Team Sky have issued a statement in response to Bernard Hinault’s call for the Tour de France peloton to go on strike if Chris Froome participates in this year’s Grande Boucle, which gets underway on July 7.
Froome returned a positive test for salbutamol en route to victory at last year’s Vuelta a España, news of which was leaked in December of last year. As salbutamol is classed as a specified substance, Froome is free to compete until the case is resolved. He won the Giro d’Italia last month, though it is still unclear if that victory – and his Vuelta win of 2017 – will endure in the record books.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has repeatedly called for the Froome case to be resolved ahead of the Grand Départ, though UCI president David Lappartient recently conceded that it was unlikely a verdict would be reached before July 7.
Speaking to Ouest France on Wednesday, Hinault reiterated his belief that Froome should not participate in the Tour and said that his fellow riders should strike in protest at his participation. “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!” Hinault said.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, Team Sky disputed Hinault’s assessment of the case.
“It is disappointing that Bernard Hinault has, once again, repeated factually incorrect comments about a case he clearly does not understand,” read the Team Sky statement.
“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.
“This process would normally be confidential to protect the athlete and establish the facts. Unfortunately, it was leaked. However, both Chris and the team are following the process that has been put in place by the UCI.”
Froome's urine sample following stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta contained 2,000ng/ml of salbutamol, twice the permissible limit. He has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that he did not take more than the permitted number of puffs from his Ventolin inhaler.
The case has proceeded at a glacial pace since Froome was first informed of the positive test at last year’s World Championships in Bergen. Froome is being represented in the case by sports lawyer Mike Morgan, whose previous clients include Alberto Contador, Johan Bruyneel, and Lizzie Deignan.
“It is clearly a difficult situation which no one wants resolved more quickly than Chris and the team,” claimed Team Sky on Thursday.
“Chris and Team Sky are fully-focused on the upcoming Tour de France and won’t let these uneducated comments affect our preparation for the greatest race in the world.”