One of Chris Froome's most valued domestiques at Team Sky says that he has had little contact with the Brit since news of his salbutamol test emerged in December, letting Froome concentrate on his own early season training and clearing his name.
Wout Poels was a key figure in Froome's victories in the 2015 and 2016 Tours de France and the 2017 Vuelta a España (missing out on selection for last year's Tour with a knee injury), but says that he has had little communication with Froome over the past two months.
"I have not seen Chris for a while," Poels told Dutch website Nu.nl. "I also have very little contact with him, he has enough other things to do at the moment. I occasionally send him a message to ask how things are going, but it's a difficult situation for him, so I'll leave him alone."
Froome is currently training in South Africa while Poels is at one of the team's pre-season training camps in Mallorca, with the Dutchman saying that he hasn't heard much about the progress of the case.
"I must honestly say that we do not hear very much about it," Poels said. "Every once in a while we get a small update and behind the scenes Chris and his lawyers are working hard to solve the problem. For us it is a case of waiting and hopefully it will end well."
Watch: Giro d'Italia 2018 route guide
Froome has denied breaking anti-doping rules which allow athletes to take a maximum of 800mg of salbutamol per 12 hours, and, with Team Sky's backing, has vowed to clear his name.
To do this he must prove that the adverse analytical finding for having an abnormally high concentration of salbutamol in his urine after a stage of the Vuelta a España was not as a result of exceeding the maximum permitted dosage of the asthma drug, with his lawyers reportedly set to argue that the adverse test result was as a result of a malfunction in Froome's kidneys.
It is unclear when a conclusion will be reached in the case, but a ban for Froome could open the door for Poels to realise his own Grand Tour ambitions.
"I am now at an age where I'm running out of time," Poels joked. "I think I'm ready, and last season I finished sixth in the general classification of the Vuelta, which gave me a lot of confidence."
"With most teams, that would be a top performance, but with Team Sky, where you are riding a four times Tour winner, the cards are slightly different on the table."
Poels will begin his season at Challenge Mallorca, which starts on Thursday, before travelling to mainland Spain for the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Ruta del Sol, and racing either Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of the Ardennes Classics.
His Grand Tour schedule has yet to be decided, and may well depend on the outcome of the Froome case, although the Dutchman says that he hopes to ride the Giro d'Italia alongside Froome in May.
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