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French Olympic 'cheating' claims rile British PM

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2012-08-10

The surprising success of Britain’s Olympic cycling team has been greeted with suspicion and allegations of foul play in France. On Wednesday, Britain’s PM David Cameron weighed in, telling the French they should be more gracious in defeat.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has rebuked the French for continuing to harbour suspicions over the Olympic success of Britain’s track cyclists.

In an interview broadcast on TV channel FRANCE 2 on Wednesday evening, Cameron was asked whether he could guarantee there had been no cheating by the British cycling team.

His response was curt. “I know this is difficult for France being such a great cycling nation,” he said. “But we have done very well and if France had done very well in cycling I would say 'well done.'”

Great Britain won gold in seven out of ten events in the Olympic Velodrome, including two dramatic final wins against the French team.

Magic wheels and illegal drugs?

This led France’s cycling team director Isabelle Gautheron to claim that Britain’s gold medal success in the sport must be down to their bikes having “magic wheels”.

In the French media, slightly more sinister questions began to be asked about whether Britain’s cyclists were being boosted by the use of illegal drugs.

In an ironic twist, it has emerged that the “magic wheels” Gautheron referred to are in fact made in France by the same company that makes her own team’s bike wheels.

“The French should know the secret of our success because you make the wheels of our bikes,” Cameron joked.

The suspicion held by many among France’s cycling community towards Britain’s cyclists was fostered during this year’s Tour de France, which was won by London’s Bradley Wiggins.

Throughout the three-week race the French media repeatedly quizzed Wiggins and fellow Sky team riders over the use of doping.

Against the Olympic spirit?

For Cameron, this continued mistrust is against the spirit of the Olympics.

“I think it’s very unfair that just because athletes win to then somehow have suspicions against them,” he said. The first reaction should be to say 'Well done, 'Congratulations.'”

The Olympics have clearly tested the old entente cordiale, and Britain’s Prime Minister was obviously irked by the questions put to him by his French interviewer.

Speaking to Britain’s BBC Radio 2 the next day Cameron told listeners: “I did an interview with French television and they virtually accused us of cheating.”

Cameron said Britain’s cycling success had driven the French “mad”, and, referring to Wiggins’ Tour de France success, he said: “I think they found the Union Jacks on the Champs Elysee a bit hard to take.”

Ire has continued to grow in France ever since their riders lost out to Britain in the men’s team sprint in London.

Britain’s Philip Hindes was accused of cheating in a qualifying heat in certain sections of the French press. By deliberately falling off his bike after a poor start, Hindes ensured the race was rerun. This led to accusations he flouted the ‘fair play’ spirit of the Olympics.

And after the defeat of his compatriot Gregory Baugé to Britain’s Jason Kenny in the sprint final just days later, French cycling sprinter Francois Pervis tweeted “shafted again”.

“I am sure they are clean but their kit…Everyone here says the same thing, their kit is not within the rules,” he added.

Majority of French think the British cheated

A poll in L’Equipe suggested the majority of French sports fans agreed. Asked if Britain’s success had been “tainted by cheating”, 70% responded positively.

Britain’s cycling performance director Dave Brailsford dismissed accusations his team had any unfair advantage, insisting the secret to their success was simply down to attention to detail.

Speaking to the BBC about the French gripes, Brailsford said “We always enjoy a bit of banter, especially from the French, but we just concentrate on what we do.”

Date created : 2012-08-09

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