Robert Millar: Abusing riders only makes them stronger

Chris Froome and teammate Leopold König (Team Sky)

Chris Froome and teammate Leopold König (Team Sky)

I'm surprised, not by the abuse of the race leader at the Tour de France, but that no-one has caught it on camera and that we don't know who did it. I'd have expected that amongst all the spectators with smartphones and video recorders there would be at least one film or photo of the perpetrator who threw urine over Chris Froome.

In fact I'd urge that the guilty party is identified so we can see what a coward looks like. I'm sure there are many people who would like to hear his reason for an unprovoked assault. Undoubtedly he'll look ordinary but he's not one of us. He's not a bike fan.

Maybe the assailant is upset that the riders he went to support aren't doing well; maybe he was drunk or half crazy from standing in the sun for hours waiting for the race to come along; or maybe he thought that his childish act would intimidate Chris Froome and that somehow the race leader would be so shocked he'd go home and hide.

I'm sorry to disappoint anyone with similar intentions - the people who scream abuse in riders’ faces, who punch, spit and are generally nasty - but it doesn't work like that. Having had first hand experience of being spat on, sworn at, having things thrown at me and other general ignorance thrust upon me, and having seen other riders subject to deplorable incidents, I can tell all those who come to mock and degrade that it doesn't have the desired effect. Quite the contrary.

As a rider you take the unsolicited aggressions, the ones meant to scare and worry you, and you store those feelings up to be used on a later date, on people you are competing against or if it's a time trial. Shouting and swearing at bike riders doesn't have them in tears; it makes them more determined. Best then, that we encourage these clowns to stay at home with their crayons. So let's find the culprit who thought he'd pee in a cup then stand there with it in his hands and finally throw it onto the bike race as it went past. I don't know about you but I'd rather not worry about having one of them anywhere near me or my family when I'm enjoying the sights and sounds of a pro bike race.

Has the media, and in particular the French media, been responsible for this situation developing? Well, fools are easily led and when they see, hear or read about doubts over anything by so called experts then it's no surprise they are influenced in the wrong direction.

One of the ways I judge good journalism is by the opening title. As soon as I see the word ‘should’, I know the what the bias will be. Negative. Using ‘should’ implies wrong and when there's no proof, facts or evidence then it's provocative and apparently that's the way Sky's performances are being reported by certain people. When Stade2, the state owned TV channel and go-to option for most watching the race in France, asks ‘should we believe’ then you know that they want everyone to think that they don't believe the race is being ridden fairly. Add in a few references to the Armstrong era and it becomes an accusation. One which, coming from the likes of Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque, might be considered a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Talking of colour, remarkably in this day and age I've seen Chris Froome described in the Belgian press as the white Kenyan. Is that supposed to be some kind of racist slur? A poor reference to bygone days of slavery and colonialism in Africa? Surely not.

What we are witnessing by some outlets is a desperate level of journalism at the Tour and they only want to provoke outrage and disbelief. These are the same guys who say, like us, that they love bike racing and are defending its integrity but strangely have taken sides on a debate of which they only have estimates, insinuations and assumptions. No facts, no evidence.

Sporting contests are meant to bring together, educate, and celebrate, which is all very French but they and some of the other traditional cycling countries seem to be having a hard time with their heroes being dictated to at this Tour de France. Last year was fine when they had some thing to cheer about with Péraud, Bardet and Pinot all riding near the front but this time around life's not fair and something must be wrong. There is an us-and-them attitude.

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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.

Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.