Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford has complained that he believes "misinformation" has been published concerning the Chris Froome salbutamol case, but declined to issue any correction "because it could jeopardise the whole process."
Brailsford was speaking ahead of stage 1 of the Ruta del Sol in Mijas, where he defended Team Sky's decision not to withhold Froome from racing pending the resolution of the case, insisting that the rider was entitled to compete.
Froome also spoke to the media before starting the Ruta del Sol, saying: "I do believe that when all the facts are out there, I think people will see it from my point of view," he said.
The four-time Tour de France winner returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during the 2017 Vuelta a España, news of which was made public in December. As salbutamol is classed as a specified substance, Froome is entitled to race until the case has been resolved.
"Nobody's denying it's a challenging situation but equally I think it's only fair at this point that everybody abides by the process, and the process totally allows him to race in this situation and that's what we're doing," Brailsford said, noting that Froome's case would not have reached the public domain had the news not been leaked in December.
"Our society is based upon the idea that the worst case scenario is to falsely accuse someone of something they haven't done. This part of the process should be confidential, let's not forget. He hasn't got a doping violation against him and I think that needs to be taken into consideration and we don't want to falsely accuse people. People can have their own opinions but on balance I think this is the right thing to be doing and we're happy that we're here and ready to race."
Like Froome, Brailsford said that he could not provide an estimate as to when the case might be resolved, but, in an echo of his rider's earlier words, he decried what he described as "misinformation" in the public domain regarding the case.
"It's a challenging situation because we're privy to a lot more information than is out in the public domain at the minute, and there's a legal process of course and we don't want to jeopardise that in any way," Brailsford said.
"The key here is you've got the legal process which is taking time and is ultimately the most important thing. Then you've got the sort of reputational, public side of it, which is also equally important, but if we've got to manage one or the other, then we'll manage the whole legal process first and make sure that's not jeopardised in any way, shape or form. So the public side of it, as uncomfortable as it can be at times, will just have to wait.
"It's tempting to correct a lot of the misinformation out there. We're in an age of fast information and information is 'fact,' but it's not, as we all know. We've got to be very, very careful with that and it's tempting to want to correct everything."
Brailsford was then asked why he did not highlight any so-called misinformation and correct it.
"Because it could jeopardise the whole process," he said.
Lappartient and fair process
Last month, UCI president David Lappartient said that he believed Team Sky should withhold Froome from racing until the case had reached its conclusion as it had the potential to damage the image of cycling. Brailsford avoided criticising the Frenchman.
"I'm not going to say anything. He's come into the role. It's great to have a French president of the UCI, he's taking it by the scruff of the neck and he's doing a good job but I think he's early in the role, there's no doubt about that," Brailsford said in response.
"Even in the face of quite extreme pressure, I still think we should stand up and provide a fair process, whether it's for Chris Froome, an amateur rider or anybody else. He's entitled to a fair process, as uncomfortable as that may be at times. Given who he is and the team, it's challenging, but it doesn't take away from the principle of the situation.
"I think even M. Lappartient would agree: his own rules and the UCI rules and the WADA rules are there for a reason. When they looked at specified substances and whether someone should be suspended automatically, they sat down and considered it carefully and said no, they shouldn't and there's a reason behind that."
Froome's defence brief is being handled by Mike Morgan, who was previously part of Alberto Contador's legal team when he received a backdated two-year ban for testing positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. Brailsford declined to specify Team Sky's precise role in Froome's legal defence but said the rider had the team's backing.
"I'm not going to go into great detail about it, but 100 percent we're behind him and 100 percent backing him. We've got full knowledge of the situation and we're working closely to resolve the situation," Brailsford said.
Although Brailsford was unwilling to speak in detail on the specifics of the case – "I'm not going to give a running commentary," he said – he suggested that the defence would be based on proving that Froome had not exceeded the legal dose of salbutamol rather than contesting the analysis of the urine sample, which showed 2,000ng/ml of salbutamol – twice the permissible limit.
"There's no result to be reversed. Let's be careful. The violation itself is all about the number of puffs, it's not about the urine," Brailsford said. "You can't get an anti-doping rule violation based on the urine, the rule is the number of puffs – has he taken more than 16 puffs in that allowable period? No, no. So I'm confident he didn't break the rules. 100 percent confident."
Not telling the Grand Tour organisers
Brailsford dismissed the idea that Team Sky and Froome were hoping to draw out the process in order to allow him to participate in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France before any verdict is reached.
"We don't want that at all. We want it resolved as quickly as possible but there a dilemma between getting it resolved as quickly as possible and not rushing things to make sure everything is accurate," Brailsford said.
Froome's decision to announce his participation in the 2018 Giro in November despite his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol has been the source of some controversy in Italy, but Brailsford defended the fact that Team Sky had not informed RCS Sport or other race organisers of the case before it entered the public domain in December.
"At the time, it was confidential and I wasn't allowed to tell them," he said. "Confidentiality is either confidential or not confidential. It's not like you can just share it among a certain group. The rules are pretty clear. This isn't the first time it's happened in our sport, let's not forget. So you have to decide, do we change everything and wait or do we carry on as normal. And we carried on as normal."
Brailsford refused to be drawn, meanwhile, on whether Team Sky and Froome would prolong the case further by appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the event of a sanction being imposed for the adverse analytical finding for salbutamol.
"That's purely speculation, isn't it?" Brailsford said. "I think we're working very hard on the situation we're in at the moment and we'll manage it from there."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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