I’m getting a tad worried about France and French sports fans, both of whom I usually have huge admiration for. Are they losing the plot with Chris Froome and Team Sky?
Firstly let’s give them some wriggle room. For 33 years the French have failed to produce a winner of the Tour de France, the event – and sport – they bequeathed to the world. That’s French hearts broken on 33 separate occasions. Soul destroying. Imagine if England were still trying to win the World Cup for the second time in 2102.
So they can be prickly every July. They cringe at Froome’s ugly style and alleged lack of panache, they hate Sky’s unsentimental, practical approach to winning, they detest their big budget and they are convinced Sky dope. Strangely, in previous decades, they have doted and shrugged in that Gallic fashion over actual proven or self-confessed French dopers like Jacques Anquetil and Richard Virenque.
Some Frenchmen have not enjoyed their finest moments during the recent salbutamol ‘non-case’ involving Froome. The science was rotten – the originator of the test admitted as such – some leaked data incorrect and the process a mess. It was never a positive test for a prohibited substance, it was an adverse analytical reading for a permitted substance with no known performance enhancing qualities. Even now French cycling legend – and former employee of ASO – Bernard Hinault continues to pedal the positive test line.
And the process was meant to be behind closed doors… because it was not a positive test. In 2016 WADA dealt with more than 3,000 such adverse findings in all sports of which 54% were dismissed. NFA. Some took longer than Froome and many involved high-profile sports stars, all of whom enjoyed the anonymity Froome was denied.
The UCI’s French president, David Lappartient, said that Froome should step down and not race, clearly a prejudicial statement as the entire business was meant to be confidential, something Sky observed. It was his own organisation’s administrative failings that were slowing the matter. It should also be no concern of his that Sky used their resources – money – to employ lawyers and sports scientists to expose flaws in the UCI and WADA system. It might actually improved the system.
ASO – who don’t get on with the UCI – were embarrassingly out of the loop just 24 hours before Froome was exonerated when their French boss, Christian Prudhomme, was still aggressively demanding he withdrew from the Tour. Hinault meanwhile continued to stoke the fires calling for a riders’ strike. A strike against what exactly? Meanwhile L’Equipe, owned by ASO, have been chipping in. Le spirit sportif or Le fair play have been conspicuous by their absence not to mention preuve tangible
All of which predictably heralded ugly scenes on Alpe D’Huez yesterday. A veritable zoo of fans who have steadily been brought to fever pitch. Someday soon a rider will be seriously injured or much worse. You might think the Tour occasionally glories too much in its own notoriety and indeed even chases it.
I couldn’t possibly comment.