It’s a day of rest at the Tour, but as we know all too well, there’s no such thing really. The riders won’t even get a day away from the saddle…a couple of hours spin is required to keep the legs turning over, to ensure they’re ready to go once the racing begins again in earnest tomorrow. And begin again in earnest it will surely do as they head into the high Alps.
They need only look back to the day after the last rest day when on the first climb of the Tour, into the Pyrenees, Chris Froome came out swinging and many were caught stiff. As a result many contenders seen their Tour hopes die that day and it’s left Froome in complete control. Indeed, many believe his victory in this years Tour is now a formality.
Still, while Froome’s fight on the road may be under control with just five days to go, off the bike, against accusations in the media, condemnation on corners of Twitter, and abuse at the sides of the road, the fight has never been more intense.
Just two days ago things sunk to a new low on stage 15 when it was alleged by Chris Froome himself that a spectator (let’s not call him fan) threw a cup of urine in his face. That Froome didn’t put his race on hold to climb off and beat this imbecile senseless is all the credit to his restraint, composure and focus on the race itself. Whoever it was, I hope they find him, arrest him and block his anonymous Twitter account! It was nothing short of disgusting.
Froome himself has laid some of the blame at the feet of the media, in particular the French press. Not that they were directly responsible, but that indirectly their accusations and innuendos about his performances have led to a discontent amongst a small collection of people at the roadside.
Of course, it’s important to remember that this is just a small collection of idiots on Twitter and a smaller collection on the road sides of France amongst the hundreds of thousands that line the route and the millions that follow from home. Still, its the noise of the few and the actions of the several that appear to make the headlines and direct the narative.
They are influenced from somewhere, and so Froome is likely correct when he points the finger at elements within the media. When the likes of Laurent Jalabert is making the accusations you cannot help but feel the hypocrisy. This is a man who has doped himself, who is no more so or less so a cheat than Lance Armstrong, and yet it is only the American, and not Jalabert who sits in the commentary box, who has been told he is not welcome at the Tour when he showed up a few days ago to ride a charity event one day ahead of the race.
When ITV challenged Jalabert on his past and his remarks about Froome, the French hero scrambled for the sanctuary of the French studio, refusing to answer the questions. Which in itself only highlights the man he is when you see Froome at the press conferences answering any questions asked of him. Jalabert, when he broaches this subject and is then called out on it, reminds us that he is merely relic that belongs to a past generation and not a bastion for questioning the ethics of the Yellow jersey in 2015.
Indeed, Jalaberts reaction to ITV compared to that of Froome to the media hoards reminds us how much cycling has changed in recent years and in a funny way actually stands Froome in good light.
That said, I can’t help but ask the question of whether Chris Froome is the most persecuted man in sport? A man of which there is zero evidence against. In what other sport is someone condemned daily while going about his winning? Can you imagine the likes of Roger Federer, Rory McIlroy, Lionel Messi, LeBron James or Lewis Hamilton being criticised so heavily, having people continually condemn them on social media and have spectators throw urine or spit at them in passing? It doesn’t happen. And remember that while cycling has a dark history it has done a lot more in the fight to clean itself up than any of these other fine athletes respective sports.
Now that isn’t to say Froome deserves a free ride. I use the words ‘condemn’ and ‘insinuate’ a lot here for a reason. It’s important to draw the distinction between condemnation and questioning. Media asking Froome questions about doping or his performances are a by-product of cycling’s history, something Froome accepts is his cross to bare thanks to the likes of Armstrong, but rather than listen to his answers and look at the lack of a positive test, a covered up test, a backdated TUE, or a disgruntled former employee or rider (of which Sky has plenty) to perhaps give him the benefit of the doubt, some people simply ignore what he has to say because their minds are made up. Or, are being made up by the way the likes of Jalabert and other so-called ‘experts’ on Twitter project Froome.
You don’t have to go far on social media to find those who are desperate for Froome to be cheating; their entire existence is based on the need for it to be so. They don’t want to question him, they’re beyond skepticism, even past cynicism and into that realm of downright condemnation. It’s as though the downfall of Lance was the worst thing that could have happened as it ended their reason for being and as such they’re looking for someone else to fill the void. Froome is that someone else despite the back story not being remotely the same.
While Froome is dodging spit and urine and taking a beating on social media, the likes of Contador and Valverde are getting a free ride. That isn’t to say people should be spitting at them, of course not, but they get cheered and there’s little in the way of pseudo-science-analysis of their power data, speculation of their heart-rates and body weights, each and every day. Should Quintana go out and beat Froome on an Alpine stage, will we see the same level of speculation into his data? I can almost bet you that we will not. And don’t tell me this is just because Froome is in Yellow, because it’s not. At the Giro this year, which Contador won, he was nowhere near under the same scrutiny as Froome. Indeed, even though he came second to Contador in last years Vuelta, the heavy questions were still reserved for the Brit. You can say, well ‘the Tour is the Tour’, but even Nibali got a free pass in comparison to Froome in 2015.
Sadly, it leaves me asking the question I wish I didn’t have to contemplate: If Froome wasn’t British riding for a (wealthy) British team, would he still be treated this way? Evidence suggests not.
The simple fact is, Froome has had to deal with more than he deserves. I’m not ashamed to say I like Froome. He comes across as a classy individual off the bike and a fine athlete on it, and in recent years I’ve have become somewhat of a fan (though I found myself in a conflict of interests when last week himself and Nibali had a spat as I too am a fan of the Italian and wish he could have pushed Froome closer this year!)
I was hoping for a competitive third week of this Tour in which his rivals put him under pressure and made a race of it all the way up to the top of Alpe d’Huez but now, after what’s been going on, I would quite like to see Froome rip the rest of this race apart and annoy those that are, unashamedly, biased against him just that little bit more. Or indeed, to sit on the wheels and mark the moves and end any drama left.
Of course, that won’t happen. Froome has an ability to forget about it once he leaves the media scrums; his focus so single minded on the task at hand which is to win the Tour. This steely determination and focus was nevermore so highlighted than by his ability to ride on without missing a beat after that cup of urine was thrown in his face.
While I bring attention to the issue in this blog post it is once again worth highlighting that those taking the agenda against Froome to the extreme on the road sides and to obsession on social media are in the minority, thankfully. Hundreds of Thousands on the road and millions at home watch and enjoy and question with common sense and as such I likely won’t put a lot more energy into the ‘agenda against Froome’ subject between now and Paris.
It is meant to be a day of rest, after all.