BREST, France (AFP) — Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault said he does not regret calling for riders to strike in protest at Chris Froome’s participation in the race.
The five-time Tour champion made the call two weeks ago amid the fallout from Froome’s “adverse analytical finding” for the asthma drug salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Froome was found to have twice the permissible amount of the drug on his way to winning the title last September.
The Kenyan-born Briton then went on to win the 2018 Giro d’Italia, becoming the first man to hold all three grand tours at once since Hinault did so in 1983.
After months of weathering the storm relating to his salbutamol result, Froome was finally cleared to race the Tour de France by the sport’s governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) less than a week before the Tour started.
Ahead of stage 6 from Brest to Mur-de Bretagne Guerledan, the 63-year-old Hinault shot down suggestions he may now be regretting his call for the peloton to strike.
“Regret what I said? Never! Never! All I said was the truth of the matter, and that’s it,” said Hinault.
A winner of the 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1985 Tours de France, Hinault’s outspoken manner and single-minded approach to racing earned him the nickname “le Blaireau,” which translates to “The Badger.”
In a recent interview with AFP, Hinault called on Froome’s rivals to take a stand.
“If the international authorities don’t sanction him, it’s up to the other cyclists to shoulder the responsibility,” Hinault said.
“If the racers accept a cheat on the race then that’s their problem!”
Hinault’s comments were labeled “irresponsible and ill-informed” by Team Sky.
No contact with Sky
Asked if he has had any contact with Team Sky, Hinault said Thursday: “There’s no risk of that happening, no risk at all, and I don’t really feel like it either.”
And he claims “nobody called me to say that what I had said was wrong. You have to stand up for yourself in life, they have forgotten that.”
Hinault, meanwhile, has played down Froome’s chances of claiming a record-equaling fifth Tour crown.
“Once we knew he would be at the starting line, he had the same chance of winning as any of the others,” Hinault said.
“There is no real favorite, there are four or five of them. Richie Porte was very good last year, and if he hadn’t fallen, who knows? Tom Dumoulin hasn’t shown his hand yet but he is capable of winning it too.
“And look at Movistar with their three (GC) riders,” Hinault said of Alejandro Valverde, Mikel Landa, and Nairo Quintana, the latter who has twice finished runner-up to Froome at the Tour.
“If they work out how to use the three of them, you could easily envisage a win for them.”
Amazingly, Hinault remains France’s last winner.
As Froome targets a fourth consecutive yellow jersey and fifth overall, France’s hopes of winning lie firmly with Romain Bardet.
Bardet finished second at the 2016 Tour and third in 2017. Hinault said his chances of escaping from Froome and other key contenders are slim.
“Romain has just one chance of winning and that is [making up the difference on] the descents, it’s the only place where he is better than the others,” said Hinault.
“On the climbs, in the time trials, they won’t let him go.”