After being booed off the podium on Thursday and with teammate Chris Froome spat at on Stage 13, Tour de France leader Geraint Thomas hit back at the doubters on Friday by claiming Team Sky are racing “100 per cent” clean.
Thomas, the former Olympic champion in track cycling, was dramatically booed off the podium after claiming his second successive stage win in the high Alps to reinforce his overall lead on Thursday.
It was a lead he retained on Friday as the race returned to a sprint finish, with Slovakia’s Peter Sagan edging UAE Team Emirates’ rider Alexander Kristoff to claim victory – his third stage win of the 2018 Tour.
It was a bittersweet day for Welshman Thomas and Team Sky who saw their team leader and four-time champion Chris Froome spat at and pushed heavily by one of the many over-enthusiastic fans who line the 13.8km route to the summit.
Team Sky’s dominance of the race has caused the doubters to compare their performances to those of US Postal, the team once led by drugs cheat Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong, who won the Tour a record seven times, saw all his cycling results erased when he finally admitted he had taken performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.
But Thomas, who has a real chance of upstaging Froome to win the yellow jersey if the Kenya-born champion fails to step up in the crucial third week, said the doubters are wrong.
“I 100 per cent believe in myself and the team, that we do everything in the right way, along with the majority of the peloton as well,” said Thomas.
“I can’t say 100 per cent for the peloton, but 99 per cent I’m sure that everyone’s doing it the right way, working hard.
“I think it’s great for the sport. You look at all the anti-doping and all the tests and that type of stuff, and then you look at other sports.
“Cycling’s leading the way by a million miles, so I have every confidence in the sport at the moment.”
At the end of the mainly flat 13th stage, Thomas looked sheepish as he stepped on to the podium to be presented with the yellow jersey.
In comparison to Thursday, there were practically no boos or whistling, incidents that were condemned earlier by race director Christian Prudhomme.
“All I can do is renew calls for calm, for good sense and for serenity with regard to the riders on the Tour de France,” Prudhomme said.
“Don’t whistle and, obviously, don’t touch the riders. Even if it’s just an over-friendly backslap.”
Thomas, who takes a 1min 39sec lead over Froome into Saturday’s undulating stage to Mende, said he is prepared for the flak.
“Obviously, you’d prefer everyone to cheer you, but I can’t affect that,” he said.
“I’d rather be on the podium getting booed than sat on the bus and being cheered.”
The Bora-Hansgrohe team sprint specialist had managed to survive the Alpine stages that that proved to be the end of the race for rivals Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen.
Sagan stayed in the hunt from from Bourg d’Oisans to Valence and, having already won two stages on this edition so far, he was quick to capitalise.
It wasn’t easy for though as the Slovakian rider was given extra work to do after Belgian upstart Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) brazenly attacked a leading peloton full of ambitious sprinters 930 metres from the line.
Sagan and his rivals were unperturbed however. They kept at it while Gilbert was caught with 245m remaining.
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 20, 2018
Arnaud Demare’s FDJ team chased down a tame four-man breakaway in the last few kilometres of the race. But Demare came up short.
The Frenchman launched his burst first, but as UAE Team Emirates’ European champion Alexander Kristoff and world champion Sagan came up on his side, he ran out of gas.
Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas of Great Britain, who came out victorious on two of the Alps stages, remained in the leader’s yellow jersey.
Thomas was 1min 39secs ahead of his Sky teammate Chris Froome, while Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb was third overall at 1:50.
The 14th stage on Saturday is far more difficult and is a 188km run from St-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Mende.
UAE Team Emirates’ fine form at the 2018 Tour de France continued as Alexander Kristoff did the team jersey proud with a powerful sprint into the wind that earned him a respectable second-place finish in Valence on Stage 13.
It was a day for the sprinters – who had survived the Alps – to demonstrate their power, and a day for the GC contenders to stay safe and minimise any time loss.
UAE Team Emirates set off among a depleted peloton of 154 riders, taking on a flat 169.5km route from Bourg d’Oisans.
The race unfolded as expected with a breakaway forming after 22km and being allowed to stretch its lead to 2:20” before gradually being reeled in.
Leading the chase were UAE Team Emirates who controlled the peloton by taking on over 35 per cent of the workload from the 70km-90km mark.
Kristoff used the team’s efforts to snatch 11 more green jersey points as he contested the intermediate sprint at Saint Quentin Sur Isere, winning the battle, but crossing the line fifth behind the four man breakaway.
The European champion continued to fight until the end, ensuring he was in good position to challenge for the stage win near to the finish line. With 5.6kms to go the final breakaway rider was absorbed into the peloton, the pace increased and the sprint trains began to form.
The Norwegian saw the moves ahead and sprang into action, bullying his way to the front of the pack. With 200m to go he illuminated the race by forcing a three-way sprint with Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Kristoff timed his attack well, but narrowly missed out on first place by a matter of inches after world champion Sagan came round him to cross the line first in 3:45:55.
Kristoff said: “I had a good finish, but unfortunately it was not enough. I tried to keep Sagan behind me, but he’s an unbelievable guy. He’s beaten me like this before and did it again today so I am of course disappointed.
“I timed my attack perfectly and kept my pace until the finish line, but he [Sagan] was just faster.”
Team leader Dan Martin, meanwhile, crossed the line safely with no time loss and has now moved up from 10th to ninth place in the overall standings.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s stage, Martin said: “After two weeks of racing, tomorrow will be hard, but we’re going to give it a go. It’s always really hot in that area, which suits me as well.
“That said, I don’t think the GC guys will be racing for the stage win tomorrow. I think it’ll be one for the breakaway.”
Stage 14 sees the peloton ride from Saint Paul Trois Chateaux to Mende – a 188km hilly route that features four categorised climbs. The final 3km climb leads up to the finish and averages 10 per cent, which will be a punishing finale for the puncheurs looking to take stage glory.