Dave Brailsford hits out at Tour de France spectators for hostility during race

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Team Sky team principal Dave Brailsford.

Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford took aim at Tour de France spectators who have jostled and spat at his riders this week, asking if they would rather have a race purely for French teams if they do not respect the world’s best cyclists.

It is nothing new for Sky to face hostility in France, but the atmosphere has been even darker this year in the wake of Chris Froome‘s salbutamol case, in which he was cleared of wrongdoing just days before the Tour began.

That verdict has not been accepted by many fans, not to mention significant elements of the French media, and contributed to scenes which saw Froome slapped and spat at on Alpe d’Huez, and doused with an unidentified liquid on Saturday’s stage to Mende.

Brailsford said he could not understand why the team only get this reaction in France, given Froome rode and won the Giro d’Italia in May while his case was still open.

“It just seems to be a French thing,” he said. “Like a French cultural thing. I’m not sure they’d have liked their football players being spat at in Russia (at the World Cup). I’m sure there would have been a word or two about that.

“But it’s OK to spit on us and on our staff… The Tour de France is promoted as the world’s greatest annual sporting event and, if you want the best international riders to come to your country, maybe treat them with a little more respect.

“If you don’t want them to come, you can maybe have the Tour de France for French teams – that might work – but if you want international teams to come then maybe treat them with the same respect that you’d want for your team.”

Sky have dominated the Tour in recent years, winning every edition since 2012 bar the 2014 race in which Froome crashed out on stage five.

The reaction they have received is not unique, and French fans have often turned against serial winners, whether it be Eddy Merckx or even their own Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

While incidents of actual violence – such as the fan that slapped Froome on Alpe d’Huez – are of concern, Brailsford said Sky had learned to tune out the boos.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop,” he said. “I’m not too optimistic on that front. We accept it and we have to make a decision about how to behave. We’re trying to remain dignified, we’re trying not to react and we’re trying not to get distracted by it.”

Sky’s bid to ‘remain dignified’ was not helped by one of their own over the weekend, when Italian rider Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for striking Frenchman Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Samsic just 800 metres into Sunday’s stage.

“I don’t know how people are going to react, but it’s not going to calm people down,” Brailsford said.

It is just the latest incident in a long line of disciplinary mis-steps from Moscon, who was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

Brailsford said he would consider if Moscon should face further punishment after the Tour, but, when asked directly, would not rule out terminating the 24-year-old’s contract.

“Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing,” Brailsford said. “He’s really disappointed. He’s let himself down, he’s let his team down and now he’s gone home.

“From a team point of view, I’m going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there.”

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Team Sky's Chris Froome happy to sacrifice fifth Tour de France title for Geraint Thomas

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Chris Froome insisted he would be willing to sacrifice his chances of a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title to help team-mate Geraint Thomas achieve victory.

Thomas and Froome sit first and second in the general classification heading into the final week of the Tour, with Thomas one minute and 39 seconds ahead of his team-mate.

Team Sky – and Thomas – had continually insisted that Froome was their team leader, but the tone has shifted in recent days and Froome on Monday said he would be happy to help Thomas if necessary.

“As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy,” Froome said.

Asked directly if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour crown to help Thomas, Froome simply said: “Yes.”

Froome had said before the Tour he was aiming to come good in the third week, following his efforts in winning the Giro d’Italia in May, but, asked if he had identified places where he might attack and make up time on Thomas, he dismissed the question.

Geraint Thomas

“All this talk of attacking or not attacking… we’re in an amazing position, we’re one and two,” he said. “It’s not up to us to be attacking. It’s for all the other riders in the peloton to make up time on us and dislodge us from the position we’re in.”

There are now only six days until the Tour reaches Paris, but Thomas said he was trying not to shift his mindset despite holding yellow.

“Obviously the closer you get, the more you want to stay on the podium, but I’m still not really thinking about it,” he said. “I’m thinking day by day. The dream was to be in with a shot of a podium and that’s still on the cards. I’m trying to keep the same mindset.”

Thomas and Froome may be in a strong position on the podium, but Team Sky were hurt on Sunday night when Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert early on stage 15 to Carcassonne.

“It’s disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do,” Thomas said. “What’s done is done. We just concentrate on the last week. We’ve still got a strong team. We’re a rider down but all the boys are riding well together.”

Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford is planning to review whether Moscon should face further punishment for his actions after the Tour, but refused to rule out terminating the contract of a rider who has a chequered disciplinary record.

Gianni Moscon

“Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing,” Brailsford said. “He’s really disappointed. He’s let himself down, he’s let his team down and now he’s gone home.

“From a team point of view, I’m going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there.”

Brailsford accepted Moscon’s actions were unlikely to help Team Sky as they continue to face ill-feeling from elements within the Tour crowd, with Froome having been jostled and spat at, while Thomas has heard boos on the podium when collecting his yellow jersey this week.

“I don’t know how people are going to react but it’s not going to calm people down,” he said.

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Geraint Thomas shrugs off the boos which continue to come Team Sky's way at the Tour de France

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Geraint Thomas shrugged off the boos which continue to come Team Sky’s way at the Tour de France as he enjoyed another day in the yellow jersey.

Thomas finished safely in the pack as Magnus Cort Nielsen won Stage 15 to Carcassone from a breakaway, keeping Thomas one minute 39 seconds clear of team-mate Chris Froome, with Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin a further 11 seconds back.

But after standing on the podium to collect the yellow jersey for a fifth straight night, Thomas faced more questions about the negative reaction Team Sky so often get at the Tour.

If the situation is getting to the Welshman, he was not about to show it.

“For me this is the highlight of my career, it’s a massive honour and priviledge to be wearing the jersey and have such an incredible race so far,” he said.

“There’s a bit of negativity around and it isn’t nice but at the end of the day you need to stay strong in your head and crack on.

“The way I see it, I’d rather be in this jersey having the race of my life and getting booed than being 30th and dropped on the first climb and everyone cheering me on.”

On a day when the French newspaper Liberation wrongly described Froome’s recent salbutamol case as a ‘positive test’ which was ‘white-washed’ by the UCI, Thomas said questions about why there is ill-feeling towards Team Sky was perhaps one for the French press.

“It’s not a nice situation, and obviously we would prefer everyone to love us, but I’m not sure it’s anything we’ve done, or especially that I’ve done, to deserve it,” he said.

“You would have to ask the public, and maybe it’s a reflection of the way we’re perceived in the French media. It’s maybe a question for some of you guys.”

Fan reaction on Sunday’s 181.5km stage from Millau was more muted a day after Froome had an unidentified liquid thrown on him on the climb to Mende.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Luke Durbridge used Twitter to describe some of the behaviour on Saturday as “disgraceful” – comments which were appreciated by the four-time Tour winner.

“It doesn’t get us down, we stay focused on the race, but it is really nice to feel that camaraderie,” Froome said before Sunday’s stage. “A lot of guys are speaking out about it now, the riders are sick and tired of it.”

The targeting of Froome has reached a point that Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland said he had told his riders not to follow him because it was too dangerous, having seen his star man Vincenzo Nibali crash out of the Tour after tangling with a fan on the Alpe d’Huez.

Asked about Copeland’s comments, Froome said: “It’s a pretty sad situation if that is correct.”

chris froome 1

Thomas and Froome will now enjoy Monday’s rest day before the intriguing intra-team battle for yellow resumes on Tuesday, with three tough days in the Pyrenees having the potential to be decisive.

Froome, chasing a record-equalling fifth Tour title, will no doubt have ideas on where he might snatch yellow away, but Thomas warned he would not give up the jersey easily.

“I think I would have to have a bad day,” he said. “I wouldn’t give it up for any money. It’s the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. It’s a massive honour just to be wearing it. Obviously I want to wear it as long as possible.

“Like I’ve said from the start, who knows what is around the next corner. We’ll take each day as it comes.”

There was no movement at the top of the standings on Sunday, with the main contenders finishing in a group some 13 minutes after Nielsen outsprinted Jon Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segefredo.

The trio snuck off the front of the remnants of a 29-man breakaway on the descent off the Pic de Nore as crosswinds splintered the group, and neither Izagirre nor Mollema could compete with Nielsen’s sprinting skills as the Dane took a stage win on his debut Tour.

World champion Peter Sagan got into the breakaway, and he took third place in the day’s intermediate sprint to all-but wrap up the points classification, receiving his 100th green jersey at the finish.

After the stage it was announced that Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon had been disqualified from the race, with the team due to issue a statement on the matter.

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