Editor’s note: After stage 5, Luke Rowe commented on this incident, saying, “It was no big deal.” Read that story here >>
LORIENT, France (VN) — Team Sky has been receiving its fair share of boos and jeers so far during this Tour de France. Chris Froome and his teammates heard them at the team presentation and they’re hearing them each morning at the sign-in ceremony and along the road each stage.
On Wednesday morning before the start of stage 5, Team Sky’s Luke Rowe laid down the law with one anti-Sky fan.
A French fan was outside the Team Sky bus Wednesday morning in Lorient with a white sign over the fencing that read in English, “Sky go home.”
As he rode to pre-race sign-in, Rowe approached the fan, took the sign out of his hand, and laid it on the ground. Rowe didn’t say a word, pedaled away and soon returned to the team bus without further incident.
“The rider came over, quickly grabbed my placard and threw it down!” said Didier Bregardes, a fan from Lorient who was holding the sign.
At least two journalists witnessed the incident and confirmed it was Rowe, but he denied it when asked directly about it. He walked onto the Team Sky bus without comment as journalists pressed him for more detail.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Rowe said. “No, it wasn’t me.”
The incident, however minor, reveals underlying tension at this year’s Tour de France not only for Froome but for everyone inside the Team Sky bus.
Team Sky was strongly booed at the team presentation last week, and Froome has received the occasional boosand jeers along the route in this year’s Tour and during the sign-in ceremony each morning.
Rowe’s actions contrast with other comments Wednesday morning when he said that French fans have largely given Froome and the rest of Team Sky a relatively warm welcome. He was clearly ticked off by what he saw when he walked off the bus.
“We got quite a negative reception going into the race, but apart from that, it’s been awesome. It really has. We’ve been impressed with the French crowds,” Rowe said. “Of course, for a thousand cheers, you might get one negative person. You just take it in your stride. We’ve got pretty broad shoulders. In one ear and out the other for those fans who don’t like what we’re doing.”
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford was later spotted handing Team Sky bottles to the same fans, but he told one journalist that he didn’t know what Rowe had done, and said he passes out Sky bottles to fans every morning. Team Sky rider Gianni Moscon also approached the fans to pose for photographs.
The incident might seem little more than a blip, but it underscores a larger tension permeating around the Tour de France in the wake of Froome’s controversial Salbutamol case.
The French fervor was kicked up ahead of the race when former Tour winner Bernard Hinault said riders should strike against Froome and encouraged French fans to cheer against Team Sky.
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Tensions boiled over during the team presentation last week when Froome and Team Sky were booed and jeered by the crowd. Occasional fans have booed Froome since the race began Saturday, but for the most part, the majority of fans have not targeted Froome.
“We hope we have a safe race,” said Team Sky sport director Nicolas Portal. “The fans might not like us, but Chris does not deserve to be booed.”
Things escalated even more over the past few days in a war of words between Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford and UCI president David Lappartient. Brailsford described Lappartient as a “small town French mayor” and Lappartient countered that he should not be underestimated.
For the French fan, it was all too much, and he decided to bring his sign to the Team Sky bus Wednesday morning to make a statement.
“I’ve nothing against Froome or the riders, but it’s the way the manager of Sky, Brailsford, dealt with it,” Bregardes said. “[Brailsford] came over here and gave water bottles to the kids but he doesn’t want to hear about doping. I agree with what Lappartient said yesterday. It’s insulting what Brailsford said about him, about him being a small mayor of a small town.”
For his part, Froome has tried to deflect talk of boos and jeers. Speaking at the start of the Tour, Froome appealed to fans to maintain a safe environment for all riders.
“I just raced the Giro in May with the Salbutamol thing hanging over me, and nothing happened there,” Froome said in a Team Sky press conference last week.
“In terms of safety I obviously would encourage fans of the sport to come watch the race, and if you are not necessarily a Chris Froome fan or a Sky fan, come to the race and put a jersey on of another team you do support. That would be my advice.”
Froome did not appear to have noticed the incident Wednesday and answered a few general questions about the race, including confirming that his wife is expecting a new baby in the coming weeks.