Chris Froome thanks other riders for support during opening Ruta del Sol stage

Sky rider finished safely in main pack following bunch sprint

Chris Froome (Team Sky) has highlighted the degree of support he has received from other riders in the peloton following his first day of racing in 2018 on the Ruta del Sol.

Froome finished safely in the main pack behind winner Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) after a relatively straightforward, if fast, run through the hills of eastern Andalucia to Granada.

The Briton had been the centre of attention before the start in Mijas, as he spoke to the press ahead of his first race since news broke in December of his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta a España.

Team Sky was active early on keeping the break of the day under control but opted to let other squads like Astana take command of the peloton as Granada approached.

Froome crossed the line in the middle of the bunch, then quickly made his way to the team bus. A little later, he spoke briefly to reporters before posing a number of selfies with fans massed around the Sky vehicles and then riding to the hotel.

"It's the first race in the build-up to the Giro now and it's good to be back racing," Froome said. Asked if he could gauge the mood of the fans on the roadside during the stage, Froome said: "I always enjoy racing in Spain, it's a great atmosphere here again."

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Froome's urine sample from an anti-doping control taken after stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana was found to have twice the permissible limit of the asthma drug salbutamol. The UCI rules do not require a provisional suspension in such cases, but riders, team managers and race organisers have expressed concerns over Froome starting the 2018 season while the case was still pending as he would stand to forfeit any results and prizes should he be sanctioned over the case.

Before the opening stage of Ruta del Sol, Froome reiterated assertions he has done nothing wrong and asked for a fair process for him to prove it. He said he'd had 'amazing support' from his fellow riders and reiterated this after the stage.

"What was very touching today was how many riders from other teams came up to me during the stage to offer their support. That was very touching," he said.

"Obviously it's been the first time since I've seen a lot of guys now since this all happened," Froome repeated. "So it's great to be able to catch up with them in person and see how much support there is out there in the peloton."

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