A day after Chris Froome reported that he had been doused with urine by a spectator, six gendarmes were deployed to keep vigil outside the Team Sky bus ahead of stage 15 of the Tour de France in Mende. The pervading atmosphere of distrust at this Tour in microcosm.
Froome’s day passed without incident, as he faced no attacks from the roadside or from his overall rivals, but there would be further tension at the end of the stage in Valence, as he faced the Tour’s press corps, 24 hours after employing a flexible brand of logic to blame them for the urine-throwing incident.
As has become his habit on this Tour, Froome again delivered an unprompted initial statement immediately on taking his seat, taking care to describe the roadside support as “fantastic.” Once the floor was opened to questions, however, it was put to Froome that the presence of policemen outside his bus brought back memories of the security detail assigned to Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team.
“It’s not for me to say what security is needed,” Froome said. “It’s the race organisation that puts on the events. It’s their responsibility to keep the riders safe. I’m obviously not involved in coordinating where police stand and all that. I’m sure you can ask the question to the race organisation.
“If you look at any big sporting event – tennis, football, any big event – there are police all over those events, especially if fans start getting more involved in the event than they should do. So I don’t think it’s unusual that there are police around when we are warming up or leaving the buses.”
On Saturday, Froome had demurred when challenged to specify the journalists whose reporting had supposedly incited a – we can only presume – otherwise reasonable man to throw urine at him as he rode past. On Sunday, a reporter revisited the topic, pointing out that he could not recall journalists writing that supporters should throw urine at riders.
“You didn’t see any reports about suspicious performances in this year’s Tour de France yet?” Froome asked in return.
“Yes, I did. But that’s not the same as booing or throwing urine,” the reporter replied.
“If people are led to believe that these performances are not legitimate, that’s what’s going to lead them to start booing and punching and spitting and throwing urine at riders. That’s my point,” Froome said.
Froome has been firm in rejecting allegations of wrongdoing, both in 2013 and this year, and he is unfortunate, perhaps, that the market on brazen denials was cornered by Lance Armstrong and US Postal a decade ago, meaning that protestations of innocence are inevitably met with scepticism.
“Times have changed, everyone knows that,” Froome claimed. “This isn’t the Wild West that it was 10 or 15 years ago. Of course there are riders who take risks in this day and age but they are the minority. It was the other way around 10 years ago. There is no reason in this day and age for that level of suspicion to continue. There is absolutely no reason.”
The Sky man rejected the idea that he might have been tempted to abandon the race in the manner of Gino Bartali after he was threatened on Col d’Aspin the 1950 Tour, though Froome later described the actions of some spectators this past week as “outrageous” pointing to other incidents involving Richie Porte and Luke Rowe.
“I don’t know what else I can do other than to speak up about it and tell people to make up their own minds about our performances rather than listening, particularly, to ex-riders who were part of this generation that only knew one way of cycling,” Froome said, hinting that his ire was aimed at least in part at France Télévisions analysts Laurent Jalabert and Cedric Vasseur, though – once again – he declined to specify precisely what reporting he deemed to be “irresponsible.”
“As I said yesterday, it was particular individuals. I’m not saying the media in this general. There has been some fantastic coverage of the actual racing on this race. But as I said yesterday there are particular individuals who have very large audiences, especially on television commentary for example. And those individuals are ruining it for a lot of other people.”
Froome’s wife, Michelle, of course, had been more forthright in apportioning blame for the lukewarm reception to his dominance of this Tour. In a brief return to Twitter on Saturday afternoon, she wrote: “@JalabertLaurent @cedvasseur @lequipe @festinaboy @scienceofsport I hope you're paying attention. Ignorant, irresponsible fools.”
The account was hastily deleted and in the mixed zone on Sunday afternoon, Froome denied all knowledge of the tweets. “No, I didn’t,” Froome claimed when asked if he had seen them.