Tour de France riders sprayed with tear gas

In the spotlight Geraint Thomas is the man to beat going into the final week of the Tour de France

Attitudes toward Sky soured when Froome was involved in an asthma drug case stemming from last year's Spanish Vuelta-even though he was cleared of wrongdoing just days before the Tour started.

Froome sits second in the general classification, 1 minute, 39 seconds behind Sky teammate Geraint Thomas.

One of the downsides of shorter mountain stages is that muscular sprinters have a tough time keeping up with the leaner climbers.

Thomas, Froome, and the rest of the overall contenders slowly rolled across the finish line at Carcassonne and its medieval city walls 13 minutes after stage victor Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark.

"It's not a nice situation, and obviously we would prefer everyone to love us, but I'm not sure it's anything we've done, or especially that I've done, to deserve it", he said.

Like most teams, Sky have previewed the routes of all three Pyreneean stages, as well as the penultimate-stage time trial from Saint-Pee-Sur-Nivelle to Espelette.

Chris Froome is prepared to sacrifice his own quest for another Tour de France title to help guide Geraint Thomas to the top step of the podium in Paris.

And with a downhill finish, it is likely to entice the dozens of riders who have yet to join a breakaway, let alone win a stage.

The stage went through Virille, once home to 1990 Tour King of the Mountains Thierry Claveyrolat, who committed suicide in 1999. Thomas was Sky's back-up plan, and his victory in the Criterium du Dauphine suggested he was a strong one.

Culture clash Brailsford faces the media yesterday
Culture clash Brailsford faces the media yesterday

The next day, however, all hell could break loose.

The sport paid for that unlimited access Thursday when unruly spectators interrupted the most iconic climb of the Tour de France. To spice things up, as the stage begins with a climb, organisers have decided that the riders will line up at the start in a grid formation based on the overall standings.

"If people ask if I want to win the Tour (one day), one thing is to say it and quite another thing is to do it", Bernal said. "It's not up to us to be attacking". It's a big, big day.

"It finishes at high altitude".

While still clouded by the Salbutamol controversy, Froome raced the three-week contest - from Jerusalem to Rome - and, thanks to a stunning couple of rides in the mountainous final week, he scored the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey. Survive that, and the riders then face three-quarters of the "Circle of Death" on Friday when they tackle the Aspin, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque on a brutal stage to Laruns.

Alaphilippe took the lead when Adam Yates crashed on a technical descent in the finale.

"But it's going to be a war out there".

But given their current advantage, that would not be ideal for Sky.

"We have a plan for the first Pyrenees stage, then for the next".

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