Heading into the first rest day of the Tour de France, Chris Froome holds the yellow jersey by a slim margin. Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates, and a few other plucky challengers are right there with him, but Froome and Team Sky have done what they do every year: wring the life out of every vaguely hilly stage until Froome’s rivals are good and tired, so he can jump off the front with the least resistance possible. This is usually a fairly boring tactic, one which has contributed to his disproportionate lack of popularity, but it works.
This year, he took the jersey with a slightly different version of this same attack, by pulling away on a descent and motoring to the finish alone. It was a far braver strategy, one that went over better with fans. Froome also showed his new, edgier persona earlier in the stage when a fan waving a Colombian flag got right in his grill on the Col de Peyresourde. Froome didn’t want to fall, so he laid the fan out with a solid shot to the dome.
Here’s an alternate angle:
Froome came to his own defense, and claimed he was trying to protect himself from getting knocked over. When he punched the fan, there were 16 kilometers left in the stage, and far less to the summit of the climb. That’s about as decisive as a position as there is in the race. If the fan had taken out Froome (and it’s unlikely he would have been the only one to go down), it could have cost him the stage and even the Tour.
Most climbs don’t have barriers, and fans have taken out riders before. One of the cooler aspects of cycling is how fans can get right up next to their favorite riders, especially on climbs where fans can run alongside the peloton, but this comes with all sorts of hazards. Last year at the Giro, a fan trying to take pictures took out Daniele Colli, who broke his arm horrifically. Four stages earlier, another fan tried to ride his bike straight into the peloton, taking down half the pack. The 2014 Tour was notoriously crash-happy. In this year’s Tour alone, George Bennett rocked a dude and a Charlie Kelly-looking idiot on the field nearly took out Rafal Majka.
All of which is to say, it’s eminently possible that Froome’s Tour could have ended for a very stupid reason, and the race is obviously better for him still being in it. Froome should have punched that guy, and his rather nominal $203 fine feels more like a slap on the wrist for a reasonable action than a genuine punishment (if Froome wins, he’ll make €500,000). Fans present far more danger to riders than the other way around, and nobody should be punished for trying to protect their race.