Froome wins Tour de France: why do the French hate him?
Froome and Team Sky have been attacked and jeered throughout their three-week odyssey around France
Chris Froome became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France twice as he was crowned champion on the streets of Paris on Sunday, and afterwards insisted that he would "never dishonour" the yellow jersey, despite the accusations of doping that have dogged him throughout the race.
Froome has cut a controversial figure at this year's Tour with many fans unable to accept that his performances are legitimate. He has been jeered and had urine thrown in his face by a spectator and has encountered banners casting doubt on his integrity. His Sky team-mates have also been booed and even attacked by angry 'fans' during the race.
Team Sky took the unprecedented step of releasing power data relating to one of the key climbs in this year's race to disprove figures from broadcaster France 2, which suggested Froome was outperforming infamous drugs cheat Lance Armstrong. After that, a story appeared suggesting Froome had an electric motor hidden in his bike.
But after three Tour victories in four years Sky boss Dave Brailsford rounded on the team's detractors. "They should go and spend their time sitting at the side of Loch Ness and waiting for a monster," he said. "We've still got people camping outside with binoculars saying, 'I'm sure we are going to see the monster tomorrow', but it never appears. It doesn't exist."
He said the criticism of Froome was "disrespectful", and it has cast a cloud over this year's race.
"This year's Tour has been a very long way from the image of camaraderie, tradition and bonhomie that the French organisers and national television broadcasters like to present," says Jeremy Whittle of The Times. "For all Froome's success, this has been a toxic, joyless Tour."
So why are Froome and Team Sky so unpopular in France?
It is 30 years since a Frenchman last won the race, and to make matters worse the British have suddenly developed a taste for the Tour. Before Bradley Wiggins' triumph in 2012 no Briton had ever won it – now it is three wins out of four for British riders representing Team Sky.
"At times, understandable though the scepticism towards Froome's exceptional performance may have been, the derision towards him reeked of xenophobia," says Whittle.
Froome won his first Tour in 2013, six months after Lance Armstrong finally admitted what many had suspected: that he had cheated his way to seven titles.
"It was the Kenyan-born rider's misfortune that he was the first champion of the post-Usada/Armstrong era, meaning the public's (and the media's) anger and cynicism was at an all-time high," says Tom Cary of the Daily Telegraph. But there is a big difference. "Unlike with Armstrong, there are no whistleblowers, no soigneurs who 'were there', no disgruntled ex-team mates alleging doping. What we are left with, as we have seen throughout this Tour, is endless speculation and innuendo."
The Sky team, in their black uniforms, are a robotic outfit dedicated to what principle Dave Brailsford famously describes as the "aggregation of marginal gains". The riders even have their own hypoallergenic pillows to sleep on.
"Team Sky have more money, better cars, smarter kit. Inevitably, that causes jealousy... They continue to bang the drum for professionalism. But Team Sky's image, and the allegations that always swirl around them, do not help Froome," says Cary.
It is "Team Sky – with its money and slick PR – that is the real brunt of the criticism," suggests the BBC. Alexandre Roos, covering the Tour for France's L'Equipe newspaper, tells the Beeb: "If there is animosity among the French media, then it is towards Team Sky. There is a certain arrogance about them. There is a feeling that they have a masterful communications machine which is not entirely to be trusted."
Another French journalist, Yves Blanc of Le Cycle, tells the BBC: "French fans have never liked the race to be dominated by any one individual – and that is really what is being expressed today."
The local fans also yearn for "panache", says Tom Cary of the Telegraph. "They see Team Sky, and their talk of numbers and thresholds, and they see the sport reduced to a science experiment; riding at tempo all day, shutting down attacks."
"Froome is not Wiggins. This, apparently, is a problem for some people," says Cary, who notes that Froome suffers in comparison to his rather more flamboyant fellow countryman. He has also had to fend off 'Plastic Brit' allegations on account of his upbringing in Africa, even though his parents are both British.
Also writing in the Telegraph, Oliver Brown is impressed by Froome's honour. "Whether the maligners and mudslingers like it or not, Froome is emblematic of his sport's modern breed." He was gracious and noble in his victory and scrupulous in thanking his team-mates for helping him.
"We should note not only the scale of his performance here, but the quiet dignity with which he has deflected every callous barb. Froome, clearly, is content to make history the understated way."
Tour de France: Froome doping 'campaign' is the real scandal
The Sky cycling team has taken the unusual step of releasing Chris Froome's performance data in their latest attempt to stem the tide of allegations and innuendo against the Tour de France leader.
Froome has been the subject of scrutiny, and more, ever since he burnt off his rivals on stage ten of the Tour. A spectator threw urine in his face during Saturday's leg of the race and on Sunday French broadcaster France 2 estimated that Froome's power-to-weight ratio was more than that achieved by any non-doper in the race's history. It accompanied its findings with images of infamous dopers Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich.
But Sky boss Dave Brailsford hit back on Tuesday. He branded the findings "wildly wrong" and blasted the campaign against Froome as "irresponsible" and "disappointing". The team even took the step of releasing their own power-to-weight calculations for the stage in question, which were far lower than the French broadcaster's estimates and well below Froome's best.
"It was a fantastic climb, but by comparison to what he's done in the past, not at all unexpected," said Sky official Tim Kerrison.
For many observers the conversation is becoming tiresome. "Cycling's greatest challenge is commonly cited as the war on doping, but there are times... when the biggest test is to fend off cynicism," says Matt Dickinson in The Times.
"A sport where you cannot celebrate the great moments without nagging doubt is not much of a sport at all," he adds, which is why Sky are determined to prove that "Froome is a marvel, not a man to be disparaged with unfounded innuendo".
But passions are running high among fans and media, says Suze Clemitson of The Guardian and "controversy has snapped at Froome's heels like an overexcited terrier ever since he effortlessly took control of the race".
Team Sky's dominance may explain some of the frustration among fans who have regarded cycling as an individual rather than team sport. What's more, Sky and Froome have adopted similar tactics to the US Postal team led by the now-disgraced Lance Armstrong – attack en masse on the first mountain stage, establish a lead and then defend it. Sky's black uniforms and robotic approach might not chime with the romantic ideals of the Tour, but their race plan makes perfect sense and does not mean they are doping.
"There is an old canard that suggests that, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it must therefore also be a duck," says Clemitson of attitudes towards Sky and the US Postal teams. But the never-ending string of doping scandals mean that "our trust as fans has been shattered and sometimes we hear a quack where perhaps no duck exists".
Sky's decision to release Froome's data "showed up the France 2 hatchet job for what it was – but it will not end the speculation", says Tom Cary of the Daily Telegraph. "No one but Sky and their riders can know for sure if they are cheating or not. But if they are clean – and there has not been any solid evidence to the contrary – it is a scandal they have to endure this sort of whispering campaign."
Tour de France: Armstrong return casts shadow over tour
Lance Armstrong still casts a long shadow over the Tour de France, and the American rider returns to the scene of his crimes today as he takes part in a charity ride that covers the route of this year's Tour a day ahead of the peloton.
Although he is banned from cycling for life, Armstrong is allowed to take part in the fundraiser, organised by former England footballer Geoff Thomas, who overcame leukaemia. But the American's presence in France is controversial.
"Arguments rage within professional cycling about whether he is doing good work or disrespecting the sport just as all eyes should be on Chris Froome's attempt to win the yellow jersey," writes Matt Dickinson in The Times.
After arriving in France, Armstrong even admitted that much of the furore over the extraordinary performances of British rider Chris Froome was down to him.
Armstrong, who was stripped of seven Tour titles when he finally confessed to doping after years of denials, said: "I know what it's like for a guy like Chris to be in the middle of a Tour to deal with the constant questions, which of course he is, and to be fair and to be honest to him a lot of that is my fault."
However, he also refused to apologise for some cryptic comments on Twitter earlier this week, when asked about Froome's performances, reports The Guardian.
And Armstrong was also at the centre of another controversy after it emerged that a former employee of the disgraced US Postal team, for which Armstrong rode while doping, was now at Froome's Team Sky.
Peter Verbeken works for Sky as the manager at their Belgian service headquarters and was a 'carer' for the team in 2012 and 2013. It has now emerged that he spent between six months and two years with the US Postal team at around 1999, reports Tom Cary of the Daily Telegraph.
"With Armstrong returning to the Tour de France on Thursday... the admission is likely to cause a few raised eyebrows in the sport," he writes. "While there is no suggestion that Verbeken was actively involved in US Postal’s doping programme, Sky's 'zero tolerance' stance might lead one to think they would be ultra-cautious about employing anyone who could link them with such a disgraced set-up."
Tour de France: Froome to take tests to prove he is clean
Chris Froome's demolition of the Tour de France field during the first big climb of the race has not only served to secure his grip on the yellow jersey but has also increased speculation over whether he is clean.
The British rider blew away his rivals on stage ten of the Tour to establish what looks like an unassailable lead of two minutes and 52 seconds over his nearest rival.
"In punishing 26C heat, Froome, flanked by Sky team mates Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte and Wout Poels, dropped his general classification rivals one by one on the brutal 15.3km climb up to La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees," says the Daily Telegraph. "Froome's final kick to drop Nairo Quintana at 6.8km was stunning and the Kenyan-born Briton streaked away to win by 59 seconds from his team mate Porte."
But while the yellow jersey might now be his to lose, The Times notes that Froome "faces another battle to win over doubters" who cannot accept that he is riding clean.
The paper reports that he is "planning to undergo independent medical testing next month in the hope of persuading sceptics that his remarkable performances in the Tour de France are possible without doping".
Froome's efforts to convince the world that he is not cheating come as rumours continue to swirl, particularly after hacked data from Sky team computers appeared online this week. The video, now removed from YouTube, matched Froome's power-meter and pulse data with footage of the 2013 climb of Mont Ventoux.
Team Sky have called in the lawyers over the leak, but perplexingly, it adds little to the debate.
"Whether the figures are genuine or not, what is on show does not look suspicious," reports William Fotheringham of The Guardian. "The power figures constantly oscillate but that is familiar to anyone who has used a power meter. There is a visible increase in pulse rate when Froome makes the key effort to drop Alberto Contador – as would be expected – but critically, that increase comes with a distinct time lag, which is normal."
Froome has remained calm despite the storm. "I do understand where the questions are coming from, the history of the sport and the people before me who have won the Tour," he said. "I am sympathetic, but at the same time there needs to be a certain level of respect also."