Tour de France: Thomas wins amid hostility on Alpe d’Huez
Team Sky riders are booed and spat at as one spectator shoves Froome and another brings down Nibali
Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas extended his lead in the Tour de France with a second successive stage win – this time on the famous Alpe d’Huez – but, after being jeered and spat at, he called for a “bit of decency” from the fans.
It was another great ride from the Team Sky man, who finished four seconds in front of team-mate Chris Froome to tighten his grip on the leader’s yellow jersey.
But his team’s unpopularity spilled over as he and in particular reigning champion Froome were targeted by spectators, with one appearing to throw a punch at Froome.
“Both riders were spat at, Froome was shoved, shorts were dropped in their direction,” reports Jeremy Whittle in The Guardian, “yet it was Vincenzo Nibali who ended up prone on the tarmac, after tangling with spectators, as the leaders were blinded by smoke from flares.”
Nibali, winner of the Tour in 2014, was later forced to abandon the race with a fractured vertebra.
The iconic 21-bend climb to the top of Alpe d’Huez is “a traditional lightning rod for rowdy behaviour from fans who often spend days camping out waiting for the arrival of the peloton”, says Tom Cary of The Daily Telegraph.
“Team Sky have been given a rough ride in France ever since they began dominating the Tour in 2012, and even more so since revelations about the Therapeutic Use Exemptions used by Sir Bradley Wiggins to win that first race.”
Froome’s Salbutamol investigation has not helped public perceptions and “Alpe d’Huez was always likely to be the flashpoint for the worst behaviour and so it proved, with punches and spit greeting the riders, although in truth it was probably no worse than it has been in recent years”.
But Josh Burrows of The Times describes some of the roadside behaviour as “utterly despicable”.
Thomas, who was booed as he received the yellow jersey after the stage, later called for calm.
“If people don't like Sky and want to boo that’s fine, boo all you like,” he said. “But just let us race. Don’t affect the race, don’t touch the riders, don’t spit at us. Have a bit of decency, like.”
But despite the attitude of the fans, Thomas has every reason to be pleased with himself, even if he insists that he is still just a support rider and that Froome is the team’s leader.
“The only other man to have won a summit finish up here while leading the Tour de France is Lance Armstrong,” says Burrows. “Thomas is the first Briton to take the honours at the Alpe and the Welshman’s name will now be immortalised on one of the plaques that mark each of those 21 famous switchbacks.”