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July 25, 2018
Photography by Cor Vos
UCI President David Lappartient has questioned the logic of David Brailsford’s rest day criticism of the French public, saying that it is unwise to further stoke the flames of tensions between the team and the country hosting the Tour.
“He started with the mayors, now he attacks the spectators,” said Lappartient, according to the Guardian. “I would say two things. First, there are not only French spectators, there are spectators of all nationalities at the Tour. Second, it is not very healthy for his team to nationalise the debate whereas we are calling on the public to be calm, to ensure that the riders, and especially Chris Froome are respected.”
On Monday Brailsford said that Team Sky was the victim of ‘a French cultural thing, really,’ when referring to boos directed at Chris Froome and his teammates, the shove the rider received on Alpe d’Huez plus claims of spitting.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop, I’m not too optimistic on that front,” he said. “It’s challenging, we accept it, we just have to make a decision as to how to behave. We’re trying not to react. We have a mindset where we don’t get distracted by it.”
Those initial comments were balanced, but the criticism of Brailsford has been directed at claims that the French have it in for Team Sky. “I don’t think spitting has a place in professional sport personally, or in everyday life, but it seems to be the thing that’s done here [in France],” he said. “But we’re not going to let it distract us. It’s interesting, we just raced in Italy and if this is all about Chris and his case, well his was open during the Tour of Italy and they were fantastic, the Italians. The Spanish, fantastic. It just seems to be a French thing. A French cultural thing really, that’s it.”
While some fans have undoubtedly behaved badly, Lappartient and others question the wisdom of criticism directed at the whole host nation.
“Pouring oil on the fire is not very good,” said Lappartient. “We must not forget that Team Sky owe their success to what has been done through the Tour de France and France. He must be frustrated to see that there is not a love for him or his team. However, we must not attack the people of any country. We must respect all the spectators; the people who come are people who love cycling.
“When you are the manager of the team, you should try not to insult those who come to see the race.”
There have been tensions for several months between Lappartient and Brailsford over the investigation into Chris Froome’s high salbutamol levels after stage 18 of the Vuelta a España. More recently, Brailsford criticised the UCI head on day two of the Tour. “I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he started,” he said then. “I thought, ‘he is new to the job, he obviously doesn’t quite understand the responsibilities of a presidential role.’ I think he has still got the local French mayor kind of mentality.”
Lappartient is indeed a French major, presiding over the Brittany town of Sarzeau. The race ended there two days after Brailford’s criticism of Lappartient.
Lappartient responded via La Parisien, saying that Brailsford “does not understand much about cycling,” and referring to the Briton he defeated in last September’s UCI elections. “I will say that the last one who called me a ‘Breton mayor’ was not brought any luck. It was Brian Cookson.
“And then, by insulting me as mayor, he insults the 35,000 French mayors and the French in general. I do not know what he’s looking for with that. Because he does not realise that it takes mayors taking stages of the Tour de France for such great events to take place. He does not understand much about cycling.”
According to Lappartient in the latest story, Team Sky’s top riders are taking a far better approach. “Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have, for me, the right attitude. Chris Froome says he likes France, and that he trains every day in France. He speaks our language, he also knows what the Tour de France brought him.
“While the riders, like us, try to reduce the pressure, their sports director puts oil on the fire while there is no need to do it. I invite him to pay attention.”