La Roche-sur-Yon, France, Jul 6 – A day after being booed and branded a cheat by roadside fans, Tour de France favourite Chris Froome appealed for understanding from the French public as fellow riders rallied to his defence Friday on the eve of the start of cycling’s greatest race.
Froome, whose preparations for the Tour were clouded by doping suspicions, was cleared to race on Monday after being pronounced clean by the world anti-doping agency and the sport’s world governing body.
But Froome was still subjected to a barrage of abuse from roadside fans at a Tour de France presentation on Thursday.
On Friday the 33-year-old four-time champion appealed to the public from the pages of French daily Le Monde saying he was not a cheat and would never dishonour the yellow jersey worn by the Tour leader.
Also on Friday top riders from the Movistar team, Spaniard veteran Alejandro Valverde, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, who has come second to Froome twice, and former Froome teammate Mikel Landa, expressed outrage at the Briton’s treatment by fans.
Writing in Le Monde Froome said that victory based on a lie would be a personal defeat.
“Winning any race by lying would for me be a personal defeat,” Froome, 33, wrote in the newspaper that first revealed he had returned an abnormal result in a doping test during the Tour of Spain in September.
Froome said that he had been cleared of wrongdoing “after nine months of meticulous analysis” of the so-called adverse analytical finding (AAF). He insisted that the AAF was not the same as a positive doping result and should have remained confidential.
“I know the rules and exactly how many puffs on my inhaler I can take. I also know I will be tested after each stage when leading,” Froome explained.
After the abnormal result was leaked Tour de France organisers took the unusual step of banning Froome from taking part before relenting after the Union Cycliste Internationale announced he had been cleared on Monday.
But on Thursday, when Froome and his Team Sky took part in the traditional presentation of riders to the public at La Roche-sur-Yon, he was mercilessly whistled and jeered.
Froome accepted that it was “normal” that questions were raised about abnormal test results for asthma medication Salbutamol, which he explained had been necessary to treat his chronic condition since childhood.
But he insisted French fans should have confidence in the fact that he would never cheat.
“I was fully sincere when I said on the podium on the Champs-Elysees that I would never dishonour the yellow jersey, and my results will stand the test of time,” he added.
– ‘This must stop’ –
Veteran Movistar leader Valverde, the UCI world Tour winner in 2014 and 2015 who has won stages on every major Tour and clinched thrilling wins in a raft of classics, said he was outraged about how Froome had been treated by fans in La Roche-sur-Yon on Thursday.
“That was a shame, a great, great shame and this must stop because it’s not right,” said the 38-year-old.
Quintana, who is on good terms with Froome and who came second to him on two previous Tours de France, also backed the British Sky Team leader.
“That was quite disagreeable for him and I hope this stops, think it will once the racing starts,” he said
Race organisers ASO were keen to play down the booing as part and parcel of modern sports.
“I’m not deaf, we heard the booing,” said Tour de France race director Christian Proudhomme.
“But put it into perspective. Booing changes nothing, the Tour de France will be 3,500km of smiles,” he said, in words unlikely to convince Team Sky.
“The Tour has a very family orientated public,” he said.
Prudhomme said he counted on the media to spread a message of calm.
“Remember this sort of thing goes on in football and rugby all the time,” he said.