British Cyclist Chris Froome Leads As Tour De France Enters Final Days
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The lead rider in this year's Tour de France had a cup of urine tossed on him during the race by a spectator shouting, doper. His teammates have been spat upon, punched and yelled at. British cyclist Amy says that upon and yelled it. British cyclist Chris Froome is dominating this year's tour, and at the same time, he's dogged by speculation that he must be juiced. Cycling correspondent Andrew Hood is covering the race for VeloNews. He joins me now from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Alps. Andrew, welcome to the program.
ANDREW HOOD: Hello. Thanks for having us.
BLOCK: And Chris Froome is wearing the yellow jersey, which means he is in the lead. He's a little bit over three minutes ahead of his closest competitor in the standings. Three days to go before the race raps up in Paris, do you think anybody can catch him?
HOOD: That does not seem to be the case right now. The Colombian climber Nairo Quintana is kind of nipping at his heels, but Froome has this tremendous power, this tremendous cadence, his style of racing that's really hard to get any time on him - two more hard mountain stages and then the final stage in the Champs-Elysees. It's going to take a major disaster for Froome to lose this tour.
BLOCK: Now, it does seem that Froome doesn't have to just win this race. He also has to prove himself in the court of public opinion about whether he's racing clean. Is there something in particular about his performance that's drawing scrutiny, or is this just overall general distrust and disgust with cycling?
HOOD: That's true. That's a good point. He's almost fighting a battle on two fronts, on the road and then after the stage when he has to answer questions from the media and from social media where there's a whole kind of core group of very vocal people on things like Twitter that are just convinced that Chris Froome cannot do what he does clean. Part of it is the way he races. He has this explosive kind of unique style and also just kind of the hangover of the Lance Armstrong doping scandals and really doping scandals that have haunted the sport for almost 20 years.
BLOCK: I was struck by a line in a commentary in VeloNews which says the only way to avoid suspicion is not to win. And I wonder if cycling is ever going to escape that taint of doping. What would it take?
HOOD: I think it's going to take a few more years of these credible performances, a few more years of tours without major doping scandals. Since 2008, they introduced what's called a biological passport, and it's the way of measuring kind of blood indicators in an athlete, seeing if they are manipulating their blood. And there hasn't been a major scandal since, really, about 2007, 2008. We've had individual cases, of course. Riders are going to cheat like people cheat on taxes. But the overall (unintelligible) is a much cleaner, credible place than it's really ever been in the sport's history.
BLOCK: Andrew, you've covered every Tour de France since 1996. How is racing, for you, different without the pull of Lance Armstrong? Despite all the scandals, he did make cycling hugely popular with a mass audience for a very long time.
HOOD: Yeah. It's been interesting. We were talking about that over the dinner table the other night. The United States Press Corps's very small these days. I think we have two or three Americans covering the race this year, whereas back in the Lance Armstrong days, we had correspondents from all the major newspapers, all the wires, all the magazines. And now, we're seeing that replicated almost with the boom we're seeing in the United Kingdom with Team Sky, Bradley Wiggins winning 2012 in (unintelligible) on his way to his second win. The tour is way more international than it used to be back in the day. It was still very much of a French, Italian, Belgian affair. And now the winners are all coming from Anglo countries, from Australia, from the United States, from the U.K. It really drives the French crazy (laughter).
BLOCK: Well, Andrew, thanks for talking with us. Enjoy the rest of the tour.
HOOD: Thank you.
BLOCK: Andrew Hood is covering the tour for VeloNews. He spoke with us from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Alps. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.