CARCASSONNE, France (AFP) — Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford hit out at Tour de France organizers on Monday for failing to stop “intimidating” abuse of his riders and staff as they attempt to win the race.
With Welshman Geraint Thomas in the yellow jersey and four-time champion Chris Froome in second place at 1:39 back, Sky is in an optimal position as it heads into the Pyrénées for three consecutive stages starting Tuesday.
But the British outfit’s bid to win the French race for the sixth time in seven years is not sitting well with some fans. [related title=”More Tour de France news” align=”right” tag=”Tour-de-France”]
Amid a general feeling of suspicion surrounding Sky and its sheer domination of the race, Froome has been spat at, Thomas has been booed off the podium, and some of Sky’s staff have also faced abuse during the opening 15 stages.
Brailsford, who has been questioned by a British parliamentary inquiry following allegations Sky had breached ethical guidelines by abusing the legal use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for its riders, said he did not expect the abuse to stop.
But he claimed the organizers’ inability to step in and take effective measures against the haters had compromised the race’s billing as the “the world’s greatest annual sporting event.”
“The Tour de France is promoted as the world’s greatest annual sporting event. If that’s the case, then maybe treat it with a bit more respect,” Brailsford said on Monday’s rest day.
“If you don’t want international teams to come, you can have a Tour de France for French teams. That’s the way I see it, really.
“We’re trying to remain dignified, we’re trying to not get distracted by it.
“I don’t think spitting and throwing things really has a base in professional sport, nor in everyday life.”
Sky, though, started the race under a cloud.
Froome was initially barred from starting his title defense by organizers because of the suspicion surrounding his adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug salbutamol at the Vuelta a Espana last year. The Kenyan-born Briton had double the permitted amount of the drug in his sample when he won the race in 2017. Yet days before the Tour, the UCI cleared Froome to race.
Brailsford said: “Chris’s case was open when we raced [at the Giro d’Italia]. And they were fantastic, the Italians (fans).
“It seems to be the thing that’s done here. It just seems to be a French thing. A French cultural thing, really.”
He added: “I’m not sure they would like to have seen their football players being spat at [the recent FIFA World Cup] in Russia.
“I’m sure there would have been a word or two about that. But it’s OK to spit at us and our staff? It’s very, very intimidating.
“It’s a shame, but we’re not going to let it distract us.”
Sky’s victory bid was potentially dented when the team lost Italian rider Gianni Moscon on Sunday after he was thrown out of the race for striking Frenchman Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Samsic.
Brailsford admitted the incident is unlikely to get fans on his team’s side.
“It’s certainly not going to calm people down,” he said.
But he added: “It’s not acceptable for a rider to do that. I agree with the decision of the race commissaries. Its impact on the team overall means that some of the riders will have to do a bit more work.”
Other teams and riders are also concerned about security.
“We are at a point where a part of cycling’s future is at stake,” said Frenchman Romain Bardet, who rides for home team Ag2r La Mondiale and is fifth in the overall standings.
Riders on the Tour “don’t really feel safe,” added Bardet.