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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Protests and tear gas overshadow Alaphilippe's Stage 16 victory at Tour de France

French rider took advantage of Yates' late crash to win his second stage, but a farmers' protest sparked a furious reaction from the race chief

Tour de France leader Great Britain's Geraint Thomas was one of the riders affected by the tear gas used by police in response to the protests. AFP
Tour de France leader Great Britain's Geraint Thomas was one of the riders affected by the tear gas used by police in response to the protests. AFP

Julian Alaphilippe claimed his second victory in this year's Tour de France on Tuesday as the Frenchman's descending skills made the difference on Stage 16 but it was a day marred by protests and a costly crash for Adam Yates.

Quick-Step Floors rider Alaphilippe, who won Stage 10, whizzed past Mitchelton–Scott's Yates six kilometres from the line after the Briton had hit the asphalt in a left-hand curve in the final descent.

Spain's Gorka Izagirre took second place and Yates finished third, 15 seconds behind.

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"It's pure happiness after a day of suffering," said Alaphilippe, who tightened his grip on the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.

"I knew the last kilometres of the stage. I'm sad for Yates who crashed but it could have happened to me. I took a lot of risks. It's bike racing."

Alaphilippe's triumph came after the stage was interrupted with 187km to go by a farmers' protest regarding the loss of rights for agricultural land in the Aude region. They blocked the road with bales of hay and around 50 sheep some 26km into the day's ride.

In their efforts to clear the protesters, officers from France's national gendarmerie used tear gas, which was blown into the faces of dozens of riders as they approached.

Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme lashed out at the protesters for risking the lives of the cyclists.

"A cyclist's job is dangerous as it is," Prudhomme said. "We shouldn't be adding extra dangers to their job. They take enough risks already. I insist. We have to let them pass unhindered."

Officials from the Aude Prefecture announced an investigation had been opened into the protest.

"In the face of the hostility from protestors who refused to clear the road, officers were obliged to push back the protestors in order to clear obstacles from the road," said a statement from the Aude Prefecture.

"The race organiser took the decision to neutralise the race for around 15 minutes after the peloton was affected by the tear gas that was still in the air as they passed through."

Race leader Geraint Thomas of Team Sky was one of several riders forced to clean his eyes and throat with water.

"Obviously it was unfortunate that whatever they used was still in the air when we came through," said Thomas. "I felt a tingle in the eyes, and in the back of my throat. I used some water to wash it out. But I was alright in the end."

Television images showed Tour de France medical officers handing out eye drops to riders including green jersey points leader Peter Sagan.

"It was like pepper spray that got it in your eyes and affected your breathing, not directly, but it was in the air," said Slovakian Sagan, of the Bora team. "But after 10 minutes, everything was OK."

This year's Tour de France has been marked by a series of incidents on the sidelines including abuse directed at Team Sky and Froome.

Amid a general feeling of suspicion surrounding Sky and their sheer domination of the race, Froome has been spat at and manhandled, Thomas has been booed off the podium and some of Sky's staff have also faced abuse.

Prudhomme, who has already called for rowdy fans to curtail their behaviour, added: "We don't block the road for the riders.

"From the first to the last, the French, the foreigners, the yellow jersey and the rest."

Thomas leads Sky teammate and defending champion Chris Froome by one minute, 39 seconds and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by 1:50 going into Wednesday's 17th stage, a brutal 65km trek from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan.