SAINT-MARS-LA-REORTHE, France — Chris Froome has asked Tour de France fans to let him race in peace, even if they doubt the recent ruling that cleared him of doping allegations.
The British cyclist has been targeted by spectators in the past. During the 2015 Tour, he said a man threw a cup of urine at him while yelling "doper".
With the latest edition beginning on Saturday, five days after the International Cycling Union finally ruled Froome had won last year’s Spanish Vuelta cleanly, the four-time Tour winner offered an alternative way for skeptical fans to show their distrust.
"Support the race in a positive way, don’t bring negativity," he said on Wednesday in western France. "In terms of safety I obviously would encourage fans of the sport to come watch the race, and if you are not necessarily a Chris Froome fan or a Sky fan, come to the race and put a jersey on of another team you do support. That would be my advice."
A cloud hung over Froome after a urine sample taken during the Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.
After months of silence, the UCI said Froome’s result did not represent an adverse finding, which could have led him to be stripped of his Vuelta victory, and a suspension.
The UCI’s ruling ensured he could compete at the Tour after race organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it would forbid Froome from entering until the doping case was decided.
His use of asthma medication has been well documented and he often uses inhalers during races. World Anti-Doping Agency rules state an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.
Froome said he understands it may take time for fans to believe he is not a cheat.
"But that data is available, and I would like to think that as people understand that more, they will understand my decision to keep on racing knowing I have certainly done nothing wrong," Froome said. "Of course it has been damaging. As it is right now I’m just happy to draw a line in the sand and move on and focus on bike racing."
UCI president David Lappartient has also issued a call for calm.
"(Froome) has the right to operate in a safe environment. I have heard calls, sometimes completely irrational, to violence on the Tour de France," Lappartient said. "I cannot accept that and I call on all spectators to protect all the athletes and to respect the judicial decision so that Chris Froome can compete in a safe and serene environment."
Teammate Geraint Thomas said Froome has shown poise even when fans are at their worst.
"I’ve always been impressed by the way he is off the bike," Thomas said. "But the last nine months have been the most impressive, really, how he was able to still perform and train and commit to all that while everything else was going on."
Thomas, however, said possible run-ins with the public are part of riding down roads lined by people, most of who are there to cheer on the athletes.
"It’s not like football — it’s not in just a closed stadium when you can check everyone," he said. "So there is that element of risk so to speak."
Froome is aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.