Sunday 26 January 2020

'It just seems to be a French thing. I'm not sure they'd have liked their football players being spat at in Russia'

Team Sky's Dave Brailsford during a press conference
Team Sky's Dave Brailsford during a press conference

Ian Parker

Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford took aim at Tour de France spectators who have jostled and spat at his riders this week, asking if they would rather have a race purely for French teams if they do not respect the world's best cyclists.

It is nothing new for Sky to face hostility in France, but the atmosphere has been even darker this year in the wake of Chris Froome's salbutamol case, in which he was cleared of wrongdoing just days before the Tour began.

That verdict has not been accepted by many fans, not to mention significant elements of the French media, and contributed to scenes which saw Froome slapped and spat at on Alpe d'Huez, and doused with an unidentified liquid on Saturday's stage to Mende.

Brailsford said he could not understand why the team only get this reaction in France, given Froome rode and won the Giro d'Italia in May while his case was still open.

"It just seems to be a French thing," he said. "Like a French cultural thing. I'm not sure they'd have liked their football players being spat at in Russia (at the World Cup). I'm sure there would have been a word or two about that.

"But it's OK to spit on us and on our staff... The Tour de France is promoted as the world's greatest annual sporting event and, if you want the best international riders to come to your country, maybe treat them with a little more respect.

"If you don't want them to come, you can maybe have the Tour de France for French teams - that might work - but if you want international teams to come then maybe treat them with the same respect that you'd want for your team."

Sky have dominated the Tour in recent years, winning every edition since 2012 bar the 2014 race in which Froome crashed out on stage five.

The reaction they have received is not unique, and French fans have often turned against serial winners, whether it be Eddy Merckx or even their own Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

While incidents of actual violence - such as the fan that slapped Froome on Alpe d'Huez - are of concern, Brailsford said Sky had learned to tune out the boos.

"I don't think it's going to stop," he said. "I'm not too optimistic on that front. We accept it and we have to make a decision about how to behave. We're trying to remain dignified, we're trying not to react and we're trying not to get distracted by it."

Sky's bid to 'remain dignified' was not helped by one of their own over the weekend, when Italian rider Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for striking Frenchman Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Samsic just 800 metres into Sunday's stage.

"I don't know how people are going to react, but it's not going to calm people down," Brailsford said.

It is just the latest incident in a long line if disciplinary mis-steps from Moscon, who was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

Brailsford said he would consider if Moscon should face further punishment after the Tour, but, when asked directly, would not rule out terminating the 24-year-old's contract.

"Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing," Brailsford said. "He's really disappointed. He's let himself down, he's let his team down and now he's gone home.

"From a team point of view, I'm going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there."

PA Media

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