-year-old Grand Tour.

However, the British racer's breakthrough overall victory, taken in extraordinarily tenacious style and largely thanks to a blazing solo ride across the Alps on Friday, looks set to remain enshrouded in controversy at least in the short-term.

The Team Sky leader's ongoing battle to clear his name, after a drugs test result last autumn in the Vuelta a España saw him exceed the permitted threshold for the anti-asthma medicine salbutamol, has dogged Froome throughout the spring - and will likely do so into the summer.

The rider himself, his team and his supporters, argue that he is innocent and that nothing in the rules prevents the 33-year-old from racing.

Froome himself made no immediate reference to the case after finishing the Giro safely on yesterday evening's largely ceremonial final stage, won by sprinter Sam Bennett of Ireland. But on Saturday, in his final main press conference, Froome insisted: "I have a clear conscience. As I said, when the time is right, all the information will be shared with everyone and I'm sure people will see it from my point of view."

Yet the controversy over whether Froome should even have taken part in any races this season rumbles on, and his latest, arguably most spectacular ever, Grand Tour victory of his six to date, will do little to change that.

David Lappartient, the president of the UCI, cycling's governing body, has argued that Froome should sit out from races until the case is resolved.

Froome and his team, Sky, strongly refute any wrongdoing.

Although the public's reactions are muted for now, questions on the issue appear to have extended deep into the sport's fanbase: whilst the one spectator bearing a giant salbutamol inhaler ran alongside the Briton on Saturday appeared to be making as much a tongue-in-cheek comment rather than direct criticism of his presence, Froome appeared to be spat at by a fan on Friday.

Should he race the Tour de France, where Froome once had a cup of urine thrown at him back in July 2015, the situation could be more tense.

"Froome clearly divides the cycling community," claimed American writer Andy Hood in specialist website Velonews on Sunday. "For every detractor, there's someone who admires his tenacity. For every fan-boy, there's a troll ready to snipe."

Assuming there are no changes, his Giro win will remain a hugely memorable achievement. Froome is one of just seven riders to have won the Grand Slam of victories in all three Grand Tours - the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de France. He is the first of three riders to be defending champion in all three Grand Tours since Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx.

And, should he make it to the Tour, there is every chance he could become the first rider in 20 years to pull off a Giro-Tour de France 'double', one of cycling's most emblematic achievements. This places Froome securely inside the pantheon of the sport's great champions.

Froome's rollercoaster route to success in what has undoubtably been his hardest Grand Tour win makes it even more exceptional.

His Giro got off to almost the worst of starts in Jerusalem, with a major crash whilst training the day before the opening time trial seeing him lose well over 30 seconds to Dumouiln.

By the race's second of three rest days, the injured Froome was so far behind race leader Simon Yates - the young Lancashire rider's brilliant achievements, winning three stages leading the race for over two weeks, have been undeservedly overshadowed following Froome's spectacular comeback victory bid - that barely a dozen journalists bothered to attend Froome's press conference.

However, the challenge for Froome of clearing his name in the salbutamol has yet to be resolved - and how that will affect this latest triumph is still uncertain.

For cycling, for Froome and for the Giro, a resolution cannot come quickly enough.

Belfast Telegraph

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