MENDE, France (Reuters) - Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme blamed the media for aggression aimed at yellow jersey holder Chris Froome as the Briton’s Team Sky were protected by police before the start of Sunday’s 15th stage.
Froome had urine thrown at him by a spectator on Saturday, four days after his Sky team mate Richie Porte was punched during the first mountain stage of the three-week race.
Froome said “irresponsible” reporting caused the incidents, a view shared by Prudhomme.
“There is a correlation between what is said in the papers, on TV, on the radio, and what happens by the side of the road,” Prudhomme told reporters ahead of Sunday’s 183-km ride between Mende and Valence.
Doping suspicions have been aired after Froome humiliated his main rivals in the first Pyrenean stage, with French TV pundit Laurent Jalabert, a former Vuelta winner, saying the Briton’s performance made him feel uneasy.
“They set the tone and people believe what they see in the media,” said Froome.
In 2013, a French senate investigation revealed that Jalabert had failed a retroactive test for the banned blood booster EPO in 1998. Jalabert never confessed to doping.
Five police officers were guarding Team Sky’s bus before the start, though no incident occurred.
“The lads are scared,” said Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal.
Such incidents, however, are not uncommon in cycling, where athletes are particularly exposed as they ride unprotected along roads lined by thousands of fans.
In the second edition of the race, in 1904, Maurice Garin and Lucien Pothier were set upon by four masked men who had jumped out of a car.
In 1975, Belgian great Eddy Merckx was punched by a spectator while climbing up the Puy de Dome.
More recently, disgraced Lance Armstrong hired a bodyguard after he said he had received death threats.
In 2009, New Zealand’s Julian Dean and Spaniard Oscar Freire where shot at with air guns during the 13th stage.
Sometimes, however, the rider is the aggressor.
In 1984, during a Paris-Nice stage, Frenchman Bernard Hinault swung at a protester from a neighboring shipyard after a crowd of demonstrators encroached onto the road.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tom Hayward