Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford on Monday hit out at organizers for failing to stop “intimidating” abuse of his riders and staff as they attempt to win the Tour de France.
With Welshman Geraint Thomas in the yellow jersey and four-time champion Chris Froome in second place 1 minute, 39 seconds back, Sky were in an optimal position as they headed into the Pyrenees for three consecutive stages starting yesterday.
However, the British outfit’s bid to win the French race for the sixth time in seven years is not sitting well with some fans.
Amid a general feeling of suspicion surrounding Sky and their sheer domination of the race, Froome has been spat at and mistreated, Thomas has been booed off the podium and some of Sky’s staff have also faced abuse during the opening 15 stages.
Brailsford, who has been questioned by a British parliamentary inquiry following allegations Sky had breached ethical guidelines by abusing the legal use of therapeutic use exemptions for their riders, said he did not expect the abuse to stop.
However, he claimed that the organizers’ inability to step in and take effective measures against the haters had compromised the race’s billing as the “the world’s greatest annual sporting event.”
“The Tour de France is promoted as the world’s greatest annual sporting event. If that’s the case, then maybe treat it with a bit more respect,” Brailsford said. “If you don’t want international teams to come, you can have a Tour de France for French teams. That’s the way I see it really.”
“We’re trying to remain dignified, we’re trying to not get distracted by it,” he said. “I don’t think spitting and throwing things really has a base in professional sport, nor in everyday life.”
Other teams and riders are also concerned about security.
“We are at a point where a part of cycling’s future is at stake,” said Frenchman Romain Bardet, who rides for home team AG2R La Mondiale and is fifth in the overall standings. “Riders on the Tour “don’t really feel safe.”
Most of the bad behavior from a small minority of spectators has targeted Sky, who started the race under a cloud and are looking hard to beat.
Froome was initially barred from starting his title defense by organizers because of the suspicion surrounding his “adverse analytical finding” for the asthma drug salbutamol at the Vuelta a Espana last year.
The Kenyan-born Briton had double the permitted amount of the drug in his sample when he won the race last year.
However, days before the Tour de France, the International Cycling Union cleared Froome to race.
“I’m not sure they would like to have seen their football players being spat at [the FIFA World Cup] in Russia,” Brailsford said. “I’m sure there would have been a word or two about that, but it’s okay to spit at us and our staff? It’s very, very intimidating.”
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