KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — World cycling chief Brian Cookson has warned of a rise in “hooliganism” on Tour de France routes and said winner Chris Froome was the target of nasty insults.
After one of the most controversial races in recent years, Cookson also told AFP in an interview that the number of “tired” riders on the Tour made him believe tougher doping tests are having an impact.
“There were some regrettable incidents on the Tour,” the UCI president said on the sidelines of International Olympic Committee meetings in Kuala Lumpur.
“I am worried about the beginnings of an element of hooliganism coming towards our sport which we have largely been able to avoid in recent years.
“Everyone needs to be a little bit careful for the future.”
He pointed out Briton Froome’s claims that urine and beer were thrown at him and crowds spat at him following French media reports casting doubt on his performances. There was also vandalism.
Cookson said the incidents could be “isolated,” but they had made him “very uncomfortable.”
“I think Chris was subjected to a fairly nasty form of antagonism from a small number of people,” he said.
“But there was also a little bit of slightly joking, slightly hooligan-type behavior in places with cars being kicked, things being thrown at cars.”
Bearded cross-dressers and fans in superhero outfits have traditionally mixed with beer-swilling spectators along routes. But Cookson said French authorities shared his concerns and warned that the freedom around cycling could be at risk.
“Over the years I have become more and more worried about people running alongside riders, pushing riders and so on, and we are getting to a point where that’s beginning to be a little more concerning.
“The Tour, all of cycle racing is a great free sport. It is possible to get close to the athletes, to the competitors, in a way that is not really possible in any other sport. If we want that to continue then we all have a responsibility to behave.”
When asked about Froome’s treatment, the UCI leader from Britain said it was not his job “to speak up for or defend any individual rider or any individual team.”
‘Efficient’ drug testing
“My job is to ensure that the conditions in which our sport takes place are as fair and equitable as possible and with as much integrity and impartiality as possible,” Cookson said.
Cycling has handed its drug testing over to the independent Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation in a system hailed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
A recent WADA report said that 56 percent of tests on athletes in all sports with biological passports now concerns cycling. Cookson said cycling should be “proud” of this record of attention.
“I think we saw some very tired riders during the Tour and one of the things I take from that is that the dope testing is becoming ever more efficient.
“Whilst no one likes to see anyone exhausted, I think it is a demonstration that we are constantly lowering the radar.
“People should bear that in mind when they are casting allegations and aspersions on any individual whoever they may be, whatever nationality, whatever team” he added, in a further reference to media attacks on Froome.
Cookson said no UCI official can order a rider to be tested or not tested.
“There isn’t a conflict of interest.” Cookson also strenuously denied that Froome’s team Sky or any other team got preferential treatment.
“I can give you a personal guarantee that I will never cover up any anti-doping violation,” Cookson said. “If we think that someone, whoever it is, however high, however low, whatever team, whatever nationality, is involved in an anti-doping violation that can be prosecuted, then we will prosecute.”