Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, has called on cycling fans to respect Chris Froome and his yellow jersey after the Team Sky rider complained that he had urine thrown at him during the stage to Mende. Teammate Richie Porte revealed that he was punched in the Pyrenees and other riders have said they have been spat at.
Team manager Dave Brailsford suggested to Sky Sports that “the French crowd here is out of control”, describing the aggressive fans as a football mob.
"You want to see it. We took videos, and maybe we should take images, of how mob culture is taking over what we have to drive through every day, and I think people will be shocked," Brailsford said.
Prudhomme spoke to several news agencies before the start of the stage in Mende in an attempt to persuade the roadside fans to respect the riders.
"The behaviour of certain spectators, a minority obviously, is evidently intolerable," Prudhomme told the Reuters news agency. “Insulting the integrity of the yellow jersey is unacceptable.
"The top racer has never been liked in the history of the Tour de France. It was true with Jacques Anquetil, it was true with Eddy Merckx, and it's being repeated now. But there must be a minimum of respect.”
During his post-stage press conference with the written press, Froome blamed some media for raising questions about his performances rather than the fans along the roadside.
"I certainly wouldn't blame the public for this. It really is the minority of the people out there ruining it for everyone else out here," Froome said. "But I would blame some of the reporting on the race that has been very irresponsible. Having said that, those individuals know who they are.
“I am not going into specifics details here but those people know who they are and have been extremely irresponsible on the way they have reported on the race," he said, insinuating the reporting had contributed to the spectators' actions.
"It's no longer only the riders bringing the sport into disrespect now, it's the individuals, and they know who they are."
Froome's wife, Michelle, made a brief return to Twitter after the stage to provide the specific names of the media and people on social media to name names. She tweeted: "@JalabertLaurent @cedvasseur @lequipe @festinaboy @scienceofsport I hope you're paying attention. Ignorant, irresponsible fools."
@Festinaboy is the Twitter name for well-known former Festina coach and physiology expert Antoine Vayer. Jalabert was the star of French cycling in the 1990s but was named as testing positive for EPO in the 1998 Tour de France in a special French Senate investigation carried out in 2012. Vasseur is also a former rider. He questioned Froome’s out of saddle, high-cadence attacks, saying “It seems like the bike is pedalling itself.”
Prudhomme also went as far as pointing the finger at some parts of the media. "There's a sort of frustration that many people have had for several days concerning Chris Froome's striking, outstanding victory in the first Pyreanean stage, and the fact that those who were slated as his rivals weren't up to the mark,” he was reported as saying.
"This frustration is worsened by the fact that the French riders we were hoping would do something were even further back, and it is then compounded by comments of certain experts or 'pseudo-experts' who ensure that newspapers, radio stations and television are full of doubts and suspicions.
"There's obviously a correlation between what is said in newspapers, on the television and radio and what happens along the route," Prudhomme continued. "Of course, and it's a former journalist speaking here, what we write or what we say has an influence on the weakest-minded which can then lead to unacceptable behaviour.
"I condemn the stigmatisation around the yellow jersey and I condemn above all incidents that have happened over the last few days. We must respect the yellow jersey and say thanks to the supporters, the vast majority, who do respect it."
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