Froome in spotlight as the Tour kicks off today

Froome in spotlight as the Tour kicks off today

Team Sky rider Chris Froome. REUTERS

 A relieved Chris Froome embarks on the long-awaited Tour de France on Saturday but an army of detractors, an array of talented rivals and a course that doesn't suit him stand in the way of a record-equalling fifth title.

Organisers lifted a ban on Froome taking part in the race on Monday after he was finally cleared by cycling's world governing body of doping suspicions linked to his use of asthma medication.

A bullish Froome said he was relieved to be back on course for a record-equalling fifth title but organisers felt the need to warn against violence along the three-week course and issue a plea to spectators to respect Froome and his Sky Team, which remains unpopular in France.

Froome, however, was roundly booed on his first meeting with the French public on Thursday when Sky took the stage for the official teams presentation here, and during a 1km jaunt around the small town of La Roche-sur-Yon.

Officials have drafted in around 30,000 agents to cope with security concerns and deal with the ever-present risk of terrorism as well as protecting the riders.

"I'm just relieved to be racing, and want to draw a line in the sand now," Froome said as his team boss Dave Brailsford added that Sky were used to negativity in France where Froome had been jeered and doused with urine in the past.

Froome said earlier that a huge weight had been lifted off his mind after the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) dropped the case against him triggered last September by an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for salbutamol during the Tour of Spain.

The three-week Tour is, as Irish fancy Dan Martin described, "a tale of two halves" this year with a flattish first part featuring treacherous cobbles and crosswinds followed by six mountain and four hilly stages packed into the latter part of the 3,351 kilometres (2,082 miles).




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