Many fans booed Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas simply because he is a teammate of doping suspect Chris Froome. This was unfair, writes DW's Joscha Weber.
As three exciting weeks drew to a close on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday, Geraint Thomas celebrated his first Tour de France title. The lap of honor on the splendorous boulevard is the reward for three weeks of hard work — because the path to get there is hard and rocky.
But it wasn't the cobblestones of the north, the shimmering heat of the south, the steep climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees, or even attacks from his opponents that were the hardest tests that Thomas faced over these past three weeks. Instead, it was being booed, spat at, sprayed with tear gas (inadvertently by the police) and even a physical attack by a fan that almost pulled him off his bike. What a Tour for Geraint Thomas!
"What happened to me was not nice, I just came here to ride in a bike race like everyone else in the peloton," Thomas said.
The 32-year-old, who is known to his friends and fans alike simply as "G", is a very unpopular winner of the Tour de France. But why is that?
Guilty by association
For many French cycling fans the answer is simple: It's because Geraint Thomas is a teammate of Chris Froome on the unpopular British Team Sky. On the surface, the mistrust is understandable due to the various scams that have come to light in recent years.
With its dubious drug deliveries, a series of medical exemptions and particularly the Salbutamol affair surrounding Froome, Sky has done nothing to help cycling's image as a clean sport.
On the contrary: The fact that Froome was allowed to take part in the Tour despite clearly excessive Salbutamol values is a scandal. The World Cycling Federation (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) bent their rules to allow Froome to compete. While other cyclists in similar cases have been barred from competition, Froome got off scot-free. It took an entire team of high-priced lawyers to win Froome the right to participate. But he should still never have been allowed to start.
But none of this is Thomas' fault. The two-time Olympic champion and holder of "The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" is a brilliant all-rounder, who gradually moved up the pecking order thanks to years of consistent performances in Froome's shadow. And on this Tour he was simply the best.
Sure, Thomas is a close friend of Froome and has been his most faithful companion. But in cycling, as elsewhere, one should not be found guilty by association. Currently there is no incriminating evidence against the heir to Froome's throne, and until some is provided, he must be regarded as innocent. And he deserves all of the respect that goes along with winning the hardest cycling race in the world.
Distrust of Sky
However, one thing should not be overlooked: Strategically speaking, Thomas is exactly the right winner of this Tour de France — at least from the perspective of his Sky team. The team with an annual budget of around €35 million is way ahead of the competition financially and has been dominating the competition for years.
From the start of this Tour it was clear that many cycling fans are openly hostile towards Sky, with Froome being the main target of their anger. To have had the unpopular captain, who was acquitted of doping due only to a lack of evidence, winning the race would have been unwise. It was far cleverer to give the (still) respected loyal servant his time in the limelight.
In many ways, Geraint Thomas is the right winner of this Tour.