On your bike Froome – French media’s reaction to UK rider doping claims
08 Oct 2019 9:20 am by Leela Bozonelis
The media's treatment of the Tour de France
While the UK media has concentrated on the British one-time winner Chris Froome in this year's Tour de France, coverage in France has instead focused on the insinuation that the former champion, and Team Sky have somehow cheated to secure the yellow jersey.
Indeed, in the run up to the start of the race in mid-July, British coverage had been rather mute and only really clicked into gear when Froome first took the yellow jersey. In contrast, French media were consistently casting aspersions on Froome and Team Sky long before the race started, perhaps because after last year's disappointment, the Kenyan-born rider was favourite to win once again.
Froome, who was attacked by a spectator at the weekend when a cup of urine was thrown over him, has been particularly critical of the French press. He said both local and national media had deliberately cast aspersions about his performance and this was directly responsible for the attack, which occurred about 50km into stage 14. The incident happened as the Tour entered Mende, with Froome describing how he and his teammates heard a spectator shout "doper" before throwing the cup.
He had blamed the media there for the attack, describing Gallic coverage as "irresponsible journalism". The media reacted furiously, increasing coverage about questions over Froome's performance, culminating in one French doctor going on national television to describe the race leader's power-to-weight ratio during one stage of the race as "not believable". Sir Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky coach, released the team's data on Froome's performance during Stage 10 in an effort to quell the attacks.
France vs the UK media coverage
France's sporting press is notoriously skeptical and can make the British media look almost tame but, nevertheless, this year's coverage appears to have reached new levels of cynicism. In contrast, UK media attention has concentrated almost exclusively on the facts and the progress of the race, only seriously starting to cover the accusations being levelled across the Channel after the urine incident.
Until the Tour got going, it had been a long, slow build in terms of UK coverage. The Lexis Nexis Media Tracker shows that until April, there had been fewer than 50 articles a week focusing on the Tour, with a peak in May when the teams were announced before the number fell back again. Media interest then rose rapidly once the Tour got underway and continued to run well in excess of 100 articles a week, particularly following the attack on Froome during Stage 14.
What happens next?
A British champion will almost certainly guarantee continued interest in the Tour and cycling after the race finishes but should Froome not win, and if last year's coverage is anything to go by, media interest is likely to return to very low levels once the race finishes on the Champs Élysées on Sunday. In the event of a Froome win, the French media, in contrast, is likely to continue to devote plenty of space to questions about his performance and Team Sky, just as it did for several weeks after his first success in 2013.
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