Cholet, France, Jul 9 – 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 dope test signalling too much salbutamol last September — but which anti-doping authorities WADA dismissed — has made Froome a target as he and Team Sky in their white team shirts progress along the 21-day course.
Froome’s charm offensive to win the backing of the French public with an explanatory editorial in the daily Le Monde newspaper has had some effect but on Monday it will be put to its severest test to date.
The eight Sky riders will race the 35.5 kilometres (22 miles) of Monday’s team time-trial alone, as each group 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, whizzing 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 home when he was forced off the road, escaping unhurt but losing around a minute to some key rivals.
But there was some ugly cheering at the Fontenay finish line where a giant screen was broadcasting the images live.
Sky are among a clutch of favourites to win Monday’s stage, where they will hit around 50km/h over the slightly rolling course but will be easily identified.
– Still smiling, focussed –
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,” he said at the starting line.
Froome’s loyal lieutenant, tough Welsh all-rounder Geraint Thomas, brushed off the issue of the cheering at his captain’s tumble.
“Chris is okay, he was relieved not to be hurt,” he 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 tomorrow,” 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,” he said.
“The worrying comes afterwards,” he added.
– Quick Step eyes on prize –
Another team highly fancied Monday is the powerful BMC, whose leader, like Froome and Mitchelton Scott’s Adam Yates, trails yellow jersey Peter Sagan by 1min 09sec due to the mayhem at Saturday’s finish.
Mitchelton Scott also have healthy dose of good strong rollers while Spanish outfit Movistar are expected to hold their own.
But the Belgian side Quick Step could stun them all 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.
“We’ll try our best for the team, it’ll be hard but you never know in cycling,” said the yellow jersey wearer on his chances of holding on to it.