French hope Romain Bardet said he was “happy” the anti-doping investigation into Chris Froome has been ended before the Tour de France begins.
AG2R La Mondiale’s Bardet, who is looking to become the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985, had previously been strongly critical of Froome’s decision to keep racing throughout the investigation, details of which were leaked in December.
“I’m happy the UCI has given an opinion and made a decision on this,” Bardet said through a translator. “Chris Froome suffered this situation for nine months as did the world of cycling, we all suffered from that.
“He is still the number one favourite for the race and maybe he will clinch his fifth victory. His main obstacle will be his own shape. We will see his shape very soon.
“The last months have not been good for cycling and it’s good to know the Tour will start in a peaceful atmosphere. I think this will be the case thanks to the decision from the UCI.”
Bardet finished second to Froome in 2016 and third behind Froome and Rigoberto Uran in 2017. At 27, he should still be yet to peak, and appears France’s best hope of ending the long wait for success in their own race.
He said: “This is my sixth Tour and I’ve never had such a great team around me.
“This is a very demanding race and we will tackle it with greatness and humility. We hope to do even better than previous years.
“When it comes to my real objective we will have to wait until the first stages, take it stage by stage and make no mistakes. We are very ambitious but also very humble.”
Froome’s old team-mate Richie Porte, meanwhile, is hoping the Briton is too tired to retain his Tour title.
To do so, Froome he will need to complete a rare Giro d’Italia-Tour double and make it four Grand Tour wins in a row having also won La Vuelta in 2017. Porte helped Froome to Tour victories in 2013 and 2015 before leaving Team Sky to join BMC in pursuit of his own Grand Tour ambitions, but is yet to better his old friend.
“It was nice to watch him in the Giro, and I hope he’s b*******” the Tasmanian said with a smile.
“I hope that he is tired. Guys like Vincenzo [Nibali] and Nairo [Quintana] are never going to give him an easy day. A lot can happen out on the road and if he does have a bad day quite a few guys are ready to end his winning streak.”
Porte arrives at the Tour on the back of his victory in the Tour de Suisse last month, but his credentials as a one-week stage racer are not in question.
The 33-year-old is yet to make the podium of a Grand Tour, hwoever, with a litany of illnesses, injury and pure bad luck derailing his tilts at the Giro and Tour titles over the past three years.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “We have a super team this year.
“The first nine stages are pretty tricky but I think we have the horsepower to get me through those. We’ve had a great season so far and I’m supermotivated for this Tour.”