Nas­ti­ness at the Tour

Chris Froome keeps lead, but things get ugly.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JOHN LE­ICES­TER

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.”

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