Tour chaos: Stage 16 halted as riders sprayed in eyes

Riders with Britain's Geraint Thomas

Riders with Britain's Geraint Thomas

Briton Geraint Thomas retained the overall leader's yellow jersey after he and Team Sky mate Chris Froome were booed by the crowd before the start.

Team Sky's Thomas was seen wiping his eyes while Sagan used his water bottles to wash his eyes.

Gendarmes detain a protester during the 16th stage of the 105th Tour de France cycling race, between Carcassonne and Bagneres-de-Luchon, southwestern France, on July 24, 2018.

"I had just moved from America to Europe, from the junior to the elite category, from mountain to road racing", Bernal recalled.

The 32-year-old Welshman retained a lead of 1min 39secs over his Team Sky teammate Chris Froome after finishing in the pack, following a day where the race was halted for 15 minutes after farmers protesting at French labour laws were blasted by TW1000 pepper spray by police, which ended up drifting into the riders' eyes.

"I've said it before, but it's the first time I've raced for three weeks, as a GC (general classification) leader so it's a bit of an unknown", said Thomas, after he and Froome trailed home over 18 minutes behind Spanish stage victor Omar Fraile in Mende. The breakaway of the day was formed early on the day by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Dimitri Claeys (Cofidis), Michael Schär (BMC) and Tom Scully (EF Education First).

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The race was stopped for more than 20 minutes while the situation was brought under control, with race director Christian Prudhomme working to ensure the safety of the riders. "You need huge mental strength, but I think I can cope". "We've got to figure out something to resolve it". "The riders' job is extremely unsafe, they are taking risks every day, people should not block the road, no matter what causes they are fighting for". 'If you don't want them to come, you can maybe have the Tour de France for French teams.

"For me this is the highlight of my career, it's a massive honour and privilege to be wearing the jersey and have such an incredible race so far", he said.

According to French media, the small group of farmers from the local Ariege department made the intervention to protest the reduction of European Union funding.

"I don't know how people are going to react, but it's not going to calm people down", Brailsford said. The Dutchman, victor of the Giro in 2017 and second to Froome in this year's race, has spoken openly of trying to take advantage of Sky's situation, knowing the leading pair are not keen to attack one another.

Froome raced all season under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

Tuesday's protest was the latest incident in what has been an eventful Tour de France, as fans have expressed outrage about Froome's participation.

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