MANCHA REAL, Spain (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) defended his decision to return to competition despite calls by some for him to stay home.

Froome is three days into his controversial start to his 2018 season, and though rules allow him to compete during his ongoing Salbutamol case, his presence at the five-day Ruta del Sol continues to roil the peloton.

Ahead of the start of Friday’s third stage, Froome defended his right to pin a race number on his back.

“It’s great to be racing — it’s not about tension or relief. I am starting my season,” Froome said. “It’s been hyped up in the media, anyone can see that.”

Media packed in around the Team Sky bus yet again Wednesday morning to try to get a few words from Froome. His ongoing Salbutamol case continues to divide the peloton. This week, echoing comments since the case was leaked in December, some riders have chimed in that Froome would be better off sitting on the sidelines until it is resolved.

Sky officials have countered that Froome has every right to race, and reminded media and fans that the case should have been handled confidentially. A leak to French and English media in December altered the narrative permanently.

At the start of Ruta, Froome mentioned his frustration with what he characterized as “misinformation” and a lack of clarity about the process spelled out by anti-doping authorities. He also said he hopes the case is resolved as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, he has every intention to continue racing.

“On balance, I think it’s the right thing to do; for Chris to continue,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “And for us to work in the background, to support him, and demonstrate there’s been no wrongdoing.”

Also Wednesday, Sky officials confirmed to VeloNews that Froome will race Tirreno-Adriatico in March ahead of his planned start at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Froome has raced Tirreno-Adriatico only once, in 2013 when he was second, 23 seconds behind winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Froome’s start in the Italian one-week WorldTour race could change at the last minute due to illness or injury, but the “Race of Two Seas” is his next planned step toward the Giro-Tour double attempt. Sky officials did not say if Froome would race again before the Giro’s start in Israel on May 4.

On Tuesday’s uphill finale at Ruta del Sol, Froome struggled a bit against the top riders and ceded 27 seconds to teammate and race leader Wout Poels.

With racing continuing over the weekend, including a decisive, 14.2km time trial Sunday at Barbate, Froome is intent on using the Ruta del Sol as the starting point of his racing season.

“This is a good starting block in terms of looking forward to the larger goals I have this season,” Froome said. “I will empty the tank [in the time trial]. It’s another test of where I am at, and how much work I have to do on the time trial.”