France has been driven 'mad' by British cycling success, says David Cameron


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The Independent Online

France has been driven so “mad” by British cycling success that they are resorting to questioning the team's honesty, David Cameron said today.

The Prime Minister said the French had found the sight of the Champs Elysee covered in Union Jacks to greet Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France victory "a bit hard to take".

And with riders and coaches raising questions about the legality of Team GB's bikes, he said one French media outlet he was interviewed by "virtually accused us of cheating".

Just over a week ago, Mr Cameron was forced to suffer a ribbing by French president Francois Hollande about the relative performances of their two countries at that point.

Mr Hollande jokingly thanked Britain for "rolling out the red carpet" for French athletes to win medals - after joining the PM to watch his country play handball.

But the tables have been dramatically turned since then, with France now having only eight gold medals so far to Great Britain's 22 - and 20 fewer of all colours.

The velodrome has proved a particular cauldron for cross-channel rivalry, British domination of the podium sparking irate suggestions of foul play.

But Mr Cameron, in an interview with Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2, suggested their frustration was a sign of just how well the British system was working.

"We've got a system that seems to be delivering. It's driving the French mad," he said.

"I did an interview with French television yesterday and they virtually accused us of cheating. I think they found the Union Jacks on the Champs Elysee a bit hard to take.

"We have got a great system so let's build on that and then when we go to Rio in 2016 we can have a good experience."

The premier also picked Mo Farah's victory in the 10,000 metres as his stand-out moment from the Games so far.

Mr Cameron, who was in the stadium on "Super Saturday" when Team GB won three gold medals in track and field, said: "When I think of the most moving moment for me on that Saturday night, there he was, this sort of slightly lonely figure with the team of Ethiopians and the team of Kenyans chasing him down and trying to stretch him out by having these short bursts of pace and he just kept plugging away and that last lap was just unbelievably emotional and exciting."

Mr Hollande's "red carpet" comments were a pointed retort to Mr Cameron's pledge to do the same for French businessmen fleeing a proposed 75% top rate of income tax.

Relations between the pair have been strained since the Prime Minister declined to meet the then Socialist Party hopeful during a campaign trip to the UK ahead of May's election.

Attempts to paint that as matter of protocol and not a snub were somewhat undermined by Mr Cameron's subsequent meeting with Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

And it was Labour leader Ed Miliband who was not only first British politician invited to the Elysee Palace for talks with the new president but was granted a rare public handshake.

Last week, with Great Britain still languishing in the medal table, Mr Hollande also joked that British sports fans could be heartened by seeing their medals as part of the European tally.

"We will put the French medals in the European bag, and that way the Britons can be happy to be Europeans," he said.

British cycling chiefs have laughed off French claims that "magic wheels" - with secret technology hidden inside them - may have been the secret to the team's phenomenal success in the track cycling events, where its riders walked away with seven golds from the 10 events.

And they also pointed out that the wheels in question were made in France.

Earlier in the competition, there was another controversy when Philip Hindes admitted to deliberately crashing to earn a restart of the team sprint, in which Great Britain went on to beat France to the gold medal.

Despite complaints, the authorities judged that no rules had been broken.

Mr Cameron said the main lesson so far from the Games in terms of future success was "keep doing what we are doing, the way that elite sport has been organised and the way we back our Olympians".

"I have met a lot of the people involved in that. They are brilliant," he said.

It was also essential to find some way of "bottling this volunteering", he said, outlining efforts to get the half a million people giving up their time as Games Makers and in other roles to continue their efforts with local sports clubs and other organisations.

Mr Cameron strongly rejected suggestions of cheating in the interview he referred to with France 2 television which was dominated by the spat over the cycling.

"Of course there is no cheating," he said when asked directly if he could guarantee that was not the case.

"There are the most strict anti-doping tests, in these Olympics, that there have ever been. There are very strict rules about equipment. "

Such accusations were unfair on the athletes, he said.

"They work hard, they train hard, they are very talented and they are winners. I think it is very unfair, just because athletes win, to somehow then have suspicions. The first reaction should be to say well done, to say congratulations.

"They have proved again and again in Beijing, in world championships, and now in London that these are some of the best cyclists in the world.

"I think there is nothing strange about this. They are just very hard working, very good, very talented.

He added: "I know it is difficult, France being such a great cycling nation, but we have done very well.

"If France did well in the cycling I would say well done and I am sure French people will feel the same."

Asked if there was a "secret" element, he quipped back: "The French should know the secret because you make the wheels of our bicycles."

Mr Cameron said France had to show it was a "great sporting nation" that would welcome the world to Paris if it was to become a future Olympic host.

Several French cities, including Paris which lost out to London for 2012, are understood to be considering a bid for the 2024 Olympics - the 100th anniversary of the last time the summer Games were held in France.

"I think these bids are very difficult to win. They are extremely competitive.

"I am a huge fan of Paris: it is a fantastic city. France is a great sporting nation, there are many sports that you excel at. Also, French people are enormous sports fans.

"I think what you have to do is communicate your enthusiasm for sport, for welcoming people, for the legacy you are going to create. The more you do that, the more chances that you have."