Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has defended himself from insinuations by André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) that he had accepted a tow to finish inside the time limit on stage 17 of the Tour de France, the short but viciously tough Pyrenean leg to the Col du Portet.
Speaking on Thursday Démare said that he had been "hurt" by Greipel's accusation. Although the German deleted his tweet and later apologised, Démare told reporters in Trie-sur-Baïse that it had come too late.
"Unfortunately, his apology doesn't do a whole lot because the damage is done," Démare said ahead of stage 18. "It's opened a door for people to doubt. Now people will think what they want. But there are more commissaires this year, there is the video commissaire this year as well, which means they are omnipresent."
Démare was distanced on the lower ramps of Wednesday's first climb, the Col du Peyresourde, and spent the rest of the 65km leg alone at the back of the race. He reached the finish in 145th and penultimate place on the stage, 29:16 down on winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar), but six minutes inside the time limit.
Shortly after the stage, Greipel – who was one of many sprinters to leave the Tour in the Alps after it was clear he would fail to finish inside time limit – published a Twitter post which cast a sceptical eye over Démare's feat of survival. "Maybe someone should tell @GroupamaFDJ and @ArnaudDemare that there is GPS tracking in @LeTour. Chapeau to lose just 9min on a 17km climb on Quintana #notforthefirsttime," wrote Greipel.
Démare's 2016 victory at Milan-San Remo was followed by accusations that he had held onto a team car after getting caught up in a crash at the base of the Cipressa. Both Démare and his team forcefully denied that allegation, and on Wednesday evening, he responded to Greipel via Twitter.
"Glad to know you don't respect me as much as I respect you. I thought you were smarter. There are jury members everywhere at all times. I'm sending you my files. Given that you are an expert, let's see what you think about it," Démare wrote.
Shortly afterwards, Greipel deleted his initial tweet and posted a message of apology. "My apology go out to @ArnaudDemare and @GroupamaFDJ as I have had not the right to make that tweet based on GPS time, which can be wrong, plus I got the incorrect times he lost on the last hill. I'm sorry. Lesson learned: don't tweet about sth you are not part of," Greipel wrote.
"Obviously, it hurt me enormously, and everybody close to me and the team. It hurt me," Démare said on Thursday.
"The best response would be to win today. I worked a lot even though I'm not a good climber, I've worked in the mountains. I knew before the Tour that there would be difficult stages in the mountains. I've fought, I've given everything.
"I can't follow the best in the mountains, that's for sure, but I can go at my own rhythm. I know how to manage myself, I know my limits. I know not to go into the red. I know how to calculate the stages and how to manage my efforts."
Sprint finish in Pau?
Démare is one of the few recognised sprinters left in the Tour after the race's brutal passage through the Alps saw Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish finish outside the time limit, and Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen and Greipel all abandon the race.
The Frenchman placed third behind Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff in Valence on stage 13 and is among the favourites to win in Pau on Thursday afternoon. It remains to be seen, however, if Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team will look to control the peloton given that the green jersey crashed heavily on Wednesday.
"It will be a stage with a lot of attacks because it's the last chance for the bardoudeurs to win a stage," Démare said. "Tomorrow will be complicated for the non-climbers, so it will be very animated."