The 2018 Tour de France is set to begin in Noirmoutier-En-L'Ïle tomorrow in the aftermath of defending champion Chris Froome being controversially cleared of an anti-doping violation by the International Cycling Union (UCI) earlier this week.
The Briton is now set to target a record-equalling fifth title at the Grand Tour, which will take place over three weeks and is due to conclude on July 29.
Froome’s Tour de France adventure, however, could arguably be viewed over a four-week period, given events over the past seven days.
The week began with organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) reportedly blocking his entry only for this to be followed by the announcement he had been cleared of an anti-doping violation after his his positive test for salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a España, which he won.
It concluded with him being booed by fans at the team presentations.
Froome was found to have had twice the permitted 1,000 nanograms per millilitre concentration of the asthma medication in his sample taken at the Vuelta a España.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) revealed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accepted his sample results did not constitute an adverse analytical finding.
WADA's explanation said that the sample result was "not inconsistent with the ingestion of inhaled salbutamol within the permitted maximum dose".
The conclusion of the case has generated huge debate, leading to the UCI releasing a question and answer video with its President David Lappartient earlier this week, before a separate press release today.
The governing body stated they had "made it clear that it would have liked to resolve the case much earlier, however it was essential to take the time necessary to issue the right decision".
The UCI repeated the assertion they had to trust WADA’s assessment of the case given the organisation’s greater access to studies, as well as pointing to an updated WADA technical document in March which increased salbutamol decision limit, evidence from Froome’s expert, the context of the case and new WADA commission studies.
But the UCI have had to deny that Italy’s Diego Ulissi and Alessandro Petacchi were treated unfairly after they received bans of nine months and a year respectively for lower values of salbutamol in 2014 and 2009.
"First of all, both of those cases were decided before the UCI put in place its independent Anti-Doping Tribunal, which means that they were decided at the national level with a possibility for both WADA and the UCI to appeal the decision to CAS," the world governing body said.
"Mr. Petacchi was initially cleared by the Disciplinary Commission of the Italian Cycling Federation and the case was then decided by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) after appeals were brought by WADA and the Italian Anti-Doping Organisation.
"Importantly, the CAS arbitrators decided the case based on the regulations applicable and scientific evidence available at the time
"The UCI was not involved in the disciplinary proceedings of Mr. Ulissi’s case, which were handled by the Swiss Anti-Doping Agency.
"Neither UCI nor WADA appealed the decision."
In a separate interview with the BBC, Lappartient admitted that Froome "had more financial support to find good experts to explain the situation", with the resources of Team Sky helping him fight the case.
The Frenchman has called for Froome to be respected during this year’s Tour de France after Team Sky were booed at yesterday’s team presentation.
Froome, who wrote a piece in French newspaper Le Monde claiming he would welcome the publication by WADA of the scientific studies used, will nevertheless head into the race looking to claim a fourth straight Grand Tour title having won last year's Tour de France and Vuelta a España and the Giro d'Italia last month.
A strong cast of rivals will, however, be out to stop the Briton from achieving the feat, including Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France winner and Bahrain-Merida leader.
Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and the Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa could all potentially lead Movistar's challenge at the race.
Further contenders include BMC Racing’s Australian rider Richie Porte, Team Sunweb's Dutch star Tom Dumoulin and AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, who is likely to receive huge home support across France.
Having been disqualified from last year’s race for causing a crash Slovakia’s world champion Peter Sagan will be a favourite to earn stage victories, while the victim of the collision, Britain's Mark Cavendish, will hope to earn sprint success as he chases the Belgium’s Eddy Merckx's 34-stage record at the race.
Cavendish is currently four shy of the mark but has once again had a year disrupted by injury and illness.
He will also face the tough challenge of Germany’s Marcel Kittel and Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria in the sprints.
Racing is set to begin tomorrow with a 201 kilometres stage concluding in Fontenay-Le-Comte and which is expected to end in a sprint finish.