Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) has reiterated his belief that Chris Froome should not be racing while the Team Sky rider's salbutamol case rumbles on. The pair, who are both currently racing Tirreno-Adriatico, are targeting the Giro d'Italia in May, with Dumoulin hoping to win back-to-back titles. Froome's participation in the Italian Grand Tour could well rest on his anti-doping case, which began when he returned a result for over twice the legal amount of salbutamol in a drug test at the Vuelta a España last autumn.
Dumoulin and his Sunweb team are part of the MPCC, and under that body's rules Dumoulin would not be racing if he was in Froome's current position. However, Team Sky are not part of the MPCC, and while they are not breaking any rules with Froome's continued participation in races, he and the British team have drawn criticism.
"He's not breaking any rules. Can he be here? Yes. Is it good for cycling? No. Does anyone benefit from it? No. It's his right and let's say he is innocent, then I can understand that he's here. We as a team and I have a different opinion about it; I would not be allowed to race as we're part of the MPCC. I would probably also not want to, but Sky has a different approach to it. That's their right," Dumoulin told Cyclingnews.
When initially asked for his opinion on Team Sky – who have also come under fire after British parliament select committee review – and Froome, Dumoulin said: "It looks like, from the outside, like a mess, but I don't know enough to have a strong opinion on it."
The Dutchman is ever-hopeful that a resolution regarding Froome is reached before the Giro. The possible contest between last year's Giro winner and Froome is one of the most anticipated battles of the season, but the uncertainty over Froome would be a major detraction from the race if he were to ride and no judgment had been made on his case.
"I hope it's solved before the Giro. If it's not then it's up to me to accept the situation. I have no influence so I can't be stressed about it. I just hope that it all works out before the Giro."
Blue-sky thinking for the Tour
With the Giro target already confirmed, Dumoulin has been making ever-louder noises about competing at the Tour de France. A final call will not be made until after May, but the Dutchman told Cyclingnews that aiming for GC at the Tour was the ideal scenario.
"It's not 100 per cent decided yet. Normally we would like to go but we'll evaluate after the Giro. I'd love to go and do it but if I don't feel like it after the Giro then it makes no sense to. I'd really have to feel physically and mentally ready to do another Grand Tour, and I've never done two in a row in one season. To do to back-to-back is quite demanding, so I'd need to feel good about it."
Dumoulin has, of course, raced the Tour de France before without GC ambitions. In 2016 he won two stages in impressive fashion before pulling out on stage 19.
When asked if he would only go to the Tour this year if he felt he could win or podium, he told Cyclingnews: “No. Normally I'd love to do another GC. The blue-sky scenario would be to do GC at the Giro and the Tour. It might be that after a week I'm stage hunting at the Tour, which is also fine. I've done than that and it's nice. It's much nicer than doing GC, so I'd be happy doing that, but the blue-sky scenario is doing GC."
Before the Giro and the Tour, the Sunweb leader is focusing on the hear and now, and at this point in time, that means Tirreno-Adriatico. The race opened on Wednesday with a 21.km team time trial. Under normal circumstances Sunweb would have been one of the main favourites, having won the world title in the discipline last year in Bergen. In Italy, the team are fighting illness, with Dumoulin among those who came into the race with a cold.
BMC Racing won the stage, with Dumoulin and his troop finishing fifth, 25 seconds down.
"I'm not at 100 per cent, but I'm already better than yesterday. I hope things will improve. It's just a cold, but I hope that this effort won't affect me too much and that I can recover this evening. Hopefully, tomorrow is an easy day and that I can be at full health in two days," he said.
"I'm not here with my eyes on the Giro. I'm here to do well at Tirreno. This is the most important spring race for me."
A 25-second loss to BMC Racing and a 21-second deficit to Team Sky and Froome may seem substantial after just one day of racing, but Dumoulin felt it was a positive result, given the circumstances he and his team were under before the race.
"That was amazing for us. We have three guys who weren't at 100 per cent and those three weren't on the bike yesterday. Our preparation wasn't ideal, but we thought we'd go for it and we nailed it, given the manpower that we have. The other four were super, super strong and we can be really proud of this result. It's not a win but it feels like one. If you'd told us yesterday that we'd get this, then we would have called you crazy."