London (AFP) – French cycling legend Bernard Hinault labelling Chris Froome a ‘cheat’ and demanding the Englishman’s Tour de France rivals strike could provoke a violent backlash against the rider from spectators, Team Sky’s coaching guru told Friday’s edition of The Guardian.
Tim Kerrison — speaking to the newspaper in Monaco as Team Sky finetune their preparations for this year’s Tour beginning on July 7 — said Froome’s safety is at risk “if things are presented in a way that incites or sensationalises”.
Froome was found to have twice the permissible amount of asthma drug Salbutamol in his system in last September’s Vuelta a Espana, which he won, before also winning May’s Giro d’Italia, becoming the first man to hold all three Grand Tours at once since Hinault in 1983.
The four-time Tour de France champion insists he has not broken any rules, but Hinault says Froome is a cheat and that, as cycling authorities dither, rider power should be exerted.
“The peloton should just stop and strike, saying ‘if he’s on it, we’re not’,” Hinault told AFP on Wednesday.
Kerrison — who was an Australian swim coach till 2008 when English cricket thought they had secured his services only for British cycling chief and now Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford to pinch him from under their noses — says he has no doubts 33-year-old Kenya-born Froome will emerge with his reputation intact. But he takes issue with how long the process is taking to reach a decision.
The Australian’s main concern, though, is that Hinault and others’ comments on the matter will stoke up spectators who, unlike with most sports, are able to crowd round the riders especially on the mountain stages.
“If things are presented in a way that incites or sensationalises, or fuels anger or resentment towards Chris, then I don’t think that’s very responsible,” said Kerrison.
“I think fair treatment in the media is a responsible requirement to ensure the riders’ safety.”
– ‘Feels a sense of injustice’ –
With emotions running high Kerrison told the paper that aside from Froome’s ever present bodyguard — who has been a feature for a while — the team has also consulted with security experts.
“We have been talking for a long time about safety and security and we had a couple of (satellite broadcaster) Sky’s security team come to spend time with us, just to advise us on how we operate and can improve our safety and security at races.
“Our experience of riding in France and our experience of the public has been fantastic.
“But we also know there will also be a small part of the crowd who will be hostile and a few people who are haters and are particularly hostile.”
Kerrison, who was also responsible for former Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins’s victories in the 2012 Olympics and the Tour de France the same year, said Froome may seem calm on the outside but the barbs being aimed at him do hit the target.
“Chris is human and it’s only natural that he feels a sense of injustice over the way he’s been treated or reported,” said Kerrison.
“But when it’s time to focus on his performance, he’s uniquely good at putting all that to one side and delivering.”