Chris Froome is well within his rights to keep racing even as he battles to clear his name after an adverse analytical finding for Salbutamol, according to British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park.
UCI president David Lappartient has joined a number of rival riders in calling for Froome to withdraw from racing until the case – which stemmed from a test taken during La Vuelta in September – has been resolved.
But after the Team Sky rider made his first appearance of the season last week – finishing 10th in the Ruta del Sol – Park said that if Lappartient was unhappy, he needed to look at his own organisation’s rules first.
“Personally, I think it’s beholden on us, and particularly those of us who work within governing bodies, to operate within the rules,” Park said. “If we don’t like the rules there is a perfectly good process in place for us to go about changing them.”
Froome must explain why his test results contained twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug, and can avoid a ban if the UCI accepts his reasoning.
Under the world governing body’s rules, the case should have remained confidential until such time as a charge was brought, but it was leaked in December, leaving the four-time Tour de France winner in a very public battle to save his reputation – and the Vuelta title he won in Spain.
“I’m not personally finding it uncomfortable,” Park added. “I think it’s regrettable that the rules, in terms of confidentiality for Chris, have not been maintained in this regard, are actually regrettable for the sport as much as for Chris.”
But asked if the response to the case indicated an anti-Froome agenda from elements within the sport, Park said he felt the opposite was true.
“There will always be people who will want those tall poppies chopped down,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s specifically anti-Chris Froome. In fact, I think it’s the other way around.
“When you look at the size of the vote he got at (the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards), that was only three or four days after it came out, he was one of the five or six athletes who got a significant number of votes. And that was before the public had time to become educated.”
Froome, who plans to race next at Tirreno-Adriatico starting on March 7, said he had been encouraged by the reaction he received from fellow riders during his return last week although some, including Belgian Oliver Naesen, told reporters at the race they believed he should not be taking part.
Froome’s case comes on top of months of troubling headlines for British Cycling, following allegations of bullying and discrimination against former technical director Shane Sutton and question marks over the contents of a package delivered to Team Sky at the end of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
But Park denied there was any sense that the public might be hesitant about supporting British riders ahead of next week’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Apeldoorn – where Laura Kenny will return to action only six months after giving birth.
“I actually think the British public is very well informed by the quantity of what has has been written and said already,” he said. “I think we sometimes perceive that they are not as bright as they are.
“So I think the public really are getting behind British Cycling. I think they will be excited by British performances in Apeldoorn and I think the British public are actually really keen to see Great Britain deliver great performances.”