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CHOLET, France (AFP) — The roadside spectators who booed Chris Froome at the Tour de France presentation and those who cheered at the stage 1 finish line when he fell will have the perfect opportunity to target the champion on Monday’s team time trial.
A leaked anti-doping test signaling too much salbutamol in his system last September — which anti-doping authorities WADA dismissed last week — has made Froome a target as he and Team Sky in their white jerseys progress along the 21-day Tour route.
Froome’s charm offensive to win the backing of the French public with an explanatory editorial in the daily Le Monde newspaper had some effect, but on Monday it will be put to its hardest test. [related title=”More Tour de France news” align=”left” tag=”Tour-de-France”]
The eight Sky riders will race the 35.5-kilometer TTT alone, as each team embarks at two-minute intervals.
Over the first two stages Froome and Sky have passed largely under the radar, hidden by the blur of a speeding peloton and racing past fans at over 40km an hour.
Other than a couple of fans holding up signs such as “Froome go home” on Saturday and Sunday, the festive Atlantic coast jaunt went well for Froome until 6km from the finish of stage 1, when he was forced off the road, escaping unhurt but losing around a minute to some key rivals.
There was some ugly cheering at the Fontenay finish line, where a giant screen was broadcasting the images live.
Sky is among a clutch of favorites to win Monday’s stage, which the squad will ride around 50 kph over the slightly rolling course but will be easily identified.
Still smiling, focused
A broadly smiling champion seemed pained on hearing of the incident and preferred to talk about the race itself on Sunday.
“The people have been great so far,” Froome said at the start line. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been a minute down or had to dig in, it’s just racing. That’s what we’re here for.”
Froome’s loyal lieutenant, tough Welsh all-rounder Geraint Thomas, brushed off the issue of the cheering at his captain’s tumble.
“Chris is OK, he was relieved not to be hurt,” Thomas said. when asked if Froome was affected by the fans’ reaction.
Team boss Dave Brailsford was also avoiding thinking about fans and looking to the race.
“There is no doubt about it, there will be time gained and lost [Monday],” he said. “This is one stage where you have to push to the limit more than ever, but if you misgauge your effort you pay for it massively.
“You have to focus, we are aiming at getting perfect execution. The worrying comes afterwards.”
Quick Step eyes on prize
Another team highly fancied Monday is the powerful BMC Racing squad, whose leader, like Froome and Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates, trails yellow jersey holder Peter Sagan by 1:09 after the mayhem at Saturday’s finish.
Mitchelton-Scott also has a healthy dose of good strong rollers, while Spanish outfit Movistar is expected to hold its own as well.
Belgian team Quick-Step Floors could stun everyone and reclaim the yellow jersey for Fernando Gaviria, winner of Saturday’s opener. The Colombian is second overall to Sagan, who brushed off his chances of keeping yellow Monday.
“We’ll try our best for the team, it’ll be hard but you never know in cycling,” Sagan said.