LONDON (AFP) — Team Sky coaching guru Tim Kerrison told The Guardian that Bernard Hinault’s recent comments labelling Chris Froome a ‘cheat’ and calling on the Tour de France peloton to strike could provoke a violent backlash against the rider from spectators.
Kerrison, speaking to the newspaper in Monaco as Team Sky fine-tunes its preparations for this year’s Tour, said Froome’s safety is at risk “if things are presented in a way that incites or sensationalizes.”
Froome was found to have twice the permissible amount of asthma drug Salbutamol in his system in last September’s Vuelta a España, which he won, before also winning May’s Giro d’Italia, becoming the first man to hold all three Grand Tours at once since Hinault in 1983.
The four-time Tour de France champion insists he has not broken any rules, but Hinault says Froome is a cheat and has called for riders to act as cycling authorities have yet to hand down a decision on Froome’s case.
“The peloton should just stop and strike, saying ‘if he’s on it, we’re not’,” Hinault told the AFP on Wednesday.
Kerrison – who was an Australian swim coach until 2008, when English cricket thought they had secured his services, only for British cycling chief and now Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford to pinch him from under their noses — says he has no doubts Froome will emerge with his reputation intact. But he takes issue with how long the process is taking to reach a decision.
The Australian’s main concern, though, is that Hinault and others’ comments on the matter will stoke up spectators who, unlike with most sports, are able to crowd round the riders especially on the mountain stages.
“If things are presented in a way that incites or sensationalizes, or fuels anger or resentment towards Chris, then I don’t think that’s very responsible,” said Kerrison.
“I think fair treatment in the media is a responsible requirement to ensure the riders’ safety.”
With emotions running high Kerrison told the paper that aside from Froome’s ever present bodyguard — who has been a feature for a while — the team has also consulted with security experts.
“We have been talking for a long time about safety and security and we had a couple of [broadcasting company] Sky’s security team come to spend time with us, just to advise us on how we operate and can improve our safety and security at races.
“Our experience of riding in France and our experience of the public has been fantastic.
“But we also know there will also be a small part of the crowd who will be hostile and a few people who are haters and are particularly hostile.”
Kerrison said Froome may seem calm on the outside but the barbs being aimed at him do
hit the target.
“Chris is human and it’s only natural that he feels a sense of injustice over the way he’s been treated or reported,” said Kerrison. “But when it’s time to focus on his performance, he’s uniquely good at putting all that to one side and delivering.”