Tear gas used at Tour de France after farmers protest during Stage 16

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After a delay in proceedings thanks to a protest by farmers, the 16th stage of the Tour de France got underway on Tuesday.

Tear gas was used to break up the gathering as farmers demonstrated against a cut in state aid.

Team Sky’s overall leader Geraint Thomas was among the riders affected by the tear gas and was seen rubbing his nose following the incident.

A video footage that emerged after the sequence of events showed liquid being blown back into the advancing peloton after being sprayed by an officer from France’s national gendarmerie.

Geraint Thomas 1

Apparently, Tour de France medical officers did hand out eye drops to riders including green jersey points leader Peter Sagan.

The 218km stage which ends in Bagneres-de-Luchon restarted at 12:36 (10:36 GMT) after an interruption that lasted around 15 minutes.

“After a 15 minute-long interruption caused by protesters, the race is back on,” organisers said in a brief statement on leTour.fr.

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Dave Brailsford hits out at Tour de France spectators for hostility during race

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Team Sky team principal Dave Brailsford.

Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford took aim at Tour de France spectators who have jostled and spat at his riders this week, asking if they would rather have a race purely for French teams if they do not respect the world’s best cyclists.

It is nothing new for Sky to face hostility in France, but the atmosphere has been even darker this year in the wake of Chris Froome‘s salbutamol case, in which he was cleared of wrongdoing just days before the Tour began.

That verdict has not been accepted by many fans, not to mention significant elements of the French media, and contributed to scenes which saw Froome slapped and spat at on Alpe d’Huez, and doused with an unidentified liquid on Saturday’s stage to Mende.

Brailsford said he could not understand why the team only get this reaction in France, given Froome rode and won the Giro d’Italia in May while his case was still open.

“It just seems to be a French thing,” he said. “Like a French cultural thing. I’m not sure they’d have liked their football players being spat at in Russia (at the World Cup). I’m sure there would have been a word or two about that.

“But it’s OK to spit on us and on our staff… The Tour de France is promoted as the world’s greatest annual sporting event and, if you want the best international riders to come to your country, maybe treat them with a little more respect.

“If you don’t want them to come, you can maybe have the Tour de France for French teams – that might work – but if you want international teams to come then maybe treat them with the same respect that you’d want for your team.”

Sky have dominated the Tour in recent years, winning every edition since 2012 bar the 2014 race in which Froome crashed out on stage five.

The reaction they have received is not unique, and French fans have often turned against serial winners, whether it be Eddy Merckx or even their own Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

While incidents of actual violence – such as the fan that slapped Froome on Alpe d’Huez – are of concern, Brailsford said Sky had learned to tune out the boos.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop,” he said. “I’m not too optimistic on that front. We accept it and we have to make a decision about how to behave. We’re trying to remain dignified, we’re trying not to react and we’re trying not to get distracted by it.”

Sky’s bid to ‘remain dignified’ was not helped by one of their own over the weekend, when Italian rider Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for striking Frenchman Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Samsic just 800 metres into Sunday’s stage.

“I don’t know how people are going to react, but it’s not going to calm people down,” Brailsford said.

It is just the latest incident in a long line of disciplinary mis-steps from Moscon, who was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

Brailsford said he would consider if Moscon should face further punishment after the Tour, but, when asked directly, would not rule out terminating the 24-year-old’s contract.

“Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing,” Brailsford said. “He’s really disappointed. He’s let himself down, he’s let his team down and now he’s gone home.

“From a team point of view, I’m going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there.”

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Team Sky's Chris Froome happy to sacrifice fifth Tour de France title for Geraint Thomas

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Chris Froome insisted he would be willing to sacrifice his chances of a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title to help team-mate Geraint Thomas achieve victory.

Thomas and Froome sit first and second in the general classification heading into the final week of the Tour, with Thomas one minute and 39 seconds ahead of his team-mate.

Team Sky – and Thomas – had continually insisted that Froome was their team leader, but the tone has shifted in recent days and Froome on Monday said he would be happy to help Thomas if necessary.

“As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy,” Froome said.

Asked directly if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour crown to help Thomas, Froome simply said: “Yes.”

Froome had said before the Tour he was aiming to come good in the third week, following his efforts in winning the Giro d’Italia in May, but, asked if he had identified places where he might attack and make up time on Thomas, he dismissed the question.

Geraint Thomas

“All this talk of attacking or not attacking… we’re in an amazing position, we’re one and two,” he said. “It’s not up to us to be attacking. It’s for all the other riders in the peloton to make up time on us and dislodge us from the position we’re in.”

There are now only six days until the Tour reaches Paris, but Thomas said he was trying not to shift his mindset despite holding yellow.

“Obviously the closer you get, the more you want to stay on the podium, but I’m still not really thinking about it,” he said. “I’m thinking day by day. The dream was to be in with a shot of a podium and that’s still on the cards. I’m trying to keep the same mindset.”

Thomas and Froome may be in a strong position on the podium, but Team Sky were hurt on Sunday night when Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert early on stage 15 to Carcassonne.

“It’s disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do,” Thomas said. “What’s done is done. We just concentrate on the last week. We’ve still got a strong team. We’re a rider down but all the boys are riding well together.”

Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford is planning to review whether Moscon should face further punishment for his actions after the Tour, but refused to rule out terminating the contract of a rider who has a chequered disciplinary record.

Gianni Moscon

“Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing,” Brailsford said. “He’s really disappointed. He’s let himself down, he’s let his team down and now he’s gone home.

“From a team point of view, I’m going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there.”

Brailsford accepted Moscon’s actions were unlikely to help Team Sky as they continue to face ill-feeling from elements within the Tour crowd, with Froome having been jostled and spat at, while Thomas has heard boos on the podium when collecting his yellow jersey this week.

“I don’t know how people are going to react but it’s not going to calm people down,” he said.

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