After the Parliament Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) select committee attacked Bradley Wiggins for ‘crossing an ethical line’ over performance enhancing substances, crowds at future Grand Tours are going to be more hostile than ever in 2018. Chris Froome could even be put in danger at the Tour de France.
Hostile crowds at previous Tours
In 2015, Chris Froome had a cup of urine thrown at him on that year’s Tour de France, in a direct action designed to imply he is a doper. One media outlet reported, “The shocking incident occurred as the Tour headed to Mende on Saturday, with Froome stating that he and his teammates saw a bystander shout “doper” before throwing the cup, a reference to the doping accusations recently circulating against him.”
This has not been the only incident. Year after year since there have been loud boos as the Yellow Jersey is given to Froome. A Guardian newspaper commentary reported, “As Barry Hoban said on ITV, the French have always tended to boo foreigners who take over the race and threaten their favourites. The great Eddy Merckx, he recalled, was mercilessly abused.” Booing is a compliment to some extent – the French boo you out of respect!
There is a nasty element to the attacks on Sky and its chief riders though. Sky came into their own the year after Alberto Contador had his Yellow Jersey taken off him for doping yet still managed to race the subsequent Tour de France by playing legal games. Sky have been preaching and broadcasting that they are completely clean, yet have been so dominant that jaded fans have difficulty understanding that dominance.
The same Guardian referred to above suggested, “There is also the issue of the doubts surrounding his team’s ability to live up to their original proclamations of rising above cycling’s tainted past. Since the Fancy Bears hackers broke the news of Bradley Wiggins’s previously unpublicised use of therapeutic use exemptions, Sky’s leaders have provided an object lesson in how not to deal with a crisis.” The journalist suggested that Dave Brailsford had moved from an ‘Alistair Campbell’ style of media relations to those used by the Trump administration. That antagonised the very journalists he needed to bring aboard. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the mob, and antagonised journalists will only antagonise the mob.
Climbing mountains has always been a hazardous experience, with people maddened by boredom, exhaustion and too much booze going completely nuts as the leaders pump their way up the narrow lanes. There is no room for barricades and the crowds can get right in the faces of the riders. While this can add to the feel of the race, it does lead to an element of risk to the riders as the crowd, passionate enough to climb several miles up a mountainside with a case or two of beer at dawn before the riders pass, feel very strongly about certain riders ‘deserving’ or otherwise to win.
Given the building hostility that the DCMS report has only fuelled, this is likely to take a difficult situation and throw fat on the flames. We do hope that nothing happens to Froome due to an over-passionate member of the public whose own morals have been loosened by thin air and alcohol going one or two steps further to promote their views than they might sober and at sea level.