Moments after cracking on the Col du Portet and slipping out of second place in the Tour, Froome’s afternoon got worse when, wearing a grey rain jacket over his jersey, he was mistaken for a fan trying to ride down the race route as he headed for the Team Sky bus.
“I was the first rider to come down the descent and one of the gendarmes grabbed my arm as I was passing,” Froome said. “Obviously he thought I was a spectator going down the race route or something so he grabbed me. I was going at some speed so I came off but it was just a misunderstanding.”
Froome has been jostled and spat at by fans on the Tour so far, and admitted he did not immediately realise what was going on when the officer grabbed him.
“Initially I thought ‘what’s this?’. I just felt my handlebars go as I was passing. I didn’t know what it was then but as soon as I stood up I understood.
“The biggest factor was that I was the first rider down. It wasn’t as if I was picked out of a group of riders and singled out, it was just a misunderstanding. I was wearing a big rain jacket and probably didn’t look like I was a rider.”
Videos of the incident appeared to show Froome swear at the police officer, a reaction Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford said was understandable.
“I think if somebody pulls you off the bike unexpectedly, the shock of that, if you think you’re being attacked, every fair-minded person would agree your first reaction to that is going to be emotional,” he said.
Though Froome’s incident attracted more attention on social media, it was arguably less significant than the sight of a spectator attempting to grab his team-mate Geraint Thomas in the final few hundred metres of the stage. Thomas had raced clear of Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic and was on his way to extending his lead in the yellow jersey when the incident happened.
“I could have quite easily fallen or whatever, lost a bit of time or certainly not gained the time that I did,” Thomas said. “I definitely felt it. It didn’t feel like a grab. Obviously I was going quite fast past him but it certainly moved me off my line. It was a bit of a shock but luckily I was OK.
“At the time I didn’t know what it was,” added Thomas. “I thought it might just have been an accident but then I saw some of the pictures. Obviously it’s not good and I won’t be riding quite so close to the barriers.”
Like Froome, Thomas said he did not believe his incident was specifically related to Team Sky, who have faced ill-feeling from elements of the crowd throughout the Tour.
“Apparently he was doing the same to Quintana,” Thomas said, referring to stage winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar. “I think it was just too much to drink, a bit of an idiot.”
Brailsford said Thomas’s clash was more concerning than Froome’s.
“They are two very different things,” he said. “The intention of the policeman was to do his job. He didn’t know it was Chris when he was going down I don’t think.
“He was just trying to do his job so I’ve got no issue with that. The issue with Geraint, when somebody tries to grab his arm, that’s unacceptable.
“I can’t imagine any fair-minded person, regardless of nationality, can watch that and think it has a place in sport. But we’ve been saying that for three weeks now.”