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Chris Froome and the French

Chris Froome Image copyright AP

Reading British newspapers on the Tour de France, you might be excused the impression that the French are collectively frothing at the mouth at the prospect of another win for perfidious Albion.

With Chris Froome's title looking ever more certain, the French are supposedly convinced he must have either doped himself or be riding a secretly motor-powered machine.

The Times even ran an editorial, concluding with the words: "If the French find it difficult to countenance an Englishman winning 'their' race, perhaps the solution is to relocate it. Tour d'Allemagne, anyone?"

It is true that there have been nasty incidents. A cup of urine was allegedly chucked at Froome, and Australian team-mate Richie Porte claims he took a punch in the ribs. Insults have been shouted.

But French journalists covering the race insist there is no particular animosity towards Froome.

"The fans are not nearly as hostile as you might think from reading the press," says Yves Blanc, editor of Le Cycle magazine.

"The problem goes back to the famous 10th stage last week in the Pyrenees, when Froome wiped out the opposition on the climb. It reminded people of Lance Armstrong, his performance was so strong.

"And then the media whipped it up. But the actual number of incidents has been tiny, given how many supporters there are along the route - and how close people get to the riders."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Froome destroyed the field to win the 10th stage

'Extra-terrestrial'

It was a report on France 2 television that brought the story to the boil. The state-owned channel ran an item built round the evidence of physiologist Pierre Sallet.

Using scientific measurements that were surely incomprehensible to the average viewer, he concluded that in the Pyrenean ascent, Froome had a "maximal aerobic power" of 7.04 watts per kilo.

Anything over seven, said Sallet, was highly suspicious.

"These days the general physiology of the peloton (riders) is good. It is within the recognised norms. But every now and then, an extra-terrestrial appears whose performance cannot be explained," he said.

Other insinuations have been relayed in the press. In French newspaper Le Monde, former trainer Antoine Vayer wrote a piece entitled "Chris, prove to us that we can believe in you" - implying that he, for one, did not.

And in the same paper, humorist and cycling fan Arnaud Tsamere ran a piece with the headline "And then along came Sky and ruined everything".

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Media captionAngry Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas condemns Tour abuse

Sky problem

According to Alexandre Roos, covering the Tour for France's L'Equipe newspaper, that is the point. It is not Froome himself, but Team Sky - with its money and slick PR - that is the real brunt of the criticism.

"No-one has anything against Chris Froome," he said. "True, no-one really likes him that much either. His style is so awkward and the French like a cyclist with style.

"But 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."

According to Roos, the difference between British and French coverage of the Froome story is revealing.

"In the UK, when [team principal] Dave Brailsford released data this week to counter the France 2 allegations, the press swallowed it whole. Story over. But the French press retains its doubts. For us, the statistics proved nothing.

"What struck French journalists was how when Brailsford was asked at the news conference to give the weight of his riders - a pretty crucial piece of information - he couldn't do it. For us, that is suspicious.

"I think the British press accuse us of being chauvinist - but in fact they are far more than we are. We are just covering the story the way we would no matter where Froome came from. The fact that he is British is irrelevant."

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Media captionFroome, speaking during the 2015 Tour de France, questioned critics

Dislike of dominance

The Britishness of Froome and Team Sky is not an issue in France. After all, 2012 and 2013 also saw British winners - Bradley Wiggins and Froome himself.

"We all know Froome is a great rider - so personally until there is proof to the contrary I prefer to see him as clean," says Yves Blanc of Le Cycle.

"When you think about it, the Wiggins win should have been his but he agreed to step back. And last year he fell. So this could have been his fourth victory in a row.

"But since the Tour began, French fans have never liked the race to be dominated by any one individual - and that is really what is being expressed today.

"That and the fact that it's been so long since we ourselves produced a winner. But that's a whole other story!"


Chris Froome:

Born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985

Moved to South Africa as a 14-year-old

Became a professional cyclist at the relatively advanced age of 22

Claimed first professional win in March 2009 in the Giro del Capo in South Africa

Joined British team Team Sky in September 2009

Played a key supporting role in Sir Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France win in 2012

Won Olympic bronze in the London Games in 2012, finishing behind Wiggins in the time trial.

Won the Tour de France in 2013


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