Chris Froome has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the UCI, who have closed the anti-doping proceedings against him after the adverse analytical finding (AAF) he returned at the Vuelta a Espana last year.
Froome is now free to ride the Tour de France and will keep his Vuelta a Espana 2017 and Giro d’Italia 2018 titles – after ASO, the Tour organisers, had sought to exclude him from this year’s race while the investigation was ongoing.
An in-competition urine sample Froome gave during the Vuelta a Espana last year returned twice the permitted limit of salbutamol. According to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, however, athletes are allowed to prove the abnormal result was not as a result of any wrongdoing – as Froome and Team Sky have been attempting since.
While normally done privately, the news of Froome’s AAF was leaked in December and his decision to continue racing has been criticised by some high-profile figures – not least Bernard Hinault, who has been outspoken on the matter.
But after considering the evidence provided to, and by, WADA about salbutamol, the UCI has taken the decision to close proceedings against the four-time Tour de France champion.
A UCI statement read: “On 28 June 2018, WADA informed the UCI that it would accept, based on the specific facts of the case, that Mr Froome’s sample results do not constitute an AAF.
“In light of WADA’s unparalleled access to information and authorship of the salbutamol regime, the UCI has decided, based on WADA’s position, to close the proceedings against Mr Froome.
“Whilst the UCI would have obviously preferred the proceedings to have been finalised earlier in the season, it had to ensure that Mr Froome had a fair process, as it would have done with any other rider, and that the correct decision was issued.
“Having received WADA’s position on 28 June 2018, the UCI prepared and issued its formal reasoned decision as quickly as possible in the circumstances.
“The UCI understands that there will be significant discussion of this decision, but wishes to reassure all those involved in or interested in cycling that its decision is based on expert opinions, WADA’s advice, and a full assessment of the facts of the case.
“The UCI hopes that the cycling world can now turn its focus to, and enjoy, the upcoming races on the cycling calendar.”
Froome had always maintained his innocence in the case – the only one of his anti-doping tests given during the Vuelta to return an abnormal finding.
After the news broke, Froome tweeted: “Grateful and relieved to finally put this chapter behind me, it has been an emotional nine months. Thank you to all of those who have supported and believed in me throughout.”Tweet
In a full statement issued by Team Sky, he added: “I am very pleased that the UCI has exonerated me. While this decision is obviously a big deal for me and the Team, it’s also an important moment for cycling.
“I understand the history of this great sport – good and bad. I have always taken my leadership position very seriously and I always do things the right way. I meant it when I said that I would never dishonour a winner’s jersey and that my results would stand the test of time.
“I have never doubted that this case would be dismissed for the simple reason that I have known throughout I did nothing wrong. I have suffered with asthma since childhood. I know exactly what the rules are regarding my asthma medication and I only ever use my puffer to manage my symptoms within the permissible limits
“Of course, the UCI had to examine these test results from the Vuelta. Unfortunately, the details of the case did not remain confidential, as they should have done. And I appreciate more than anyone else the frustration at how long the case has taken to resolve and the uncertainty this has caused. I am glad it’s finally over.
“I am grateful for all the support I have had from the Team and from many fans across the world. Today’s ruling draws a line. It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France.”
The decision means Froome’s Grand Tour treble – only the seventh rider to achieve the feat, and the first since Hinault to hold all three at the same time – officially stands.
He will now roll out as favourite for the Tour de France, where he will bid to become the first rider for 20 years to complete a Giro-Tour double.
Team Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford added: “We have always had total confidence in Chris and his integrity. We knew that he had followed the right medical guidance in managing his asthma at the Vuelta and were sure that he would be exonerated in the end, which he has been.
“This is why we decided that it was right for Chris to continue racing, in line with UCI rules, while the process was ongoing. We are pleased that it has now been resolved.”