LIFE was easier on the road for Chris Froome in yesterday’s 15th stage of the Tour de France but off the road was a different matter.
On Saturday, after alleging that a spectator had thrown urine in his face, and yelled ‘Dopé!’ at him, the man in the yellow jersey blamed “some of the irresponsible reporting,” which he said had set the tone, one of suspicion and a refusal in some quarters that his performances are legitimate.
It was easy to interpret Froome’s words as an attack on the media and yesterday evening the media hit back. Why, he was asked, had he blamed the media? “You didn’t see any reports about suspicious performances in this year’s Tour de France?” Froome responded.
“If people are led to believe that these performances are not legitimate, that’s what’s going to push them to start booing, punching, spitting, throwing urine on riders,” he continued. “That’s my point.”
He was reminded that the scepticism owed to years of riders doping and duping the public, giving the media every right to question performances. “Times have changed,” Froome said. “Everyone knows that. Times have changed. This isn’t the wild west that it was ten, 15 years ago. Of course there are still going to be riders who take risks in this day and age but they are the minority. It was the other way round ten, 15 years ago. There is no reason in this day and age for that level or suspicion to continue. There is absolutely no reason.”
It wasn’t only Froome who had suffered abuse, he pointed out. His team-mate Richie Porte was punched on the first day in the Pyrenees and Luke Rowe, the young Welshman making his Tour debut, claimed he was spat at during Saturday’s stage. “That’s outrageous,” said Froome. “That’s unacceptable.”
There is no evidence Froome and Team Sky are doping, only strong performances, not only by him, but by others in his team, notably Geraint Thomas, who sits fifth overall. “From my point of view,” Froome added, “I don’t see what else I can do, other than speak up about it and plea with people to make up their own minds about our performances and not listen to particularly ex-riders who are part of this [previous] generation and only knew one way of cycling.”
Froome wouldn’t name the individuals in the media he held responsible, only saying “they know who they are,” but by identifying an ex-rider many assume he means Laurent Jalabert, the Frenchman who was world No 1 in the late 1990s and now works for French TV. “As I said yesterday, it was particular individuals,” Froome said. “I’m not saying the media in general. There has been fantastic coverage in the media of this race, fantastic coverage of the racing, which is how it should be. There are specific individuals who have very large audiences, especially on TV commentary for example, and those individuals are ruining it for a lot of other people.”
The stage was as incident-free as they get. “I’ve got to say the atmosphere on the road today was fantastic,” Froome said. Nobody misbehaved, and Froome said that the “thousands and thousands of people, they’re the heart and soul of the race. It’s great to be received like that. It really is a minority of people who ruin it for everyone else.”
It was a classic transition stage as the race heads towards the Alps and four difficult, decisive stages after tomorrow’s rest day. Yesterday’s finish in Valence was billed as one for the sprinters – their last chance until Paris on Sunday. But it was hardly straightforward and Mark Cavendish, who has won one stage already, was a casualty of the early climb out of Mende. The Isle of Man sprinter was dropped and finished with a large group more than 15 minutes down. In his absence, Andre Greipel won his third stage of this year’s race ahead of fellow German John Degenkolb and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff.
Greipel was thought by most to be on the slide but he seems to have benefitted from the fact that so many sprinters – including the absent Marcel Kittel – seem in lacklustre form. The 33-year-old has now won nine Tour stages.
Nothing changed with the overall standings and it doesn’t seem likely that today will see much of a reshuffle. The climb of the Col de Manse, close to the finish in Gap, could be the launchpad for an attack and Nairo Quintana, who is second overall, might stretch his legs. It is in the Alps, however, that the little Colombian must attack and crack Froome if he hopes to claim back his three-minute deficit.