Sky's leader has accused the local media of whipping up sentiment against him, leading to physical and verbal attacks at the roadside — but how do the French really feel about Chris Froome?

For the most part, this Tour de France has been blessed with typically strong support from the French public — but boos, punches and even flying urine have spoiled the race in the last few days.

Some — including Team Sky themselves — have pointed the finger at the media, who have whipped up fervour against a dominant rider threatening to run away with the Tour. Others say that  Sky have themselves to blame for a clinical and even arrogant public face. Or is it, in fact, that Tour de France crowds love an underdog so much that they can’t bear to look at a winner?

In the last few days, tension and doping accusations have intensified as the Tour enters its third week and the crucial Alpine stages. At the same time, incidents have happened on the road. A fan punched Richie Porte in the ribs on Tuesday, others spat on Porte and Luke Rowe, and one threw a cup of urine on Chris Froome on Saturday.

Though they are just a few bad apples among hundreds of thousands of spectators, it has raised the question: Do the French hate Team Sky?

Tour de France - Stage 9

‘Sky looks like a big machine’

“The people are are suspicious of Sky,” said Le Parisien journalist Lionel Chami, who has the vast experience of covering 30 Tours de France. He says that many people see the team’s success as just too good to be true.

“They see the black bus, it’s opaque. A few years ago, Sky came and shouted, ‘We’re going to win the Tour in five years.’ They did it, twice. It’s very impressive. But French people worry about that.

“The feeling was the same for Wiggins, except Froome comes after Wiggins. We wondered about Wiggins, coming from the track and becoming a thin guy. A year later, another guy does the same. It’s a bit suspect.”

For others, it’s the sheer clinical professionalism of the team that raises antagonism.

“Part of it, Chris Froome is a Brit and Sky looks like a big machine,” said François Thomazeau, a French freelance journalist now covering his 27th Tour.

Police watch the crowd as Team Sky complete their warm-up in Mende (Brown)

Police watch the crowd as Team Sky complete their warm-up in Mende (Brown)

And now, with Sky riders protected by increased security after the events of the last week, the situation is getting worse.

“Unfortunately, the greater police presence now won’t favour Team Sky. It could look like VIP treatment, and it could be counter-productive,” added Thomazeau.

“In a way, they may have lost their temper by responding to everything. It could have been better to play things down.”

Chris Froome wins Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France (Watson)

Chris Froome wins Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France (Watson)

‘Froome is too robotic’

“It’s completely different from the USPS and Discovery Channel, but it’s easy to make the comparisons between these teams and Sky,” explained Gilles Comte of Vélo Magazine, a Tour journalist since 1992.

“Lance Armstrong is the recent past. And for the French public, Chris Froome looks a lot like Armstrong. He looks a little too robotic, and not Latin enough.”

Chami says that the power of Froome’s performances is being amplified by social media — and that can be poisonous.

“[Someone punching] is one idiot among 100,000 people,” he added. “They are not cycling experts, they listen to media, social networks… They’ve been told what to think. And they worry when they saw Froome – ‘Vrooomme!’ – like on Ventoux and La Pierre-Saint-Martin.”

Thomas Voeckler embodies the spirit of the Tour with another solo attack (Watson)

Thomas Voeckler embodies the spirit of the Tour with another solo attack (Watson)

‘It’s not Froome — it’s the yellow jersey’

At the heart of the matter is perhaps a more simple explanation. Tour de France crowds love an underdog — and that rules out Chris Froome from the start.

“To be honest, they don’t hate Froome,” said Thomazeau. “It’s not him, it’s the yellow jersey. They have something against the leader. Even Jacques Anquetil was booed on the road, but they liked Raymond Poulidor. They like the losers more than the winners.

“There was a lot of hostility towards Armstrong— not just the yellow jersey, but because he was arrogant and American. Last year, of course there was no talk of doping with two Frenchmen in the top three. With all this background, you can understand.”

In the end, many people come back to the role of the media.

“Are certain media pushing it? Yes, probably,” Comte continued. “Each family in France listens to France 2 TV, to Laurent Jalabert. If you say, ‘You have questions about Sky,’ then that’s enough to introduce those thoughts in viewers’ minds that he’s a cheat.”

Is the vitriol of the past week a result of the French public hating Chris Froome? That’s too simple an answer. But while Team Sky’s dominance of the Tour de France could put them in the history books for the third time in four years, it’s proving even harder to win the love of fans by the roadside.

 

  • NitroFan

    So we are in complete agreement!

  • Gman

    I agree with per hiring a French rider but there’s not many that are good enough and besides should the French be pandered to? Too bad if Sky are winning, go cry in to your onion soup and get over it. Pathetic

  • Gman

    Absolutely! Champion at pulling faces perhaps! lol

  • Gman

    To start with: The French attitude is severely flawed as they are poor losers. That attitude shouldn’t be accommodated at all as it’s very wrong! Get over it! Sky don’t dope either. Their performances are the result of already physiologically superior riders who follow a structured training regime. So what if they adhere to watts per kilo, FTP, TSS or VO2 max!! This the way to go and why they are winning. Also Thomas and Wiggins have a great deal of speed due to their track riding, this is very beneficial for climbing mountains as is Froomes TT ability as it means they are used to riding at threshold and above. Jalabert took dope so why do the racist anti British French listen to this guy?

  • rjbstoke

    Wouldn’t hiring a French rider, and provide him the stage to be a hero be a turning point? Unfortunately there is a kind of Apple like clinicality to Team Sky. Whilst we all love G and is massive graft, honesty and wit, the French prefer things to be done with a little more style. Romain Bardet would be an excellent team member to replace Porte.

  • Vance Harvey

    We used to say that “The Parisians hate the French and the French hate the rest of the world”…… maybe a bit extreme but obviously built on some evidence over the years…. hahahaha….

  • Bob

    Do the French really hate Chris Froome?
    .
    It’s not surprising, they hate everyone don’t they?

  • NitroFan

    I was getting in touch with my feminine side at the time!

  • tigerleghorn

    Surely it’s Le Tour not La Tour?…..Sorry, slow day at work!

  • funimag

    Yesterday I replied to your reply…. but my reply was not published… don’t know why… may be links are not allowed ??

  • Mark Jackson

    Thomas Voeckler embodies the spirit of the Tour with another solo attack!
    Yeah! whats he ever won!! He should take a leaf out of Froomes book he should

  • NitroFan

    Agreed!

  • GoatHerd

    Every nation has their loony fringe elements. The French on the whole are very decent bunch!

  • GoatHerd

    Merci pour le long commentaire, du point de vue d’ un Français, passioné du vélo, et qui connait bien le sujet.

    Être populaire c’est un don, que pas tout le monde possède, et je crois que ironiquement, LA avait se don en plus grande mesure que Froome.

    Cependant j’avoue être très décu avec Jaja, principalement vu q lui était aussi tout à fait hors norme. Un sprinteur devenue roi des montagnes et champion du monde en contre-la-montre. Positif à l’EPO en 1998 (testage rétroactif) et star de ONCE, une équipe aussi pourie que l’US Postal. Il devrait prêter beaucoup d’ attention quand il fait des commentaires sur un sujet aussi explosif que celui-ci. Veut-il s’ excuser d’avoir triché en essayant de montrer q tous le font encore? C’ est à questionner… Et la presse Française ne fournit jamais une petite bio de Jaja, qd elle commente ce q Jaja à dit. Ds la presse internacionale, on a toujours “Laurant Jalabert, positif en EPO en 1998, …”. On peut accuser la presse Française d’omission, et les personnes qui suivent moins le vélo et qui lisent les articles, ne se rendant pas compte du passé tâché de Jaja. Et Vasseur aussi…

  • NitroFan

    Firstly I must make it clear I am a Francophile and cycling fan, it is all very complicated, many many French fans still adore people like Richard Virenque & Laurent Jalabert!

    It all depends on the nationality of those they perceive as the offender, how the French perceive their behaviour in France and on LaTour and if they perceive it as a snub to France or the immensely complicated etiquette of cycling in France and la tour..

    Fortunately the kinds of people that take it to the urine throwing, punching spitting extreme are a tiny minority.

    I have been fortunate to have watched the tour in France and I have only ever been surrounded by friendly courteous French fans who have shouted Allez at and applauded every rider that passed without exception and then shared a glass and a plate with the lone brit afterwards even if we were winning!

  • NitroFan

    Anyone else considered the possibility that thanks to improved testing the cheats cant cheat as easily anymore, and what we are seeing is what happens when you get an exceptional clean rider in a team that takes a studied approach to cycling? I do not believe for one minute that Froome, Porte or Thomas are in any way dirty.

  • funimag

    Je viens de lire l’article et les commentaires et je ne peux que réagir à ce que j’ai lu!
    Je suis français, j’ai 66 ans, la première fois que j’ai vu passer le Tour de France c’était en juillet 1959 au Col de la Faucille et Bahamontes à gagné cette année là.
    Ce fut comme un coup de foudre, le Tour de France est devenu une passion comme pratiquement tous les français…. en juillet de chaque année, suivre le Tour de France a été un rendez-vous incontournable pendant trois semaines, devant sa télévision ou depuis son lieu de vacances, voir passer le Tour de France est l’attraction de l’année.
    Le vélo , par la suite a été le seul sport que j’ai pratiqué avec passion.
    On ne peut comprendre le Tour de France et l’engouement des français pour ces événement que parce que c’est un événement populaire (PO-PU-LAIRE)!
    Pourquoi populaire?
    Parce que c’est un sport qui peut être pratiqué par tout le monde… hommes, femmes, adultes, enfants, vieillards, sans grands moyens financiers tout le monde peut faire du vélo.
    Les héros du Tour de France ont souvent été des coureurs issus de toute la société mais surtout des milieux populaires.
    Qu’est-ce qui a passionné les français…. c’est qu’un petit gars puisse faire un exploit en haut d’un grand col ou arriver premier à l’étape voire même arriver en jaune à Paris.
    Ce qui passionne les français dans le Tour de France c’est l’exploit individuel d’un gars du coin voire même d’un étranger. Le public français n’est pas chauvin à condition que le vainqueur ai mouillé sa chemise et conquis les cœurs des gens le long des routes.

    Alors quand je lis que les français n’aiment pas les gagnants et qu’ils préfèrent les perdants… c’est totalement faux!
    On donne en exemple la rivalité entre Anquetil et Poulidor et le fait que les français aient toujours soutenu Poulidor qui n’a jamais gagné le Tour de France.
    Oui c’est vrai mais pas parce que Poulidor était perdant mais parce que Poulidor était populaire (PO-PU-LAIRE). Il était sympathique, près des gens, près de la terre.
    Anquetil paraissait hautain, froid presque aristocratique… il n’a jamais conquis le cœur de la France profonde.
    Si Poulidor avait gagné un ou plusieurs Tour de France, les français auraient été ravis! Les français ne demandaient que ça!
    Les français ne demandent qu’un coureur, qui leur ressemble, gagne l’épreuve.

    Dire que les français sont des perdants (loser) et qu’ils préfèrent les perdants c’est d’une totale absurdité et incompréhension de la France et des français.

    Beaucoup de gagnants du Tour de France ont été adorés par les français: Hinault, Fignon, Thévenet…

    A partir d’Indurain, les français ont commencé à être moins passionnés… ils se sont rendus compte que certaines équipes se sont vraiment industrialisées et que le vélo étaient devenu, pour certaines équipes, moins populaire.

    Et puis l’industrialisation a amené les soupçons de dopage…

    La supériorité et le comportement hautain, autoritaire de Lance Armstrong et de ces équipes pendant plusieurs années ont créé des doutes et des rejets pour les français.
    Il n’y avait pas de popularité dans ses équipes là et de plus les performances hors du commun ont fait que beaucoup de français ont pensé que ces équipes trichaient.

    La suite a montré que ces soupçons de dopage étaient bien fondés.

    Les français en ont beaucoup voulu à L.A. d’être venu salir le Tour de France et tromper les spectateurs le long des routes.

    Cette année en 2015, mais aussi en 2013, le comportement de l’équipe Sky et les performances hors du commun de son leader ne peuvent qu’éveiller les même soupçons et rejets que ceux des équipes de L.A.

    Le Tour de France est un événement populaire, historique, gratuit, qui va voir les français chez eux, chaque été…

    Alors on peut expliquer, mais non excuser, le geste du spectateur envers Froome, comme un geste de quelqu’un qui ne veut pas voir salir et dénaturer son épreuve sportive favorite.

  • Jsmith

    Geraint gave a good interview after Saturday’s race in which he said that they received similar treatment two years ago, but last year the French loved them because they were losing. Movistar are lying second and fourth in the GC but no questions asked about them (nor should there be). The French don’t like a winner

  • Vance Harvey

    The objective of Sky/Froome is to win the Tour – and if this is the way they want to do it then I say, “The very best of Fortune to them”!

  • RobTM

    The black isn’t a gain, but extra heat gained due to suns rays are insignificant compared to heat lost through the constant air flow on moving cycle.

  • maprun

    I have always associated them with policemen in black, marshalling the peleton and nothing wrong with the police, but there is with “marshalling the peleton” if you are supporting the other teams! As for black, an odd choice for cycling in hot weather, but maybe there is a scientific reason that escapes me and it’s marginal gains, yet again. They certainly stand out!

  • billyburst

    Perhaps if Team Sky wore any colour but black the French public would not associate them with Le Diable. Simple answer simple solution which lies at the heart of Western World prejudices throughout Europe.

  • dourscot

    And one of the reasons some people bought into Armstrong was sympathy with his view that the French were in love with losers because they’d become losers.