Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford blames the French cycling culture for fans abusing his Tour de France leaders Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.
Spectators have been taunting four-time champion Froome since he was cleared of doping just before the race started, while Thomas has been whistled and booed at for being Froome’s teammate.
Sky has been the dominant team at the Tour since Bradley Wiggins became the first rider to win the three-week race in 2012. With six stages left of this race which ends in Paris on Sunday, Team Sky is in an excellent position to achieve a 1-2 and to secure a sixth win in seven years. Thomas, chasing his first Tour win, leads Froome by 1 minute, 39 seconds overall.
At a news conference during the race’s second rest day on Monday, Brailsford took umbrage at the treatment inflicted on his riders, who have been verbally abused and spat at over the past two weeks.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop,” he said. “I’m not too optimistic on that front. We accept it and we have to make a decision about how to behave. We’re trying to remain dignified, we’re trying not to react, and we’re trying not to get distracted by it.”
Brailford’s lack of diplomacy is likely to add fuel to the fire as the race enters the Pyrenees, where fans generally show up in large numbers along twisting and narrow roads, often getting over-excited in a booze-fueled atmosphere.
Froome raced all season under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. The International Cycling Union ruled just before the Tour that his sample results did not constitute a breach to the anti-doping rules.
The Tour threatened to bar Froome until that ruling, which still upset French fans.
Brailfsord said he has witnessed this type of angry reaction only in France.
“We raced in Italy and Chris’ case was open when we were at the Tour of Italy and the Italians were fantastic, to be fair to them,” Brailsford said. “The Spanish, fantastic. It just seems to be a French thing. Like a French cultural thing. I’m not sure they’d have liked their football players being spat at in Russia (at the World Cup). I’m sure there would have been a word or two about that.”
Brailsford added the fans’ lack of respect could eventually lead foreign teams to stay away from the Tour de France.
“The Tour is promoted as the world’s greatest annual international sporting event and if that’s what you want to host and if you want the best riders in the world to come to your country to take part, then maybe treat them with a little more respect,” he said.
“If you don’t want them to come then maybe race only with French teams, that might work. But if you want them to come then treat them with the same respect that you’d want for your team.”