Bahrain-Merida team manager Brent Copeland believes that Chris Froome should sit out of racing while his Salbutamol case is resolved. Froome returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for double the allowable limit of the asthma medication during this year's Vuelta a España.
Froome was notified of the findings on September 20, but the issue only came to light on Wednesday through revelations from Le Monde and the Guardian. Copeland emphasised that his issue was not with Froome or Team Sky themselves, but argued that continuing to ride while the case is ongoing gives cycling a bad public image.
"I've known Chris for years, and I must be very clear that this isn't against him. I think that Chris can come back stronger than before, I know him and his mindset," Copeland told Cyclingnews at Bahrain-Merida's training camp in Croatia.
"If you have a code of conduct or an ethics code then you should follow that. September 20 is when they were notified and Chris still presented himself at several events and [Team Sky] were negotiating with RCS about the participation of him at the Giro d'Italia, knowing what they had on their plate, which is difficult for me to understand as a manager.
“Even if he is banned for nine months, eight months, or whatever the case is, he could still ride the Giro d'Italia. But in the meantime, the code of conduct of most teams would dictate that the rider should be suspended."
Copeland has personal experience of this situation after Diego Ulissi returned an adverse analytical finding for similar levels of the same medication at the 2014 Giro d'Italia.
Ulissi was suspended by the team following notification of the finding that June. He made a brief return to racing at the one-day GP Banca di Legnano in September 2014, but was subsequently sidelined again until the case was resolved. Following a lengthy procedure, where Ulissi underwent medical tests, the Italian was handed a nine-month suspension in January 2015.
Copeland defend the use of Salbutamol, saying that there is a genuine medical need by some riders.
"I know that there is a lot of criticism from the public on this but a lot of people don't understand the conditions that riders compete under," he said.
"You're riding through different climatic conditions all the time and unfortunately they do suffer from asthma and a lot of riders do use this substance to help them out. If it is accepted by the international medical regulations then it is fine to use. Obviously, it shouldn't be abused."
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As well as questioning the decision to allow Froome to continue racing while the case is ongoing, Copeland took a swipe at the UCI's licence commission.
The WorldTour licences for 2018 were announced on Monday, with Team Sky among the 14 teams to be given an automatic licence. Teams must adhere to several criteria to gain a licence and, given the current situation, the Bahrain-Merida team manager couldn't understand why Team Sky weren't brought in front of the commission at any point. The commission held their hearings at the end of November, two months after Froome and Team Sky were notified of the AAF.
"[The licence criteria] has been good for cycling because it has brought a lot of professionalism," Copeland explained.
“It is ethics, financial, sporting and organisational and if anything is out of line in one of those criteria then you are called in front of the licence commission to give your reasoning of the situation before the licence is given. When the decision of the licence commission came out on Monday, it said without giving a reason, because that is confidential, but Sky was not one of them.
"The question I ask myself is that this case has been going on since the September 20 when they knew about the excess levels of Salbutamol and they weren't called in front of the licence commission. Once again, it's difficult to explain to the man in the pub and it causes confusion. This is what makes me angry about the situation."
Copeland's team would be set to gain if Froome is suspended as a result of the Salbutamol adverse analytical finding. Vincenzo Nibali finished second behind Froome at the Vuelta a España and would be named winner of the race if Froome is handed a ban and loses his Vuelta victory.
However, Copeland said that there would be no pleasure in gaining the win in that manner.
"Getting a win on the green table doesn't mean anything. Nobody wants to win that way," he said.
"Nobody is going to be opening champagne bottles and saying 'yes, we won the Vuelta' because Froome was suspended. If he is suspended, it will surely be disappointing, not only for us not standing on the top step but Kelderman didn't even stand on the podium, but also for the world of cycling.
"It's a cloud over cycling and everybody's head, especially Chris' head. We've got to explain to the sponsors and go back to the teams and explain what the situation is. Nobody really wants to know the details and say that cycling is doping again."