Chris Froome has done nothing wrong, says Team Sky boss David Brailsford one week before the four-time Tour de France winner is due to make his 2018 season debut with a salbutamol case lingering in the background.
Froome tested for twice the allowed limit of asthma drug salbutamol in the Vuelta a España that he went on to win last September. The testing and judgement process continues while Froome is allowed to race despite some calling for him to sit out.
"He's done nothing wrong," Brailsford told reporters at the Oro y Paz stage race in Colombia.
"It's a difficult situation. We have rules from the UCI, WADA, and it's my job to look after our team and the individual, but think about the sport in general. I do believe that he's innocent, though."
Froome is reportedly to argue a kidney problem led to him testing at 2000 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) of urine following the 18th stage of the Vuelta on September 7. Other riders with similar situations in the past have faced a ban of three to nine months.
Fighting, Froome risks a ban of up to two years and loss of the Vuelta title, the bronze medal from the World Championship time trial and any result he obtains in the meantime.
He will begin his season on February 14 at Spain's Ruta del Sol stage race despite multiple calls, including from UCI President David Lappartient, that he should wait for the process's conclusion - something that could arrive in six months to one year.
"I do understand it's a very difficult situation for everyone," continued Brailsford.
He underlined that the process should have remained confidential. The Guardian and Le Monde leaked the news on December 13.
Froome's main season goals will be based around an attempt to win both the Giro d'Italia title in May and a fifth Tour de France in July.
"I believe in fairness. I think he should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that," Brailsford said.
"We're abiding by the rules. The UCI decided how these situations should be managed. It's the right thing to do, for Chris to continue racing and for us to work in the background. To support him and demonstrate there's been no wrongdoing."
Recently retired Spaniard Alberto Contador faced as similar situation in when he tested positive for Clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour de France, which he won. He continued to race while the case was debated. A ban was finally given which stripped of his 2010 Tour title and the 2011 Giro title that he won while the debate brewed.
"I'd like to see justice as fast as possible," Contador said this week.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who placed second to Froome and stands to take the Vuelta title if it is taken away from Froome, also thinks the British rider should remain on the sidelines.
"It's right that Froome defends himself with the best experts and lawyers possible," Nibali he said.
"I've seen in the past with athletes that it's better not to race because if you race and the ban arrives, then you lose everything, all the results and suspension.
"Froome faces the decision. I would advise him as a friend, even if we are not that friendly, to make the best decision for this sport."
Brailsford should travel from Colombia, where Sergio Henao is making his season debut, back to Spain. A hurricane of media attention is expected to swirl around Froome's debut in Andalusia next week.
"We feel he should have fair treatment," Brailsford continued. "We're sticking to the rules, it's the UCI's rules.
"We want [the process] to be as fast as possible. The longer it is for Chris and the team the more difficult it is, but equally, it needs to be done correctly."
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