Despite the fact that this year’s Tour de France contains three former winners, two victors of the Giro d’Italia and one former Vuelta champion—six grand tour masters in all—this year’s race appears to be all sewn up. Chris Froome has amassed such a lead that nibbling 10 seconds here, 14 seconds there, is too faint an effort to wrest the maillot jaune from his bony shoulders.
And can we just take a moment to admit that Froome’s riding style is such that he seems to succeed despite what is to my eye the most inelegant cycling visage to win a grand tour. I must admit that in discussions with friends I’ve compared him to a spider romancing a paperclip. No Coppi is he.
But it doesn’t matter. The man has earned my grudging respect, less for what he has achieved on the bike than his polite treatment of the press off the bike. His is a careful diplomacy, to be sure.
Speaking of respect, not everyone shares my view of how he deserves to be treated. Reports are that he’s been spat on and that another spectator threw urine in his face. One journalist asked how he knew it was urine, which I thought was a step beyond cheeky. Had anyone asked me such a question (had I suffered such an insult), I’d have replied, “A lifetime of standing over toilets has taught me a thing or two about yellow fluids.”
This is, obviously, the unfortunate kickback that comes from spectators automatically equating the yellow jersey with doping. It’s an easy math, but one that isn’t necessarily correct. David Walsh has struck out, sticking his neck on the line on behalf of Froome to tell the world he thinks the rider is clean. I appreciate how Walsh’s own sense of integrity motivated him to speak up. It’s an endorsement that rings like the cathedral bell. And while I’m bolstered by Froome’s assurances that you can test his samples with whatever new tests they devise ten years from now and we won’t see him dethroned, the fact remains, we really don’t know.
I do believe that cycling, as a sport, is the cleanest it has ever been. But the recent news that Riccardo Ricco (yes, him again) has been snared in an investigation into the sale and distribution of anabolic steroids is all the demonstration we need that some people never learn, and the sport will never be rid of idiot dopers. Or just dopers. Maybe idiots, too.
So today’s question isn’t whether Froome will win or not, or whether he’s doping, as the former is a question that seems all but answered and the latter is a question we may never answer, but whether we will ever regain our trust. Can we? And while we are at it, it’s been more than 40 years since Eddy Merckx was punched in the Tour. For ages, that was a one-time aberration. Now it seems the sort of affront destined to revisit the race. It’s worth asking, is the decreasing civility toward the yellow jersey a cancer that will kill the Tour as we know it?