• Froome: "It feels (like) we're under siege." (EPA)Source: EPA
The level of acrimony towards Team Sky appears to have reached fever pitch. How did it get so bad, wonders Anthony Tan?
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19 Jul 2015 - 8:19 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2015 - 3:26 PM

Tuesday, on the first Pyrenean stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Richie Porte says he was "full-on punched" by a spectator. "It was sort of the same atmosphere on Alpe d'Huez, two years ago," he told British journalist Richard Moore, referring to Stage 18 of the 2013 Tour de France, won by Christophe Riblon.

Two days later, on the Plateau de Beille, the finishing climb for Stage 12, a group of four individuals shouted "doper" when he rode past, Porte said, then again on his way back down the mountain.

The 1.72 metre-tall climber decided to confront them. "They booed me on the way up and on the way down... insinuating that I'm injecting something. Then when you stop and they all say 'sorry', it just shows the calibre of the people that they are."

Then Saturday, en route to Mende, maillot jaune Chris Froome claimed to have urine poured on him while at the same time also being branded a doper. "That's disgraceful... There's no other way to put it. It's certainly not in the name of sport, and it's a shame a few individuals can ruin it for everyone else," he told Moore.

Urine thrown at Froome as Sky slams irresponsible pundits
Team Sky was left fuming after Stage 14 of the Tour de France as yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome reported having a cup of urine thrown at him during the race by a man yelling "doper" at him.

Since the culprits have not been caught or named and shamed, we only have the word of Porte and Froome to go by; it's doubtful they'd make the stories up, however.

So, why is it happening?

If Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador or Vincenzo Nibali had shown equal dominance on La Pierre-Saint-Martin, would there have been the same level of vitriol - or any at all, for that matter?

While I agree with Froome that the lewd behaviour is limited to a minority, I wonder, though, whether it reflects the sentiment of more than just a few, and whether it is confined to sour grapes by the French, as many claim, or a broader audience.

"the cycling aficionado who yearns for the romanticism of yore - one-hundred kilometre stage- and race-winning breakaways and all that jazz; never mind the hyprocrisy that Pantani, Chiappucci et al. were doped to the gills..."

Part of the negativity surely comes from the fact that Team Sky, with an enviable budget of £24,479,000 (A$51.74M) in 2014, is one of the most moneyed teams in the peloton. Chiefly financed by its title sponsor, Sky UK Limited (formerly known as BSkyB) is the largest pay TV provider in the UK with 11 million customers. Sky UK Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sky plc - founded by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch - and as of 14 August 2014, enjoyed a market capitalisation of approximately £13.69 billion ($A28.9bn).

It was Rupert's son James, who took over as non-executive chairman in December 2007 (but stepped down in April 2011), that saw British Cycling strengthen their relationship with BSkyB.

After an initial £1 million (A$2.1M) sponsorship in the track cycling team in 2008, British Cycling, headed by now Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, lobbied with Murdoch to extend that commitment to the road. On 26 February 2009, it was announced BSkyB would finance a squad to compete in cycling's three Grand Tours, with the aim of producing the first British winner of the Tour within five years.

Not only did they achieve their target three years out from their 2010 debut with Bradley Wiggins and Froome going 1-2 at the 2012 Tour de France, they did it again with Froome the very next year.

That the French have won just one stage in this year's race (Alexis Vuillermoz, Stage 9 to Mûr-de-Bretagne), and the best-placed coureur français is Tony Gallopin, in ninth overall, is it a hate-Britain thing, then?

On the cusp of winning a record sixth Tour, Eddy Merckx was kidney-punched while climbing the Puy de Dôme at the 1975 race, capturing a sentiment by many locals who found the thought that a non-Frenchman would beat Jacques Anquetil's five-win record as anathema. The Belgian, down but not out, finished second to Bernard Thévenet of France, but would not win another Tour.

"To be honest, it's getting to the point where, some of these journalists, whipping up all the rubbish that they are, they need to be accountable a little bit for our safety as well," said Porte, no doubt referring to former French professionals Laurent Jalabert and Cedric Vasseur, now working as television commentators at the Tour, who have cast doubt over the performances of Froome.

"Do I deserve to be booed? Does Chris Froome deserve to have all this? I don't think so. I thin, maybe in 10 years' time, we're going to see all these victories are legitimate. And I don't expect them to come back and apologise, but... I think it's just a disgrace how some of these people carry on... They're just so anti-whatever-we-are."

The victories of both Wiggins and Froome were unquestionably dominant. In 2012, Wiggins fared no worse than second on GC the entire race and held onto the lead from Stage 7 (his greatest 'rival' would be his own team-mate); the year following, Froome was equally, if not more superior, who, by the first mountain stage to Ax-3-Domaines, already enjoyed a two-minute advantage over Quintana, the eventual second overall.

Furthermore, the way they rode into the lead, then defended it, was reminiscent of the good ol'-bad ol' days when the US Postal Service cycling team ruled the roost in July. Lance Armstrong's less than remorseful confession to Oprah was a year and a half before Team Sky's US Postal-esque history-making ride by Wiggins and co., when attitudes towards l'étrangers who had sullied La Grande Boucle were still very raw.

On the assumption they are riding clean, which I have no factual information to believe otherwise, it is hardly Wiggins' or Froome's or Porte's fault they get paid as much as they do, or ride they way they ride.

Froome, Porte et al. and their agents are simply taking advantage of market dynamics, whereby four or five teams have far greater financial wherewithwal than the rest of their WorldTour counterparts, and in a career that averages little more than a decade (probably less), they're doing what 99 per cent of those in their position would do: take the best offer. Besides, they're riding the way they do because that's what Brailsford and the sports science boffins at Team Sky believe to be the most effective way to win the Tour de France, which, based on their strike rate so far and where they're positioned right now, is difficult to argue against.

Still, that will do little to appease the cycling aficionado who yearns for the romanticism of yore - one-hundred kilometre stage- and race-winning breakaways and all that jazz; never mind the hyprocrisy that Pantani, Chiappucci et al. were doped to the gills - which is why there's been such a groundswell of acrimony towards Sky, and at the same time, near-ubiquitous support for Quintana.

And it's not just the fan that feels aggrieved, exemplified by FDJ manager Marc Madiot's 'Motorhome, go home' column on Cyclingnews and these tweets from Cannondale-Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters in recent weeks...

Asked by Moore whether it's affecting him or the team, Froome replied, "I think it's pulling us together as a unit even stronger. It feels we're under siege a little bit."

"The best thing for Froomey now is to win this race," Porte told SBS' Robbie McEwen after the stage to Mende. "That'll really piss them (the French) off."

I won't argue with that.