Chris Froome (Team Sky) has said he will "definitely" be at the start of the Tour de France in the Vendée region next week, insisting he has every right to compete in this year's race while he awaits a decision in his drawn out salbutamol case.
Froome will be targeting a record-equaling fifth Tour de France victory and is also hoping to complete a rare Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double after winning the Italian Grand Tour last month.
UCI president David Lappartient, several of his key rivals and five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, have all suggested that Froome should avoid racing until his case reaches a final verdict. However, because salbutamol is considered a specified substance, the UCI rules allow him to race while the case is ongoing. As he completed his final training at altitude in the Alps, Froome reiterated that he understands the importance of the case on the sport but he believes he has the right to race, insisting he has done nothing wrong.
"I can certainly see it from that point of view, that people are concerned about the image of the sport. From my point of view, I know I’ve done nothing wrong and from the very beginning, that’s always been my starting point," Froome told Sky Sports in a video interview. "So, it would be really hard for me to not race, knowing that I’ve done nothing wrong, that I’ve got every right to be racing, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do."
In his case, Froome has to demonstrate why double the allowed amount of salbutamol was found in his urine sample from stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana. If he is found guilty, Froome will lose that victory and potentially any other success since then as he continues to race sub-judice. However, Froome believes he will not be stripped of victory if he climbs on the top step of the Tour de France podium in Paris on July 29.
"Yes, yes, as with the Giro last month," he said. "As I said, coming from the point that I’ve done nothing wrong, coming through this process, I’m allowed to demonstrate that I’ve done nothing wrong and I’m fully expecting to be exonerated, to be fully cleared by the end of this process. That’s obviously my approach."
Hinault again hit out at Froome on Wednesday evening, suggesting Tom Dumoulin should start legal action after finishing second to Froome at the Giro d’Italia. At the end of May he called on the other riders at the Tour de France to go on strike if Froome races. Team Sky dismissed his comments as "irresponsible and ill-informed".
Froome has been protected by a bodyguard at races this year and Sky Sports suggested that Team Sky has beefed up its security to protect Froome from any hostile fans in France.
"Over the years, we have always had a small crowd of people who aren't happy to see us leading the race, for whatever reason," Froome said. "We have always come up against adversity over the years, but that’s something you deal with in the moment and on the road. Hopefully that doesn't interfere with the race."
Asked if he will travel to the Vendée region next Wednesday for the Tour de France start on Saturday July 7, Froome said: "Definitely."