La Roche-sur-Yon - The way Chris Froome's recently resolved 'salbutamol' dossier was handled has damaged cycling and may drive fans away from the sport, world champion Tom Dumoulin said on Wednesday.
Dumoulin beat Froome to the world time trial title in Bergen in October, but came second to the Sky team leader at the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
"It's incredible," the Dutch Sunweb rider said at a pre-Tour de France press conference on Wednesday when asked how he felt about the recent UCI ruling on Froome.
"I'm not blaming Froome," he said. "He's been cleared.
"It's how the whole case has been handled which is just a mess, it's really unfortunate it's not what cycling needs," Dumoulin said in English.
"It's ruining the reputation of cycling and fans are probably walking away from the sport because of this.
"It's just the way it's been handled - not how it should have been."
The world's biggest cycling race starts on Saturday, just days after Froome was cleared of doping suspicions by the UCI.
Kenyan-born Froome, 33, was under investigation after delivering an abnormal test sample during the Tour of Spain last year.
He recorded an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for salbutamol, an asthma medication, meaning he exceeded the allowed dose of a permitted substance.
Dumoulin's coach and sports director Luke Roberts of Australia said he was "not particularly concerned" about the case.
"Perhaps the process didn't go the best way, it dragged on but we expect from our side for the UCI to do what's best for the sport and we also accept what decisions are made," he said.
However, hostility to Froome had been growing in some quarters in the run-up to the race and earlier Wednesday UCI president David Lappartient called upon the French public to allow Froome to compete in a safe environment.
Dumoulin was asked if he expected Froome to get a hostile reception on the Tour. Two years ago the Briton had urine thrown at him by a roadside spectator.
"I won't hug too close to his wheel on the ascents, then," Dumoulin joked.
Froome used a personal bodyguard during the 2017 Tour de France and has retained his services for this year's tour having also used him at the Giro d'Italia in May.
Meanwhile Dumoulin said he was ready for the three-week marathon.
"I'm feeling fresh, we have been out on some of the climbs but I don't know how it'll be after the Giro," he said, referring to his last major outing against Froome.
"We'll have a better idea three weeks from now if we can win."