It’s not just rival teams trying to stop Team Sky winning the Tour de France — punches and Coca-Cola cans have been thrown in their direction too as they try to deliver Chris Froome to a victory in Paris.
Richie Porte, Froome’s mountain helper, received a blow to his ribs while racing up the La Pierre-Saint-Martin on Monday. The hit came after he did his turn for Froome, who attacked from 6.4 kilometres out to win the stage.
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“I don’t think I deserve to be punched just for doing my job,” Porte told Fairfax Media.
Porte added that the punched shocked and hurt him, but he had to continue to the line. He finished the stage in second place, just ahead of Nairo Quintana.
Team Sky’s management have suggested that the attitude of the French media is one cause of the sometimes poisonous atmosphere at the roadside. Innuendo about doping has been rife. Former professional Laurent Jalabert said during the stage on Tuesday: “It feels a little uncomfortable seeing the ease of Sky when contrasted with the distress experienced by the first three of the Tour last year.”
Jalabert won several one-day races, the Vuelta a España and the mountains jersey in the Tour de France, but tests later revealed that he used EPO.
“It’s really disappointing,” Froome said about Jalabert. “These guys are setting the tone for the public, for the fans.”
Jalabert’s words might have helped propel cans of Coca-Cola, unopened, at Team Sky’s car on Friday.
“It’s terrible. Some French media are over doing it. They are asking questions that they can ask, but when you do that you put the doubts in the public,” Sky sports director, Frenchman Nicolas Portal, told Cycling Weekly.
“This person should be careful because with the microphone they have power. Thousands of people are listening. I’ve told the French press what I think of Jalabert. I don’t think they are doing a good job in explaining what we are doing. He can do what he wants, and apparently he is doing a good job, but I don’t think this is doing a good job to tell the public that we may be doing something [illegal].”
In the last two days, there have been more police officers standing around Sky’s bus. It is unclear if this is just because Froome is wearing the yellow jersey, or whether there is genuine fear for Sky’s riders.
Portal said that even if his riders do not admit to it, they could be concerned and even “scared” about possible violence.
“I hope the public will chill out. It’s pretty hard, especially for me since I’m French,” Portal said.
“There’s nothing they can do — there is just a barrier and nothing else on the road [to stop anyone]. Anyone can cross the road and punch someone.”
In 2013, a fan hit Peter Kennaugh at the Tour, but such incidents are hardly unheard of — in 1975, a fan punched Eddy Merckx on the Puy de Dome climb.
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