Deignan: Chris Froome is right to race

Ireland's Philip Deignan (Team Sky) says he feels that teammate Chris Froome has made the right choice by opting to race this season.

Froome was notified on September 20, 2017, of an adverse analytical finding (AAF) because a urine sample taken from him on stage 18 of the Vuelta a España exceeded the allowed limit of the asthma drug salbutamol. He contends he did not exceed the WADA-allowed dosage of the medication, saying that his asthma worsened during the race, and he followed his team doctor's recommendation to increase his dose.

While his case was still being reviewed by the UCI, Froome started the Ruta del Sol on Wednesday, as is allowed under UCI rules, which do not require a provisional suspension in cases of 'specified substances' like salbutamol.

There have been calls from UCI president David Lappartient, along with some riders and team managers, for Froome to step aside while his AAF for salbutamol case is resolved. But Deignan is not amongst their numbers. Like Movistar's Mikel Landa, Deignan believes that Froome should race on.

Speaking to Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2 of Ruta del Sol, where both Deignan and Froome are racing, Deignan said "Chris is totally entitled to be here.

"When he's done nothing wrong, I think it's unfair to ask him to sit out from races, possibly six months of the year, if it takes that long to get this sorted.”

Deignan said that the current morale inside Team Sky is good. "We all just get on with the job. You see everything in the media, but we don't let it affect us."

Later in stage 2, Sky's morale was strengthened further after Wout Poels took the stage win and overall lead.

Deignan said he is in good shape, too, after a solid off-season of training towards 2018. He proved that his condition is good on Thursday when he put in a very strong ride on the lower slopes of the climb of the Alto de Allanadas to help set Poels up for the win. But he aims to hit top form in time for the Giro d'Italia in May.

"The off-season and pre-season training went really well, really consistent, so I'm very happy where I am," said Deignan, who is racing the Ruta del Sol for the first time in his career.

"I would say I'm about the same as I was at this time last year. I had a very long break, five weeks off the bike and I've bumped it up nice and slow since then.

"It's probably the first winter I spent almost all of my time in [his home base of] Monaco, so staying in one place meant I could get into a good routine. I've stayed healthy and consistent. There are 10 or 12 guys from Sky there, and a couple more in Nice, so there's a massive group there, and it's almost like a team base, and there's plenty of people to go training with. And the weather was OK, too."

The 34-year-old's program before the Giro will be the Volta a Catalunya, an altitude training camp, the Tour of the Alps and then the Italian Grand Tour. "There’s some hard blocks in there with Catalunya and the Alps, but with some good training blocks too so I won't get too tired. It's a pretty nice build-up."

Then he will head to Italy for another Corsa Rosa. "I've done the Giro six or seven times" - first in 2008, then working as a domestique for Carlos Sastre in Cervelo and all the way through to working with Landa and Geraint Thomas in last year's ill-fated race for Team Sky's GC hopes.

Recalling Sastre, who had won the Tour in 2008 and started the Giro as a top favourite, Deignan recollects that "Carlos was very laid back about it all and a very different style of leader. He'd sit at the back and hide in the bunch and then just appear at the last minute when he needed to."

Deignan's own 2018 targets are more about working hard and well for Froome and the other leaders, rather than taking personal cracks at glory. "The big goal is to be there for the Giro d'Italia but I need to be there and ready to do a job at all of these races. Just always to be at a good level."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.