Alan Hubbard

About the time Chris Froome was pedalling his way along the Champs-Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe, raising his right arm in a celebratory wave as he won an amazing fourth Tour de France, I was driving through south London towards the city and stopped at traffic lights.

Suddenly, a typical lycra-clad cyclist, in all the gear, whizzed past me on the inside, ignoring the cycle-only lane, knocking back my wing mirror and speeding through the red light.

As I tooted the horn in annoyance, he too lifted his right arm from the handlebar and gave a salute. But unlike Froome, the two fingers he held aloft were not signalling victory.

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. That errant cyclist was not wearing a yellow jersey, but no doubt he imagined he was.

That’s the trouble with cycling, an activity which now suffers as much criticism as it celebrates success. Which may be why Froome’s glory ride seemed to be perceived over here with a large pinch of indifference.

I happened to be in a local pub that evening and overheard a conversation at the bar between a group who were obviously sports fans.

They talked animatedly about the weekend’s happenings - the remarkable back-from-the-brink performance of Jordan Speith in The Open Championship, Anya Shubsole’s role in the triumph of England’s women cricketers in the World Cup and also of lick-lipping anticipation of the coming football season. Chris Froome’s name wasn’t mentioned once.

Unfortunately outside the cycling community in Britain, he is not perceived as a superstar who should be feted for being now just one Tour win short of the record held jointly by Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Spain's Miguel Indurain and Belgian Eddy Merckx.

Yet the BBC that night led their sports bulletin with the women’s cricket and most newspapers with The Open.

Only Sky Sports featured Froome as the most prominent item. Well, they would, wouldn’t’ they as he was the leader of Team Sky at the Tour.

Froome is a pleasant, unassuming bloke but he is not brimming with charisma and lacks the ‘quote-ability’ now demanded by the media.

And sport itself doesn’t do unassuming much these days, preferring the in-vogue F-word - flamboyance.

But Froome surely deserves greater recognition for his achievements.

Chris Froome celebrates his latest Tour de France success with his son Kellan in Paris on Sunday ©Getty Images
Chris Froome celebrates his latest Tour de France success with his son Kellan in Paris on Sunday ©Getty Images

Some, quite erroneously, even question his nationality, labelling him as yet another "plastic Brit".

Not so. He may have been born and educated up in Nairobi, Kenya, but both his parents were British.

In that sense, he is certainly more British than some other sporting celebrities, including Sir Mo Farah.

But perhaps, more importantly, he suffers from the low esteem in which his sport is currently held.

It is a tainted sport, deeply affected by the stench of drugs and allegations in this country of sexism and bullying.

British Cycling suspended chief coach Shane Sutton following such allegations of discriminatory behaviour. He later resigned.

And, following claims by sprint cyclist Jess Varnish of bullying and sexist remarks made to her, Sutton is alleged, on more than one occasion, to have referred to Para-cyclists as "wobblies" and "gimps", all of which he denied.

Subsequently, all this virtually led British Cycling being forced by the Government to impose a new code of conduct.

This is tantamount to a final warning from the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch last week to clean up its act or lose its funding.

Thus British Cycling will retain £43 million ($56 million/€48 million) in public funding after its national council approved governance reforms in an Extraordinary General Meeting.

A 75 per cent majority was required to pass the changes, demanded by the sports minister to make governing bodies more independent and diverse.

The reforms included an increase in the number of openly recruited independent board members from three to four and an independent chair. They also included a limit for directors of three three-year terms, with six of the eight elected members on the current board being forced to stand down.

British six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy had written to urge them to accept the proposals.

Julian Knight MP, who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said British Cycling has "stared into the abyss and decided not to jump".

He added: "I trust this will provide a wake-up call to the sport that success doesn't give it a free pass. It must strive for the highest standards in governance and how athletes are treated."

Public opinion towards Sir Dave Brailsford has arguably soured in recent months ©Getty Images
Public opinion towards Sir Dave Brailsford has arguably soured in recent months ©Getty Images

Another major reason reason for Froome’s lack of public appeal may be that his team boss, Sir Dave Brailsford, once the esteemed Czar of British Cycling, has gone from hero to zero because of his association with the "Jiffygate" controversy that arose when the medical records of Sir Bradley Wiggins were published by Russian hackers last year.

It has also been reported that Sir Dave worsened the situation by excluding selected critics from a media event and launching a four-letter rant at a journalist.

In the unsavoury Wiggins affair, Sir Dave left a sour taste in the mouth and suspicion in our minds by giving false explanations for that unexplained medical package the end of the 2011 Criterium de Dauphine and subsequently offering the Daily Mail, which has vigorously uncovered cycling’s ills, an alternative story if the newspaper agreed not pursue the matter.

Sir Dave evasiveness and duplicity, so much out of character from days when he turned British Cycling into such a Tour de Force seems to have reflected badly on Team Sky and Froome in particular.

While Froome himself may be as clean as the proverbial whistle as he and most in the sport insist, there is no doubt he has been tarnished by the stigma that now envelops cycling, once the flagship of Britain’s Olympic sports  and an example for them all to follow.

No doubt Froome’s OBE soon will be upgraded to a knighthood; at least, it should be for many sports figures have received the ultimate civic accolade for much less.

And even though this weekend the roads around our neck of the woods will be closed off for some sort of cycle race, leaving us marooned in our homes, I wish him - and cyclists everywhere - well. Barring those who jump red lights.