Chris Froome avoided giving any new details about the status of his salbutamol case as he prepared to start the Tour of the Alps, simply insisting he is doing what he can to ensure the case reaches a timely verdict.
The Team Sky captain sat next to Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) at the pre-race press conference on Sunday, facing questions about the race, his salbutamol case, and even the war in Syria and the political implications of the start of the Giro d'Italia in Israel next month.
Froome had not spoken publicly about his salbutamol case since riding Tirreno-Adriatico in early March, only taking to Twitter to describe a report in Le Monde - which said the case had been sent to the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal - as 'fake news'. The tweet garnered both support and criticism but was later deleted.
Froome's urine sample from an anti-doping control, taken after stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, was found to have exceeded the permitted limit of the asthma drug salbutamol. The 32-year-old has always denied any wrongdoing and says he is a long-term asthma sufferer. He insists that he knows the rules and has never taken more salbutamol than he is allowed.
Froome's case emerged after reports in Le Monde and The Guardian on December 13. Because salbutamol is considered a 'Specified Substance', he is not automatically suspended from racing until a verdict is reached. Froome has refused to recuse himself from racing and is targeting victories at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 2018.
"As I said from the beginning, this whole process was meant to have been confidential. That's no longer the case, so it's not something I'm going to keep giving a running commentary on, and I don't feel others should be doing that either," Froome said.
Last week UCI president David Lappartient told L'Equipe that the case is now almost certain not to be heard before the Giro d'Italia, saying he hoped any verdict would arrive before the Tour de France in July.
"We are working as quickly as we can to get it resolved," said Froome. "I don't have a timeline to give publicly but we're following the process that has been set out to us by the UCI. Hopefully, we'll have a resolution as soon as possible."
In L'Equipe, Lappartient suggested the drawn-out case put Froome and the sport in an untenable situation, suggesting a verdict before the Tour de France would avoid Froome being targeted by the public.
Froome and Team Sky have been irritated by Lappartient's steady flow of interviews and comments on his case. Froome confirmed he intends to follow his original race plan and target the Giro d'Italia, insisting he is not worried about a negative reaction if he rides the Tour de France, even subjudice.
"Yeah, that's the plan," he said of the Giro d'Italia, which starts in Israel on May 4.
"In terms of reactions from fans, I've raced all over Europe this year and the support has been overwhelming. It has been quote touching actually, that people have reached out. Like I've already said, from the peloton too, the team has been a huge support too. Hopefully, we get to the bottom of this as soon as possible."
Froome was also asked questions about his use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) by a German television channel. They specifically asked if he had taken 40mg of cortisone per day, as if they were carrying out some kind of investigation.
"That's a strange question, given that Fancy Bears leaked all the info. Mine was made public at that point," Froome replied.
"In 10 years of racing these are the only TUE in my career. There are no others. I can't remember the exact dosage, you'd have to ask the doctor, but it's all online."
Not mixing sport and politics
Froome will reportedly be paid 1.4 million Euro to ride the Giro d'Italia, but there are concerns that the political tensions in the Middle East could force race organiser RCS Sport to move the start to Italy.
When asked about the political situation in the Middle East, the war in Syria, and the start of the Giro d'Italia in Israel, Froome made it clear he does not like to mix sport and politics.
"I'm not one to get involved in politics; I'm a bike rider," he said.
"If a race starts in Israel, we're required to be there to start. I don't like to get involved in politics as a person."
Targeting the Tour of the Alps
Froome starts the Tour of the Alps wearing number one after Team Sky won with Geraint Thomas last year. Froome was off the pace at Tirreno-Adriatico but appeared confident of doing well following a long training camp at altitude on Mount Teide on the island of Tenerife.
During the weekend he completed two days of Giro d'Italia reconnaissance, riding the Zoncolan climb, studying stage 15 to Sappada and the important 34.2km individual time trial from Trento to Rovereto.
"This is an important race for me, also in preparation also for the Giro d'Italia next month. This is the last test of my form and I guess in my preparation. I'm looking forward to the week ahead," Froome said.
"Like others, I'm coming back after a big block of altitude, so it'll be interesting to see where my rivals are and also for the team, to narrow down selection for Giro.
"Given the region of where the race is held, it's an extremely tough parcours, there's lots of climbing every day, even if the stage are short, it's a good challenge," he said.
Team Sky has won the last three editions - in 2015 with Richie Porte, Mikel Landa in 2016, and Thomas last year. Each went into the Giro d'Italia as a team leader but then failed to finish the race. Froome is hoping he can break that streak.
"It's good that we've won for the last three years. My teammates have gone on to the Giro and not gone well but hopefully, there's no connection there… I'm here to give it my best shot and feel if I'm in shape."
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