Nastiness at the Tour
Chris Froome keeps lead, but things get ugly.
MENDE, FRANCE — Being doused in liquids by roadside fans goes with the terrain of being a Tour de France rider. But this spectator was yelling “Doper!” at Chris Froome, and the liquid couldn’t have been more unwelcome.
“No mistake: It was urine,” the race leader said.
While Stage 14 signaled a double celebration for British cycling, with Froome extending his lead and fellow Briton Stephen Cummings getting a first win for South African team MTN-Qhubeka on Nelson Mandela Day, the unpleasant assault dampened the leader’s mood.
Froome blamed “very irresponsible” reporters for turning public opinion against him and his Sky team. Just as he did in winning the Tour for the first time in 2013, the Kenya-born Briton has faced pointed questions about his dominant performances — and those of his teammates — along with insinuations of doping.
Froome said he spotted the spectator acting bizarrely about a third of the way into the day’s 178-kilometer (111-mile) to ride from Rodez to Mende. The route through plains and hills on the fringes of the Massif Central region included a detour through the breathtakingly spectacular Tarn gorges.
“I saw this guy just peering around, and I thought, ‘ That looks a bit strange,’ ” he said. “As I got there, he just sort of launched this cup toward me and said [in French], ‘Doper!’
“That’s unacceptable on so many levels.”
His Sky teammate Richie Porte said another person, also seemingly a spectator, thumped him with a “full-on punch” a few days earlier on a climb in the Pyrenees. Porte suggested journalists may be putting riders in danger by “whipping up all the rubbish that they are.”
Froome echoed that thinking.
“I certainly wouldn’t blame the public for this,” he said. “I would blame some of the reporting on the race that has been very irresponsible.
“It is no longer the riders who are bringing the sport into disrepute now. It’s those individuals, and they know who they are.”
He refused to identify specific journalists or reports but said: “They set that tone to people, and obviously people believe what they see in the media.”
Although such assaults remain rare, Froome is not the first rider in Tour history to have been doused by urine, nor is Porte the first to be punched.
Still, the aggression shows how their generation is paying the price for decades of damage done by dopers, none more infamous than Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of seven Tour victories and confessed to systematic cheating after years of lying.
In the lingering atmosphere of distrust, Froome’s repeated assurances that he is clean have fallen on deaf ears.
“Unfortunately this is the legacy that has been handed to us by the people before us, people who have won the Tour only to disappoint fans a few years later,” Froome said.
“If this is part of the process we have to go through to get the sport to the better place, obviously I’m here. I’m doing it,” he added. “I’mnot going to give up the race because a few guys are shouting insults.”