Shocked laughter echoed through the bike store I was watching the now infamous footage of Froome running up the Mont Ventoux on Stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France. I laughed too. It was a moment of surreal ridiculousness. Something I'd never seen before and may never see again. Once the laughter had subsided I suddenly felt sad and tired. Here's why.
Words - James Raison
A RACE TARNISHED
Stage 12 had been spectacular. The peloton was again ripped apart by crosswinds, Astana's Fabio Aru was throwing multiple S-Works into roadside ditches while Nibali was befalling his own mechanicals, and an uncharacteristic crash from Simon Gerrans nearly destroyed Sky's Tour. Belgians Thomas De Gendt and Serge Pauwels duked it out for stage honours while Daniel Navarro gallantly fought for third. Nairo Quintana had finally laid down multiple attacks before getting chased down and dropped. Bauke Mollema rode out of his skin and into contention while Dan Martin faded. Then it happened. A moto hit the brakes right in front of an attacking Richie Porte who slammed into it, with Chris Froome and Mollema crashing into him. A following moto crushed Froome's bike and the yellow jersey wearer made a snap decision. Run. Then it was gone. All the heroics, the drama, and the hard work was lost as a skinny man ran awkwardly up a hill. Once again cycling made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It seems the only time the mainstream media pays close attention is when something ridiculous or awful happens. Cycling keeps them well catered for both.
A BLEAK FUTURE OF FAN BEHAVIOUR
The level of fan interference in pro cycling is simply inexcusable and I don't see it getting any better. The hoards of selfish and narcissistic fans impeding their supposed heroes so they can jam a smartphone into their face, wave a flag like moronic matadors, or have 3 seconds on global television by running next to the race in a stupid outfit need to do some soul searching. Those behaviours are self-perpetuating and infectious. Worse, they're becoming normalised. It's easy to see why: there's no punishment. Apart from a shove from a moto rider or remonstration from an irate gendarme, there's nothing stopping the kind of jackassery that can ruin a rider's Tour. What's the answer? Well it's hard to find one when you're dealing with...
The precedent was set on Stage 7: an obnoxious and potentially dangerous spectator was walloped by Chris Froome for waving a flag around his bars and front wheel, not to mention shouting directly in his ear. The support for the action was almost universal as comments sections applauded Froome and condemned the absence of rider protection. The fan was misbehaving, and he deserved the whack in the face. But the organisation chose to lighten Froome's wallet by 200 Swiss francs instead. The message there is that fans are untouchable. Literally. Cycling needs fans to survive but it can stand to lose those who don't respect it, or the riders. It's time to make that clear.
A LAUGHING STOCK
As the footage of Froome running was replayed I could already hear keyboards hammering all over the world as Photoshoppers, gif makers, YouTubers, and meme generators worked overtime to make their mark on the internet. Froome still leads the Tour, and is still the favourite to win. Does it matter though? Even if he wears yellow on the Champs Elysses, this will always be remembered as the year when he ran bikeless up Ventoux. We are doomed to see that footage ad nauseum.
I went to bed after the stage sad and tired. I love cycling and I knew I'd wake up to a world that was laughing at it. Again.