Chris Froome has spoken publicly for the first time since his salbutamol case was revealed, insisting that "no one wants this resolved more quickly than I do."
Froome spoke outside the Team Sky bus as he prepared to start his 2018 season at the Ruta del Sol in Mijas in southern Spain. Froome and Team Sky have defied calls from UCI president David Lappartient for him to recuse himself from racing until his case is resolved, insisting that he is innocent.
"We're in the middle of that process now and there is a process in place for me to demonstrate that I haven't done anything wrong. I know that I haven't done anything wrong and that's what I intend to do, to show that," Froome said when asked about Lappartient's calls that he should not race.
Froome added that he did not have a timeline for when the case would be resolved.
"No one wants this resolved more quickly than I do," he said.
"I think there's a lot of misinformation out there and also a lot of people out there who don't necessarily understand the process that's in place. Obviously it was meant to have been a confidential process. It has been made public now but also a lot of other athletes and riders have been through this process themselves. I'm not asking for the benefit of the doubt here, I'm just asking for a fair process."
Despite calls from some riders for him to avoid racing, Froome claimed he has had some 'amazing support' from the peloton.
"I do believe that when all the facts are out there, I think people will see it from my point of view," he said.
Froome admitted that recent weeks and months have not been easy for him.
"For sure it's been tough, for sure it's been tough. It's been tough on everyone," he said, confirming he intends to still target the Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double.
"It's been tough but I've been really enjoying riding my bike. I've been putting in big hours over the winter preparing for the season ahead. Obviously I've got quite ambitious goals this year to go to the Giro and the Tour to do as best I can in both of those events."
Froome was later asked to confirm he would start the Giro in Israel on May 4 even if his case had not been resolved by that point.
"I'm not going to speculate at this time on the outcome of what's going to happen. As it stands, I'm as focused as ever on the season ahead and I'll look to be in my best shape for the start of the Giro," Froome said.
He refuted a comparison with the case of Alberto Contador, who won the 2011 Giro d'Italia but was later stripped of the title after a retroactive ban for his 2010 clenbuterol positive test was applied the following year.
"His case was very different, his case was for a banned substance, mine is not," Froome said.
The Le Monde and Guardian newspaper revealed on December 13 that Froome returned an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for salbutamol in the final week of last year's Vuelta. Because salbutamol is considered a specified substance, Froome remains free to race under UCI rules but could lose any results he achieves if he fails to explain his high level of salbutamol and is found guilty of anti-doping violation.
Last month, Froome denied reports in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he was considering a plea bargain in return for a reduced ban. On Tuesday La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the UCI could soon pass the case to their Anti-Doping Tribunal, though it is understood that Froome’s legal team is still submitting evidence to the UCI.
Froome arrived in Spain late on Tuesday afternoon. Access to Team Sky’s hotel in Benalmadena was strictly controlled but Froome was photographed saying hello to team staff as he headed to dinner. Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford is also at the start of the Ruta del Sol.
Before speaking to the media, Froome signed several autographs. After facing questions he warmed up on rollers in the shadow of the Team Sky bus in preparation for the 197km opening stage from Mijas to Grenada. He lined up at the front of the peloton, chatting to former teammate Mikel Landa (Movistar), before the whistle blew and the stage began.