A tumultuous day at the Tour de France for Fabio Aru (Astana) saw the Italian move into second overall after finishing in the same time as Chris Froome (Team Sky). But as soon as Aru crossed the line, he found himself in the centre of a minor media storm over his attacking as Froome was looking for a spare bike.
Aru's attack ground to a halt almost immediately afterwards as the peloton of favourites, headed by Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team), insisted that everybody sit up and wait for Froome.
But given the circumstances, it's fair to say the move was ill-timed. And it produced a series of questions post-stage to Aru that veered away from his strong, consistent performance on the Tour's toughest mountain stage. Instead the questions had rather more to do with whether he had failed to behave in a sporting manner when Froome attacked.
The minor controversy had certain parallels with the situation that arose when Aru's former teammate Vincenzo Nibali attacked Froome during the 2015 Tour, coincidentally when Froome had had a mechanical with his back wheel.
Nibali won that day's stage, to La Toussuire, and he subsequently insisted he had not seen Froome having any bike issues at the exact moment when he made his move. Aru was equally adamant that was the case on Sunday.
"I didn't know Froome had had a mechanical. When I found out, I stopped," Aru told Italian television afterward.
Froome himself has said he did not see Aru blasting out of the pack either. The Italian seemed to duck under the Tour leader's arm before attacking up the same side of the road as the Briton, but the Sky leader told journalists afterwards he had been too busy looking for a replacement bike to pay attention to what Aru was doing.
He also said that there was nothing of consequence, either, concerning a later incident on the same climb when he seemingly converged on Aru on the side of the road. That was, Froome said, due to his losing control of his own bike, more than anything more ill-intentioned.
Speaking to reporters, Aru added, "I didn't see anything because it all happened just as I was going to attack. I always wanted to try for a win a long way out. I didn't see that he'd had a mechanical. I hadn't opened up a big gap. I wanted to attack right at that point, six kilometres from the summit. I didn't see anything. When we heard over the radio that Froome had a problem, I stopped."
He corroborated Froome's assertion that the supposed incident later on when the two riders converged on one side of the road had simply happened because Froome had, as the Briton said, been on the point of falling off having lost control of his bike. "It wasn't in any way voluntary," Aru insisted.
He added he had not discussed the issue with Froome when the Briton, Aru and Fuglsang formed a temporary alliance to chase down Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) later on in the stage. "We didn't talk about what had happened before, there wasn't any need, I'd stopped," he insisted.
Overall, Aru concluded, "It was a very hard stage, just as well there wasn't too much rain because the descents were very slippery and would have been even more dangerous. I tried to stay in front, but I was right there when Thomas fell, too."
Having won on La Planche des Belles Filles and then finished strongly on Sunday's crucial stage, Aru said he was encouraged by his performance, which leaves him in second place at 18 seconds. "But there's a long way to go," he warned, "we've only just got to the rest day, let's see tomorrow."
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