A protest from French farmers brought stage 16 of the Tour de France to a complete halt and left many of the race’s top riders requiring medical attention.
Angry farmers tossed hay bales onto the course to delay proceedings before police used tear gas to try and gain control.
Wind blew the gas towards the riders, though, leaving stars like Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome feeling the pinch as a 15-minute stop was called.
When proceedings eventually re-started, Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates looked like winning the 218km stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres-du-Luchon, only to crash late, allowing Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) to claim stage victory.
Things remained as they were in the race for the yellow jersey, with Thomas holding a one minute and 39 second lead over teammate and four-time Tour winner Froome. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) remains a further 11 seconds adrift.
The top 10 in the general classification standings finished safely in the peloton ahead of a difficult stage that will feature more than two hours of climbs.
“My throat, nose and eyes were burning afterwards,” Froome said of the tear gas approach that went awry.
“Quite a lot of riders were in a similar situation so I think we were all grateful for the temporary neutralisation.”
Mitchelton-Scott sporting director Matt White hopes the protesting farmers are punished strongly.
“I’ve never seen a scene like that in my career. That was pretty full on,” he said.
“The protesters went a bit crazy … I think the police did a great job.
“Their priority was looking after the riders, not mad protesters.
“Those guys are crazy. Whatever message they were trying to produce, we as a bike community have nothing to do with it. Let’s hope they get punished accordingly.”
It was later reported that the farmers were unhappy with French labour laws.
All riders were bunched together at the time of the protest, about 29km into the stage, meaning there was no breakaway group allowed to race clear.
The incident occurred on the same day as Quick-Step Floors’ Philippe Gilbert was involved in a crash that looked incredibly serious.
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 24, 2018
The former world champion smashed into a wall and went flying over it, leaving viewers shocked and fearful of his safety, but, incredibly, the Quick-Step Floors rider got to this feet and continued on in the race.
As if the stage was not eventful enough, Yates, who was part of the day’s breakaway, was undone by late drama.
The British rider, who finished fourth at the 2016 Tour de France, was, at one stage, nearly 13 minutes in front of the peloton with a group of other riders.
That group eventually whittled down in size, though, and Yates seized the initiative in the latter stages, kicking 25 seconds clear of everyone else.
But after going up the final climb alone, Yates crashed with seven kilometres left, and although he got back to his feet, Alaphilippe flew past him.
Yates was also caught by Bahrain-Merida’s Gorka Izaguirre and Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema but managed to finish on the same time as the pair.
“When you come so close to winning a stage of the Tour, it’s pretty devastating, not just for me but for the team,” Yates said afterwards.
“We’ve been working for a while on trying to do something and when you come that close it’s disappointing.”
Stage 17 is raced from Bagneres-du-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan over just 65 kilometres, but will feature three difficult climbs.
Stage 16 results
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) 5 hrs 13 mins 22 secs
2. Gorka Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida) + 15 secs
3. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
4. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) same time
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) + 18 secs
6. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 37 secs
7. Michael Valgren (Astana) + 56 secs
8. Gregor Muhlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) same time
9. Marc Soler (Movistar) + 1 min 10 secs
10. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) + 1 min 18.secs
General classification standings
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 68 hrs 12 mins 01 secs
2. Chris Froome (Team Sky) + 1 min 39 secs
3. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) + 1 min 50 secs
4. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 2 mins 38 secs
5. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) + 3 mins 21 secs
6. Mikel Landa (Movistar) + 3 mins 42 secs
7. Steven Kruijswik (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 3 mins 57 secs
8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 4 mins 23 secs
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) + 6 mins 14 secs
10. Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) + 6 mins 54 secs