After Nibali, Froome incidents, Tour chief calls on fans to respect riders
LE BOURG-D’OISANS, France (AFP) — Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has demanded fans show more respect a day after Team Sky was booed on the podium and Vincenzo Nibali crashed out when his bike got tangled up.
Prudhomme hinted there could be measures taken to stop fans running behind riders during the spectacular mountain stages that attract thousands of people to the roadside.
“They have only one wish, to be on television and take a selfie,” Prudhomme told AFP prior to stage 13 from Bourg d’Oisans to Valence.
“We have no wish to see that again.”
He added: “Rocket flares don’t belong on bike races. They make the riders breathe in noxious air, and they blind them. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Sky’s domination so far has seen Geraint Thomas win two key Alpine stages in succession to lead the race by 1:39 over teammate and four-time Tour champion Chris Froome.
But Sky’s success is doing little to appease detractors.
Thomas was booed and jeered as he crossed the finish line on Thursday, and later while he stood on the podium.
On the climb up Alpe d’Huez, a bag or camera strap got entangled with Nibali’s bike, sending the Italian — who was riding through a plume of smoke — crashing to the ground. He later exited the race with a broken back.
Froome, who was reportedly spat at, also received an aggressive slap on the back from another fan.
Although Tour chiefs have improved conditions for the peloton in recent years by limiting the sale of alcohol and having police motorbikes clear a path for the riders, Prudhomme said the Alpe d’Huez climb “was painful.”
“The riders of the Tour, the champions of this race, need to be respected,” Prudhomme said.
Sky has won five of the past six editions of the Tour, with Bradley Wiggins beginning the impressive streak in 2012 and Froome winning in 2013 and then from 2015-2017.
The Kenyan-born Froome is targeting a seventh grand tour win. If he’s successful, he would become the first cyclist since Italian Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour in the same year.
Froome was only cleared to compete days before the start by the UCI.
For months, the Briton was embroiled in controversy after a sample from the 2017 Vuelta a Espana revealed he had twice the permitted amount of the asthma drug salbutamol in his system.
Froome and Sky were subsequently booed on the podium at the start of the Tour in the Vendée.
Prudhomme said: “I heard the whistles on Alpe d’Huez, just as I did in the Vendée. On the roadside it’s been calm for the past 10 days or so, with very few anti-Sky or anti-Froome banners.
“But suddenly, we’ve seen a lot more. All I can do is renew calls for calm, for good sense, and for serenity with regard to the riders on the Tour de France.
“Don’t whistle and, obviously, don’t touch the riders. Even if it’s just an over-friendly backslap.”
Prudhomme added: “The vast majority of the fans on the roadside are well-meaning. But yesterday on the second half of the climb, the public were at times a little reckless.
“Even though it wasn’t an overexcited spectator who brought Nibali down, it was a spectator, not a police motorbike.
“We want the Tour public to be the same as they always have been.”
In 1975, Belgian legend Eddy Merckx was famously forced to abandon after being punched by a fan.
“If we really want to see things overspill on the Tour, we have to look all the way back to 1975 and Eddy Merckx,” Prudhomme said.