UCI president David Lappartient has responded to Dave Brailsford's criticism surrounding the Tour de France and French culture, with the head of the sport's governing body advising the Team Sky principal to tone down his rhetoric in the face of an already hostile situation at the Tour de France.
Team Sky came into the Tour facing a small but vocal backlash with Chris Froome cleared to race after the conclusion of his salbutamol case. The team was booed by fans at the teams presentation on the eve of the race, and during the last two weeks have faced sporadic hostility with reports that the British team – who are currently hold first and second place through Geraint Thomas and Froome – have also been spat at.
On Monday, Dave Brailsford, who lived and raced in France in his youth, used the Team Sky rest-day press conference to take aim at the French public. He had already criticised Lappartient for having the mentality of a 'small French mayor' earlier in the race, but his comments in Carcassonne – which came 24 hours after Team Sky rider Gianni Moscon was expelled from the race for punching another competitor – only inflamed the situation.
Lappartient and Brailsford have not spoken to each other since the Frenchman became UCI president in the autumn of last year. Instead, their relationship has been crystalised by a tit-for-tat exchange in the media.
On Tuesday, at the start of stage 16, the UCI leader sat down with Cyclingnews for an exclusive interview. He started by reaffirming his passion for the sport, and displayed a detailed knowledge of cycling as he compared the dominance of Team Sky to that of the Banesto team of the early 1990s. He expressed his views on the tactics of the current 2018 race, and his wish to see more open and attacking stages in the days to come.
However, the shadow of Brailsford's comments have loomed large.
"I don’t want to enter into a polemic with Sir Dave Brailsford," Lappartient told Cyclingnews."The best thing for him is to be quiet on this. I've expressed what I have to say.
"Okay, he can have the opinion that I’m not a good president but to say that I have the mentality of a French mayor…. What is the mentality of a French mayor? By saying that you’re not just pushing me but all the 35,000 mayors, and then all the people who support them. I don't think that it's very clever to say that."
Lappartient expressed his sympathy towards Team Sky in relation to any hostility they had faced while out on the roads of the Tour de France, and once again called on the fans to respect those competing in the event – along with their support staff and management. But he questioned Brailsford's logic in boiling the hostile environment down to purely nationalistic and cultural lines.
"I understand that his team have been under pressure, and maybe he feels that it's not fair that people are not supporting him," said Lappartient.
"It's true that, as the president of the UCI, I ask everyone to respect the riders, but he can't say it's down to mentality of the French. It's down to the mentality of fans everywhere. He has to understand that the Tour is the biggest race in the world, so there's more pressure, more media, and the decision for Froome to come to the Tour also focused on this.
"It would be nice if he stopped adding fuel to the fire," Lappartient added. "That would be helpful for his team. The flames were going down, but then if you add more fuel to the fire, that's not the best strategy. He's a clever man, so I think he can understand this. I hope so."
Respect for the roadside fans
While Brailsford was critical of those at the roadside, Lappartient said that he had a lot of respect for the fans.
"They’re the heart of cycling. Without them, the sport would not be the same," he said. "At every level, whether it's the teams, the UCI or the race organisers, we need to put the dream back into cycling."
Quite why Brailsford used his 16-minute long press conference to target the home support remains unclear. Perhaps it was a way to deflect attention away from the riders and onto himself. Alternatively, perhaps he was trying to draw attention away from Moscon's actions. Regardless of the motives of his emotive comments, Lappartient encouraged the Team Sky boss to show a more conciliatory manner.
"It wasn't fair for Dave Brailsford to criticise me as the president of the UCI like this just because of my nationality," said Lappartient. "There should be respect for all nationalities. It's not fair to also criticise the French people. We have a lot of people on the road, but we don't ask them to show their passports. Does he know the exact nationalities of those creating trouble? I don't know, really. I understand that, for his team, the Tour is the most important race, but it's difficult to come into a country and to criticise that country – to concentrate all of that on one nation.
"He speaks our language," continued Lappartient. "He knows what he's saying as he's spent time here in France, he spent time here as a rider. He knows our country."
When Cyclingnews suggested that Brailsford's comments were similar to a Donald Trump-style rhetoric, Lappartient was amused by the comparison.
"I hope he won’t Tweet the same sort of things as Trump," Lappartient said. "I can only encourage him not to follow Trump. Just to help his riders, Brailsford has to be quiet.
"We need to respect the riders – all of them. Chris Froome has to be respected, even if you don't agree with the decision to let him race at the Tour.
"I hope neither Brailsford nor his entourage add more fuel to the fire because, at the end of the day, Brailsford is in the car or on the bus. Froome isn't."
Lappartient on Moscon
While the race goes on for the rest of Team Sky their Italian domestique Gianni Moscon is now at home after being ejected from the race on stage 15.
This was not Moscon’s first rule break or unsavoury incident in his young professional career. In April 2017 he was found to have used racist language towards an FDJ rider at the Tour de Romandie. Team Sky decided to keep him in the race, although he was later handed a six week suspension and sent on a course. He was disqualified from the Worlds last year for taking a tow from the Italian team car.
Last year he was accused of deliberately causing Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ) to crash during the Tre Valli Varesine, but the UCI disciplinary committee dropped the case in June, citing a lack of evidence due to the absence of video footage.
Reichenbach suffered a fractured elbow and hip in the crash, and the Swiss rider believed Moscon deliberately caused the crash in retribution for his part in highlighting how the Team Sky rider had racially abused Kevin Reza at the 2017 Tour de Romandie.
Where the latest incident leaves Moscon is unclear. In a press release after the Tour de Romandie Team Sky indicated that the rider would be fired if another episode took place but it was unclear if a repeat was in relation to racist behaviour or bringing the team into disrepute.
It’s likely that the UCI disciplinary committee will ban Moscon but Lappartient will not be part of that procedure.
“It’s up to the disciplinary commission. I don’t know, it’s up to them to decide but I’m very disappointed because it’s not the first time," he said.
"After the case with Reichenbach, it stopped but he had to be quiet and I don’t know if he’s able to stay calm. He’s a good rider, he’s a strong rider but he’s not able to control himself. That’s his problem. When you do it once it’s okay but when you do it a second, a third time… and the Worlds last year… he’s a good rider and nothing against him but it’s not good for him and for cycling.”