The 16th stage of the 2018 Tour de France was briefly halted today after protesting farmers interrupted the race.
The farmers have been protesting against a cut in aid from the state and organized the protest demanding to be seen by France’s Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Travert. They blocked the roads with hay bales approximately 16 miles (26 kilometers) into the 135-mile Stage 16, which featured two first-category climbs at the Pyrenees.
A police source said the race was stopped because organizers wanted to gas the farmers in order to disperse the protest. But instead, the pepper spray, or tear gas, inadvertently got into the eyes of several riders, forcing treatment from medical staff. According to Agence France Presse, video evidence “appeared to show liquid being blown back into the advancing peloton after being sprayed by an officer from France’s national gendarmerie against a protestor.”
Among the riders who were injured were overall tour leader Geraint Thomas and four-time Tour de France defending champion Chris Froome. Thomas was seen rubbing his nose after the incident, while Froome was seen trying to clear his eyes. Green jersey points leader Peter Sagan was also seen on TV being given medical drops following the episode. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries reported, and the race was re-started at 12:36 pm (10:36 GMT) after a delay of around 15 minutes.
This was not the first time that the race has been marred by protest, although this one had nothing to do with the Tour de France, really. Last week, though, Team Sky riders were targeted by hazardous smoke flares set off in the crowds. Froome, in particular, has repeatedly been booed on the road and on the podium, pushed by a fan, and spat at by road-side spectators. 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali was thrown off his bike by fans who encroached the road. Nibali was forced to withdraw from the race with a fractured vertebra.
The hostility towards Froome stems from his controversial doping violation at last year’s Vuelta a España, where he was found to have excessive levels of salbutamol, an asthma drug, in his system. Froome insisted his innocence, and after a nine-month investigation, cycling’s governing body, the ICU, dropped the case upon the advice from the World Anti Doping Agency just before the race started, allowing Froome to seek a fifth Tour de France title.
Thomas Retains Lead
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe eventually won Stage 16 with a time of 5 hours, 13 minutes, and 22 seconds. Gorka Izagirre finished second, while Adam Yates came in at third. Yates, fresh from signing a new contract with Mitchelton-Scott yesterday, made his charge on the climb to Col du Portillon and led the stage by around 30 seconds with one kilometer of climbing left.
But with the roads a little damp after a short downpour earlier in the day, the British rider’s wheels slipped from under him, and he crashed on the final descent. Yates never recovered his bearings, and Alaphilippe took advantage to win his second stage in the current 2018 Tour de France.
Geraint Thomas of Team Sky kept the overall lead after the 218-kilometer stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon. Thomas entered the stage with a lead of 1 minute and 39 seconds and completed the stage with the same advantage over teammate and defending champion Chris Froome.
Thomas has worn the yellow jersey since winning Stage 11 at La Rosiere in the Alps by 20 seconds, while much of Froome’s 1:39 deficit was a result of his Stage 1 crash where he landed on grass but came away unhurt.
As the Tour enters its third and final week, Thomas stands as the biggest obstacle to Froome’s dreams of capturing a fifth Tour de France. Thomas has often referred to Froome as “the man” in the past, while the latter has made statements that it would be a good result if either of them win the tour and that their current standing is a “dream situation.”
One-Two Finish By Team Sky?
The rider with the biggest chance of derailing Team Sky’s one-two punch would be Tom Dumoulin. The Sunweb rider is currently just 11 seconds behind Froome and has mounted several challenges against Thomas and Froome, including an unforgettable duel at the Alpe d’Huez. Dumoulin is the reigning time trial champion and the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner.
Meanwhile, Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic, a former ski jumper who won the Junior World Ski Jumping champion in 2007, is still considered a threat at 4th place, 2:38 behind Thomas. The rest of the riders in the top 10 are now considered longshots to win the race unless they and Dumoulin’s Skyweb and Roglic’s LottoNL can somehow gang up on Team Sky, which is rather unlikely.
But Saturday’s 19-mile individual time trial is so short that Dumoulin, Roglic, and the rest of the pack would have to make up for quite a lot of time in the upcoming stages at the Pyrenees if they are to challenge Team Sky’s one-two finish because both Thomas and Froome are known to be strong in the time trials.
Wednesday’s Stage 17 is short at just 40 miles, and it ends in one of the toughest climbs in the race, and the guess is that stage is going to make the difference in the final classification. Thursday’s stage also features two “uncategorizable” climbs before a downhill finish, and that could probably be just as crucial, too.