Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot has warned that cycling's credibility has been damaged by the handling of Chris Froome's salbutamol case and has said that spectators at the Tour de France have the right to express their disaffection.
Madiot was a guest on Vélo Club, the France Télévisions post-race analysis show, after stage 14 in Mende, where he criticised Team Sky for 'playing the victim' in the wake of the Froome case, and he questioned why the team has never signed up to the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC).
Team Sky occupy first and second in the overall standings through Geraint Thomas and Froome. Thomas has been booed while receiving the yellow jersey on the podium, while a spectator ran into the road to strike Froome on the ascent of Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.
"I think we're losing credibility, quite simply," Madiot said. "The public of today isn't the public of 10, 15 or 20 years ago. There weren't the social networks, whereas now there is permanent communication and people can express themselves. It's completely unacceptable to assault riders, but people have the right to demonstrate verbally what they think."
Madiot expressed dismay at the manner in which Froome's anti-doping case was dropped by the UCI on the Monday before the Tour began, just a day after it was reported that organiser ASO was attempting to block Froome's participation in the race. Froome returned a urine sample containing twice the permitted level of salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta a España, news of which was leaked in December of last year.
"They told us for months that there was a problem with Froome and then, as though with the wave of a magic wand, a few days before the start we're told that it's all been sorted, everything is fine," Madiot said.
"I'm convinced that cycling is paying a price now for not being properly regulated over the years. We have a problem of credibility, quite simply. There's a movement called the MPCC – why doesn't a team like Sky join the MPCC? They say they do more and better than everybody in every domain.
"They have never shown a single sign of comprehension of the situation. They play the victim. At no point have we heard from them, 'OK, there's been a problem of perception, perhaps we could show something else.' They don't do that, so I can understand the reaction of the public, who whistle and boo."
Audience figures reported last week show that television viewership for the Tour was down significantly in France and elsewhere in Europe during the opening week, and while the clash with football's World Cup was likely a contributing factor to the downturn, Madiot believes that a deeper malaise is apparent.
"I think that cycling and the Tour de France have a credibility problem. We can feel that there isn't the same enthusiasm. There's a problem," Madiot said. "You only need to ask a few people on the side of the road to see."