Bigger than one rider

Has Operacion Puerto caused the real owners of the Tour de France - the French public - to slam...

Has Operacion Puerto caused the real owners of the Tour de France - the French public - to slam their doors on the race, or is the national festival bigger than a few doping stories? Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins is at the 2006 Tour riding some of the route and observing the public reaction to the event in the aftermath of the drugs scandal.

During the Festina Scandal of 1998 the French public came out firmly on the side of the riders, who were seen as victims of an unjust system that forced riders beyond their natural limits. More than that though, they seemed to be upset with the media, that was seen to be on a witch hunt against their heroes.

But would Operacion Puerto be one scandal too far? Would the revelation that their heroes - allegedly - had feet of clay turn the public against their race? How much more scandal could the Tour's fans take before they all started waving giant syringes at the peloton - or worse, stay away altogether?

I had the opportunity to ride most of the route of Stage five Beauvais to Caen route on the morning of the race, giving me the chance to really see the fans close up - assuming some turned up. I would read what they wrote on the road and ask them what they were doing there. Had they come to cheer or jeer and what did they think of the riders they were waiting to see?

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