Quintana closes gap on Chris Froome

Chris Froome was seething with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali after the Italian launched a controversial attack on yesterday’s stage while the Tour de France leader was battling with a mechanical problem.

Colombia's Nairo Quintana. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Nibali (Astana) was determined to rescue some consolation from his title defence ending poorly and surged to victory on the 138-kilometre 19th stage.

Froome felt Nibali’s initial acceleration was exploiting his mechanical issue.

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The history between Froome and Nibali – the pair had a heated discussion on the Astana team bus after stage six to Le Havre as the Italian erroneously felt Froome was culpable for a crash – darkened as the pair had a finish-line exchange.

“I told him exactly what I thought of him,” Froome said. “I felt very specifically the moment he attacked in the mountains today it was almost as if my mechanical provoked his attack.

“A piece of asphalt or small stone got stuck between my brake calipers and my rear wheel. The rear wheel just jammed up. I had to stop and get it out before I could continue.

“I’ve heard from other riders that he turned, could see I had a mechanical and then attacked. In my opinion it’s very unsportsmanlike, it’s not in the spirit of the Tour de France and it’s definitely not what this race is about.”

Froome felt the danger was not Nibali, who was more than eight minutes adrift at the start of the day, but those riders whose positions he was threatening. Nibali moved up from seventh to fourth overall as a result of the win.

“I won’t even tell you the words Froome said to me at the finish. They’re too harsh to repeat,” Nibali said.

Froome was not aware of the television footage which appeared to show a roadside spectator spitting on him. He has been subject to innuendo, abuse and interrogation in this Tour and was doused in urine during stage 14 to Mende. The 2013 champion, who was the target of a rude gesture from another fan as he chased back to the bunch following his mechanical, added: “That’s appalling behaviour.

“You can’t come to a bike race to spit at someone, or to punch them or to throw urine at them. That’s not acceptable at any level.”

Today’s stage to Alpe-d’Huez is where the Tour will be won and often has an atmosphere which ranges from joyous to over-zealous and hostile after days of waiting. “Every rider is a little bit on edge about what is going to happen up on that climb,” Froome said. “Hopefully it won’t be too different to last time (in 2013), it’s a great atmosphere up on the climb and the race isn’t going to be 
affected in any way.”

Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Froome two years ago, vowed to go for glory after cutting Froome’s lead yesterday. “I’ll try again tomorrow from further out. Let’s see how strong he is then,” Quintana said.