Chris Froome's coach, Tim Kerrison, has blamed the media for the growing backlash over the Briton's Adverse Analytical Finding (AFF) for salbutamol, saying that his case has been sensationalised, mainly by the French press, ahead of the Tour de France that is set to begin on July 7 in the Vendée region.
"If things are presented in a way that incites or sensationalises, or fuels anger or resentment towards Chris, then I don't think that's very responsible," Kerrison said in an interview with The Guardian. "I think fair treatment in the media is a responsible requirement to ensure the riders' safety."
Froome returned a positive test for salbutamol following an anti-doping control test that took place September 7 following stage 18 of the Vuelta a España last year, a race he went on to win. His urine sample contained 2,000ng/ml of salbutamol, twice the permissible limit. As salbutamol is classed as a specified substance, Froome is free to compete until the case is resolved, and he has denied any wrongdoing.
Froome hired London-based lawyer Mike Morgan as part of his defence team, but continues to race, sub judice. In May, Froome went on to win the Giro d'Italia, which sparked further controversy, and he intends to start the Tour de France with a goal of winning a fifth overall title. However, Kerrison suggested that the doubt over Froome's pending case has been unfounded.
"I'm very confident that he is innocent," he said. "There have never been any question marks for me."
But on Wednesday, Bernard Hinault called for the peloton to go on strike if Froome takes part in the Tour de France, telling Ouest France, "The peloton should put its foot down and go on strike saying: 'If he's at the start, we're not starting!'"
Hinault went on to say, "For me, Christopher Froome shouldn't be at the start of the Tour, simply because he was found positive - for me that's not an abnormal control!"
Team Sky issued a statement on Thursday to dispute Hinault's comments that read, "It is disappointing that Bernard Hinault has, once again, repeated factually incorrect comments about a case he clearly does not understand.
"His comments are irresponsible and ill-informed. Chris has not had a positive test, rather an adverse analytical finding for a prescribed asthma medication. As an ex-rider himself, Bernard will appreciate the need for fairness for each and every athlete. And at the current time, Chris is entitled to race."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has called for Froome's case to be resolved ahead of the July 7 start, however, UCI president David Lappartient said that is unlikely. In addition, organisers of the Vuelta a España hope there is a resolution before the start of the third and final Grand Tour held in Spain in August.
Froome has repeatedly told the press that he wants the case resolved quickly, but that he is following the process that is set in place by authorities, but even Kerrison noted that the case has taken longer than expected.
"Guilty or innocent, it shouldn't take this long to resolve," Kerrison said. "If he's found to be innocent it just shouldn't take the months and months that it has done to resolve the situation."
Froome is currently training in the French Alps at the Isola 2000 ski resort before he travels to the Vendée region for the Grand Depart. Kerrison expressed his concern that Team Sky and Froome's participation at the upcoming Tour de France will be unwelcomed by some of the sport's fans onsite at the event.
He told The Guardian that Froome has hired a bodyguard and the team have consulted with BSkyB's security team for safety advice on how to handle potentially hostile crowds.
"We have been talking for a long time about safety and security and we had a couple of BSkyB's security team come to spend time with us, just to advise us on how we operate and can improve our safety and security at races.
"Our experience of riding in France and our experience of the public has been fantastic. But we also know there will also be a small part of the crowd who will be hostile and a few people who are haters and are particularly hostile.
"But you can address the core problem as well, which is the way some things are presented in particular sections of the media."