LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France - Four-time winner Chris Froome was roundly booed by the crowd that gathered for the Tour de France team presentations in a small town in the west of France on Thursday evening.
In the same stoic manner Froome had faced off a packed press conference the evening before, the champion held his nerve before the crowds just three days after being cleared over a suspicious doping test from last September that came to nothing but which has hit his reputation.
Some sections of the crowd cheered and the boos were more in the manner of the school outing whistling a pantomime villain. When Team Sky's turn of the 22 teams to be presented came a defiant Froome told the crowd "We're going all out for a fifth victory," drawing some applause.
The teams all did a small circuit of the town of La Roche-sur-Yon and there were incidents witnessed on the 1km circuit where roadside spectators shouted insults at the 33-year-old Kenyan-born Briton. The Tour de France starts on Saturday from nearby Noirmoutier-en-Isle for an epic 21-day slog around France where Froome is favourite to win.
Froome expressed massive relief on Wednesday in his first major meeting with the press since being allowed in the race just days after being cleared by cycling's ruling body the UCI to take part. Tour organisers ASO had banned Froome from the race but the World Anti Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union delivered a long-awaited verdict on a September 2017 test of the Briton that cleared his name.
"Now I just want to draw a line in the sand and move on," said Froome, who won the Giro d'Italia in May. "My aim is to win and go for a Tour-Giro double."
UCI chief David Lappartient has called upon the public to treat Froome fairly and respectfully. French authorities have also rallied behind the Briton and around 30000 security forces will be deployed over the three weeks to maintain order.
BMC Manager Oschowiscz scoffed at the idea there was a security threat to Froome in the wake of fears for the Sky leader's personal safety. "The Tour is hard and dangerous in itself," he said.
"It's difficulty to control everybody out there in the hills. But the peloton will protect him, the police will protect him and the (Tour organisers) ASO will protect him," insisted the veteran of 20 Tour de France races.AFP