WHEN Chris Froome lines up tomorrow for day one of the Tour de France tomorrow, he is aiming to write himself into the history books by becoming only the fifth rider to win the race five times.

He will join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as a five-time winner of the race which would be, in anyone’s book, a quite staggering achievement.

Yet in truth, the possibility of Froome writing himself into the record books is not the story. Rather, the utterly shambolic and potentially catastrophic doping issue which has been hanging over the Brit for almost a year is the real story.

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At last year’s Vuelta Espana, Froome was found to have more than the permitted level of the asthma drug salbutamol in his system. Despite this adverse finding, Froome was allowed to continue to race, going on to win the Giro d’Italia earlier this year to ensure he is holding all three grand tour titles simultaneously, all the while protesting his innocence.

There had been much dissent about the decision from cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to allow Froome to continue to race while this cloud hung over him and certainly, every time he competed with this case still unresolved, it chipped away at the credibility of the sport. The organisers of the Tour had even threatened to block him from racing in this year’s event, fearing the damage caused to the reputation of the race would be too great.

However, with the case having remained unresolved for nine months, it was announced on Monday that the UCI was dropping the case against Froome. On the one hand, it is hugely positive that the most successful rider in the sport is free to target his fifth Tour title. On the other hand, though, the ramifications of this case are that the damage caused is colossal. The harm caused to Froome’s reputation is significant but more importantly, this dispute may have just obliterated anti-doping as we know it.

Froome’s case was based on the argument that despite returning a sample which was over the limit, he had not, in fact, taken more than the permitted dose. Usually in these cases, athletes are expected to undergo tests replicating the circumstances which produced the illegal result and if they can prove that the positive sample was produced without breaking any rules, they will be exonerated.

However, Froome was never made to undergo these tests. It was, said the World Anti-Doping Agency, not possible to recreate the unique circumstances that preceded the test and resulted in an adverse finding.

And so, despite no signs that the Brit not proving definitively that his sample was produced without breaking any rules, he was cleared just five days before the Tour started.

It is literally an extraordinary, and potentially earth-moving, development.

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What the Froome case suggests is that dope tests are not, as has been previously implied, always correct. Anti-doping, it is widely acknowledged, is a treacherous area, and one that is littered with potential pitfalls, but one thing that must be accepted by every side is the fact that the test results which are returned are reliable. For anti-doping to work at all, a positive test has to be accepted as evidence of doping.

Froome’s case has just blown that assumption out of the water.

By clearing the Team Sky rider without disclosing exactly why or what evidence was used to exonerate him, a can of worms has been opened. This result now leaves every anti-doping test up for question. If the salbutamol result can be wrong, what’s to suggest that a positive EPO or a testosterone test can’t be?

Froome and Team Sky had the resources to challenge the decision in a way few other athletes do. But there is now a precedent and the anti-doping authorities do not have the finances to defend in court every positive test.

Froome may well have concrete evidence that proves unequivocally that his adverse sample was, in fact, incorrect. But if the reasons why Froome’s case was dropped are not disclosed in full, a positive test will never be trusted again.

Anti-doping tests are already viewed with suspicion. Froome’s case, if not explained in full, could well ensure the reputation of drug testing is damaged irreparably.