Chris Froome defended Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, rejecting claims that the embattled Welshman should resign following a series of accusations in the British Parliamentary Committee report into doping in sport.
"I wouldn't still be in the team if I didn't believe in the team and the people around me. Dave B has brought all those people together and we've got a fantastic group of people," Froome said after attending the pre-race Tirreno-Adriatico photo shoot and press conference.
Froome also denied the accusation in the British Parliamentary Committee report that a small group of riders used corticosteroids outside of competition to lose weight in preparation for the major races, saying: "That's absolute rubbish, I've seen that accusation, but no, that's complete rubbish."
Asked if there was any use of triamcinolone, he said: "No. I've learned about this through the media as well, I wasn't even aware Bradley was using it."
'I can only speak from my own experiences'
Froome arrived early for the official Tirreno-Adriatico photo opportunity and press conference on Tuesday afternoon, waiting in the hotel foyer, happy to sign autographs and pose for photographs.
During the press conference he sat between Fabio Aru and Tom Dumoulin, but he and the Giro d'Italia winner never caught each other's eye, with Dumoulin's body language appearing unwelcoming. Dumoulin revealed he was ill and announced he would not stay for the mixed zone interviews. That meant he avoided any questions about Froome's presence at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Froome did not shy away from the cameras, even if most of the questions were about his salbutamol case and especially about Team Sky and the accusations in the British Parliamentary Committee report.
"I haven't seen the report myself, I've only seen the headlines. I can only speak from my own experiences in the team. I've been there for eight years, since day one when the team started. I certainly have a very different picture to what's been painted in the headlines," he said, defending Team Sky and Brailsford against accusations that an important ethical line had been passed with the use of triamcinolone.
"I've never seen anything like that, it's not my experience within the team, that that's how the team operates," he said occasionally tripping up on his own words.
Froome explained how he managed to separate is ongoing salbutamol case and Team Sky's woes from his racing.
"That's part of something I've been dealing with over my whole career as a pro cyclist, I've come up against adversity and I've learnt how to compartmentalise things. Right now I'm here to race Tirreno and I'm focusing on that, and I'm building towards the Giro d'Italia," he said.
"I spoke about it before at the Ruta del Sol when I began racing, there's a process for me to follow and a process for me to demonstrate that I've not done anything wrong, and that's exactly what I plan to do. These are not easy circumstances; I understand it's difficult for everyone. It's not a good situation for the sport, it's not a good situation for any of us, but we are getting on with it and I'm working as hard as I can to get this resolved as fast as possible."
Asked if he was at Tirreno-Adriatico to try to win the weeklong race, he said: "I'm here to try. I understand that this is part of my progression towards the Giro, it's one of my preparation races, I don't feel that I'm at my best yet, I'm working hard towards the Giro and I hope to be at my best shape by the start."
Froome's case emerged in late September but his legal team are still in discussions with the UCI regarding the case and Froome has not been accused of an anti-doping violation. However, there is growing pressure for him to avoid racing until his case is resolved. There are fears the case could drag on until the Tour de France, meaning he would race sub-judice and possibly lose any results if he is eventually found guilty and punished.
"As I said, I'm working as hard as I can to get everything resolved before then and hopefully that's going to be the case," he responded.
"Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there's a process we are following. I'm doing everything I can to get this resolved as fast as possible."
An ITV camera crew asked Froome if Brailsford should resign several times during the interview. Froome ignored them but eventually responded.
"No. Like I said. I'm really proud to be part of this team. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in the people around me," Froome said.
Asked if the team's future is solid despite this, Froome said simply: "Yes." before turning to face similar questions from Italian media and give similar answers.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.