L’Alpe d’Huez – Welshman Geraint Thomas called on disgruntled fans to let Team Sky race their way to glory in the Tour de France after his historic, but arguably bittersweet victory on the legendary Alpe d’Huez.
“If people don’t like Sky and want to boo, that’s fine. Just let us race,” said Thomas after becoming the first Briton to triumph on the summit of the race’s legendary climb Thursday.
A former Olympic champion in track cycling, Thomas now leads four-time champion and teammate Chris Froome by 1min 39secs in the overall standings, with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) third overall at 1:50.
A day after racing to victory atop La Rosiere to take the yellow jersey from Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet, Thomas dominated a small group sprint at the end of a thrilling finale to the punishing 175.5 km ride from Bourg Saint Maurice.
Like previous winners, he should be honoured by having his name etched on to one of the climb’s famous 21 hairpin bends.
But the few victory plaudits he received at the finish line, then on the podium, were quickly drowned out by boos and jeers.
Earlier on the 13.8km climb to the summit, Froome was reportedly spat at and narrowly avoided a crash when he was slapped heavily on the back by one over-zealous fan.
“I didn’t see that,” added Thomas, although he called for respect.
“Don’t touch the riders, don’t spit at us. Have a bit of decency. Voice your opinions all you want, but just let us do the racing.”
Team Sky’s domination of the race appears to be angering fans, although the British outfit have arguably given their detractors enough reason to doubt.
Sky have been the subject of potentially damaging incidents in the past, and suspicion was raised in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ 2013 victory after medical records went missing or were never kept.
Days before the start, organisers banned Froome from racing due to the lingering controversy of the “analytical adverse finding” for the asthma drug salbutamol from a sample taken during his Tour of Spain victory last year.
The Kenyan-born Briton was found to have double the permitted amount of the drug in his body, but Sky have always maintained there is no case to answer and that Froome is “innocent”.
The protracted case was finally settled days before the start when the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) cleared Froome.
But Sky have yet to truly win over fans.
Froome’s consistently strong performances continue to rankle with fans and media alike.
Where rivals drop out of contention on difficult mountain stages, Froome stubbornly refuses to buckle.
On Thursday the Briton had to settle for second best when Thomas took the glory, and the brickbats, for the second successive day.
But Froome, who has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, has the experience, the past results and the backing of his team as he bids to win a fourth consecutive Grand Tour.
If successful, he would become the first rider since the disgraced, and now deceased, Italian climber Marco Pantani, in 1998, to complete a Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double in the same calendar year.
Froome won the 2017 Tour de France, the 2017 Tour of Spain and this year’s Giro d’Italia among a total haul of six Grand Tours.
And Thomas believes a seventh is on the cards.
“In my eyes, Froomey is still our leader. He’s won six Grand Tours, you can rely on him to be consistent.”