Froome finally endears himself to fans at Tour de France

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ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra (AP) Chris Froome is finally receiving acclaim from fans alongside the roads of the Tour de France.

The British rider with Team Sky has been widely applauded and even lauded for his ''panache'' after pulling off a surprise downhill attack to take the yellow jersey.

It's quite a turnaround from last year, when Froome was booed, spat upon, and had urine thrown on him.

''Certainly. The atmosphere out on the road has been fantastic,'' Froome said on Monday on the race's first rest day. ''The crowds have been great, none of that silly nonsense that we had last year at all so far. I hope it stays that way.''

When Froome won the Tour in 2013 and 2015, he was not only suspected of doping, but also criticized for riding in an overly calculated manner with little creativity. That changed with Saturday's daring descent and stage win in the Pyrenees.

''My main focus is obviously the race. But if it's entertaining at the same time then great,'' Froome said. ''I'm not going to change my racing just for entertainment stake. I'm going to do whatever I can to try and win the race.''

Froome holds a 16-second lead over fellow British rider Adam Yates, and is 19 seconds ahead of Dan Martin of Ireland. His main rival, two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia, is fourth, only 23 seconds back.

The only major incident involving Froome so far came when a fan running alongside the road got too close during Saturday's eighth stage. Froome responded by landing a left jab to the spectator's face.

The race jury fined Froome 200 Swiss francs ($203) for ''inappropriate behavior.''

''I accept it. ... I felt it was the right thing to do,'' Froome said. ''He was dangerous at that moment. There have been quite a few incidents with fans in the past few days. That's just part of the sport, I guess.''

Another issue that has become part of the sport recently is concern over mechanical doping.

Femke Van Den Driessche of Belgium was banned from cycling for six years after a motor was found in her bike at the women's world under-23 cyclo-cross race in January. And in April, French television program Stade 2 claimed to have detected widespread mechanical doping at two Italian races by using roadside thermal cameras.

The UCI, cycling's govering body, responded by checking hundreds of bikes at the Tour with thermal imaging equipment.

When Froome was asked about a suggestion that the reason he hasn't been able to attack successfully uphill in this Tour was because he doesn't have a motor in his bike, Sky team principal Dave Brailsford responded for the rider.

''We've been tested every day,'' Brailsford said. ''We actually got an email from the UCI yesterday saying thank you for being the most cooperative team out of everybody in the bike checks.

''If someone is stupid enough to have the idea of coming here with a motor in their bike, for sure they'll get caught,'' Brailsford added. ''The whole discussion about bikes and motors is becoming - given the level of testing - something that we need to maybe just reconsider slightly.''

Froome, meanwhile, seems more focused following the birth of his son, Kellan, in December.

''It's given me a lot of added motivation,'' he said. ''It's given me a lot more energy just for life in general. I love to think of him looking back on these years, when he gets a little bit older and understands it all, and being proud of his old man.''

The Tour's next mountain-top finish comes in Stage 12 on Thursday at the legendary Mont Ventoux, on Bastille Day.

Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled Ventoux's barren, 1,909-meter (6,263-foot) peak in 2013.

Ventoux was also the site of an epic contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, and where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 after he used a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.

''When I got to the top last time I had to get on oxygen support, I was so tired,'' Froome said. ''It's one of the most iconic climbs. To win up there again would be unreal, out of this world.

''It's going to be interesting to see who's really going to go that deep for the victory there, or are people going to be waiting a little bit knowing there's a time trial the next day?'' Froome wondered.

The race heads to the Alps in the third week, with a rare mountain time trial wedged in between several more grueling Alpine stages.

''That's where,'' Froome said, ''the race will be won or lost.''


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