YOU could call it Operation Stop Chris Froome. Even if some of it is being conducted in a rather more clandestine manner than that called for by venerable Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault.

The 63-year-old Frenchman, 10 times a Grand Tour winner during the late 1970s and early 1980s, including five Tour de France wins, called in the pages of French publication Ouest France for a riders’ strike should the Kenyan-born Englishman make it on to the start line for the Grand Depart in the Vendee region of France on Saturday with his adverse findings of salbutamol still unresolved.

“The peloton should put its foot down and go on strike saying: ‘If he’s at the start, we’re not starting’!” said Hinault.

Typically, the response of Froome – who remains under investigation after it was revealed he had exceeded the permitted levels of salbutamol, a legal asthma medication, during his Vuelta win – veered somewhere between diplomatic and righteous fury.

As much as Tour director Christian Prudhomme is desperate for the case to be resolved ahead of the race start, UCI president David Lappartient has conceded a verdict is unlikely by then.

“I can certainly see it from that point of view, that people are concerned about the image of the sport,” Froome said recently. “From my point of view, I know I’ve done nothing wrong and from the very beginning that has always been my starting point. So it would be really hard for me not to not race, knowing I’ve done nothing wrong, that I’ve got every right to be racing. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Not only has Froome continued to compete with this hanging over him, he has excelled in adversity, adding a remarkable Giro D’Italia win to mean that he comes into the Tour as the holder of all three of cycling’s grandest prizes.

Whether all these palmares stay on his record remains to be seen, with Hinault comparing Froome’s case with that of Alberto Contador, who raced the 2011 Tour despite a positive test for clenbuterol the previous year. He was eventually sanctioned in February 2012 and handed a backdated two-year ban that saw him stripped of his 2010 Tour win, the 2011 Giro title and fifth place at the 2011 Tour.

Tour organisers can’t stop him that way then but some would interpret the fiendish 21-day, 2069-mile route as an attempt to do so by other means. Not only does it limit the amount of chances Froome gets to display his time-trialling prowess, but the first week incorporates the cobbles of the Ardennes classics and there is a short, explosive 65km stage in the Pyrenees which incorporates a grid-style start.

There is also the fact that bonus seconds are available for eight of the first nine stages, and Grand Tour teams have been cut from nine to eight riders this year.

All this has been widely interpreted as an attempt to put a spoke in the wheels of Team Sky, whose expensively assembled crew have ridden off with the spoils from the Champs Elysees in five of the last six years.

The usual suspects to compete at the head of the general classification will need little encouragement to try to throw the Englishman off his stride. These include Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali [Bahrain-Merida], Movistar notables Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, plus Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott, Richie Porte of BMC and Romain Bardet of AG2R.

And even one of Froome’s historic supporting cast might get in on this mutinous act. Geraint Thomas, who wore yellow until fracturing a collar- bone 12 months ago, said after claiming the British time-trial champ-ionship last week, that he has been given the green light by team principal Dave Brailsford to go for the yellow jersey again, at least until the second rest day, when ideally he and Froome would be able to outflank rivals with a two-pronged attack.

“It will certainly be a tough first week,” said Thomas. “There’ll be crosswinds, the team time-trial, a few lumpy stages, which will be stressful, and obviously the cobbles. But I like that sort of racing so hopefully I can take advantage of that.”