Mauro Vegni, the director of the Giro d’Italia, has suggested that the Tour de France organisers were responsible for the protests, booing and safety concerns at this year’s race due their stance against Chris Froome and Team Sky.
This year’s Tour was hit by a series of events that often overshadowed the racing. Froome was often booed at stage starts, with one spectator trying to hit him during the stage to Alpe d’Huez and others spitting at Team Sky. Flares were occasionally lit as the riders passed, causing breathing problems and reducing visibility.
Vincenzo Nibali suffered a fractured vertebra on Alpe d’Huez after a spectator’s camera strap seemingly caught his handlebars during a moment of chaos. When French farmers tried to block the peloton during a protest on stage 16, the gendarmerie responded with batons and pepper spray, which blew back into the peloton, irritating riders’ eyes.
Froome, and Tour winner, Geraint Thomas played down the impact of the protests and incidents but Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford was more aggressive, going as far as suggesting that the hostile reception Team Sky faced was in some way a “French cultural thing.” He also criticised UCI president David Lappartient as having a “local French mayor kind of mentality”. Lappartient suggested that Brailsford offended the whole of France, with the Sky manager’s subsequent apologies having little effect.
ASO had raised the tension before the start of the Tour de France by trying to block Froome’s presence at the race, even though they knew he was about to be cleared of any wrong doing in his drawn-out salbutamol case.
“The way the Froome situation was managed was wrong. At the Giro, we always accepted that if the UCI said that Froome could race then we’d welcome him with open arms. If race organisers decide who is fit to race and who isn’t, they’re substituting the UCI and all the rules no longer exist,” Vegni said in the August issue of Italian cycling magazine Bicisport.
“Froome and Team Sky came under fire and that wound up the public and created a lot of tension, things that brought shame onto our sport.
“There was an air of protest that the organisers fuelled and even seemed to agree with. In the end, [Gianni] Moscon was the one who paid the price for a slap that didn’t even hit anyone. He was sent home in shame.”
The hooligans, the drunks and the people who aren’t from our world cause the problems
Vegni secured Froome’s presence at this year’s Giro d’Italia, claiming he did not know about Froome’s then on-going salbutamol case when the route was presented in late November. He publicly backed Froome’s right to race and welcomed suggestions from Lappartient that Froome’s case would not be resolved before the start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel.
Froome lost time early in the race after a training crash in Israel but went on to win the Giro d’Italia with a long-range attack on stage 20 to Bardonecchia. The Italian tifosi are renowned for their roadside passion at the Giro, but Vegni makes a clear distinction between the cycling tifosi and what he describes as a hooligan element amongst the spectators who visit the Tour de France, especially on climbs such as Alpe d’Huez.
“The real cycling fans have always behaved correctly. The tifosi aren’t the problem, it’s the hooligans, the drunks and the people who aren’t from our world that cause the problems,” Vegni said, suggesting the problems on Alpe d’Huez could have been avoided.
“Managing crowds is always difficult and even more so for the Tour de France because there are more people than anywhere else. I think ASO were lacking an experienced technical person on Alpe d’Huez, someone like Jean-François Pescheux. Where Nibali crashed was a critical point on the route. If an experienced and well-prepared person from the race organisation had passed there, they’d have seen people inside the barriers, how narrow it was and risky it was with all the motorbikes, and so done something.
“It’s important to understand the size of the Tour de France. I think its size has become its problem. I understand how difficult it is to manage a complex event. However, there’s a feeling that they’re the Tour and so they think they can do whatever they want.”
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