LONDON - French five-time winner of the Tour de France Bernard Hinault's accusation that Chris Froome is a "cheat" and call for riders at this year's race to strike in protest at his presence are "uneducated" say Team Sky.
Froome was found to have twice the permissible amount of asthma drug Salbutamol in his system during September's Vuelta a Espana, which he won, before also winning May's Giro d'Italia, becoming the first man to hold all three Grand Tours at once since Hinault in 1983. The British four-time Tour de France champion insists he has not broken any rules, but Hinault says Froome is a cheat and as cycling authorities dither, rider power should be exerted.
However, in a hard-hitting statement on Thursday Team Sky accused 63-year-old Hinault of distorting the facts and not for the first time. "It is disappointing that Bernard Hinault has, once again, repeated factually incorrect comments about a case he clearly does not understand," the statement read.
"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."
Frrome has been involved in a legal and scientific wrangle with the International Cycling Union's (UCI's) independent anti-doping unit about how that finding happened. He insists there has been no wrongdoing on his or the team's part. Team Sky said they hoped for a quick resolution of the matter but in the meantime they were getting on with their training for this year's Tour de France which gets underway on July 7.
"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," the statement said.
"It is clearly a difficult situation which no one wants resolved more quickly than Chris and the team. 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."
Hinault, known as "The Badger" in his riding pomp, did not mince words when he spoke on Wednesday: "If the international authorities don't sanction him it's up to the other cyclists to shoulder the responsibility," said Hinault. "If the racers accept a cheat on the race then that's their problem!"
Hinault challenged the peloton to strike on the opening day of the 2018 Tour, a ride from Noirmoutier to Fontenay-le-Comte along the Atlantic coast on July 7: "The peloton should just stop and strike, saying 'if he's on it, we're not'. The peloton is being too nice. We condemned others, everyone agreed, but him, are you telling me it's because you call this an adverse finding (instead of a positive one) this is just not right."
"Contador paid the price for the same thing, he was suspended, but him (Froome) nothing," said Hinault said in reference to Spaniard Alberto Contador, who was banned after testing positive for clenbuterol and being stripped of the 2010 Tour de France title. "Ventolin might not be much, and maybe its not what made him win the Vuelta, but the rules are the rules, and they should be applied to everyone."
UCI president David Lappartient told French regional newspaper Le Telegramme in January that Froome's team should withdraw him. "Without wishing to comment on the rider's guilt, it would be easier for everyone" were Sky to suspend him, Lappartient said. "It's up to (Sky team manager Dave) Brailsford to take his responsibilities."