MENDE, France (AFP) - Race leader Chris Froome was doused with urine by a spectator as a fresh scandal engulfed the Tour de France on Saturday.
The incident overshadowed what had been a historic first victory for Stephen Cummings and his South African MTN-Qhubeka team on Nelson Mandela Day.
Froome hit out at certain media for “irresponsible reporting” of his and his Sky team’s success on the Tour so far, blaming them for setting the “tone” that led to Saturday’s attack.
Speaking after the 178.5km 14th stage from Rodez to Mende, Froome pulled no punches.
“A spectator about 50-60km into the race threw a cup of urine over me, shouting ‘dope’ (doped),” said Froome.
“It’s unacceptable on so many levels. We’re professionals, we work really hard for what we do and for someone to come and do that, it’s not what we’re here for.”
He then pointed the finger, although without naming names.
“I certainly don’t blame the public for this, it’s certainly a minority of people out there ruining it for everybody else,” he said.
“I would blame some of the reporting on the race, it’s very irresponsible. Those individuals know who they are.”
Froome, who has not only been accused of doping but also of using a motorised bicycle, added: “It’s not riders bringing the sport into disrepute, it’s individuals and they know who they are.”
The incident happened after Froome’s teammate Richie Porte revealed earlier in the day that he had been punched on Tuesday’s Pyrenean stage, when his team leader won.
“I was (punched) in the last 3km. I got a full-on punch,” Porte told the Telegraph Cycling Podcast.
“It was the same atmosphere on Alpe d’Huez two years ago.” He added: “It’s a disgrace how some of these people carry on.”
Despite the attack, Froome tightened his grip on the race leader’s yellow jersey.
On a steep 3km climb at an average gradient of 10.1 per cent that peaked just over 1.5km from the finish, several riders attacked Froome, starting with Nairo Quintana.
But the 2013 champion proved equal to them all and by the finish had even gained time on his rivals.
He was the only one able to follow Quintana’s initial acceleration and even snatched a second from the Colombian in a sprint to the line, albeit for 20th place.
Quintana moved up to second overall at 3min 10sec as American Tejay Van Garderen lost 40sec and dropped to third at 3min 32sec.
Alejandro Valverde is now fourth at 4min 02sec having given up just 4sec, Alberto Contador is up a place to fifth at 4min 23sec but lost 19sec and Nibali climbed a place to eigth but is 8min 17sec back after dropping 30sec.
SPECIAL MANDELA HELMETS
Up front, Briton Cummings out-thought a pair of Frenchmen to give his debutant Qhubeka team victory on the international day to honour the life of Mandela.
As Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot played cat-and-mouse after cresting the brutal final climb, Cummings showed no mercy and scorched past the pair to take victory.
“I’ve been trying for a long time to do this, it’s always been a dream,” said Cummings, 34.
“We had a special meeting this morning and we had special helmets on because it’s Mandela day, it was a big motivation.”
Froome, who was born in Kenya and grew up in South Africa, was delighted for Cummings and Qhubeka, who this year became the first African team to take part in the race.
“Happy Mandela Day, it’s a great victory for Africa today and a great victory for Britain with Stephen Cummings,” he said.
“Congratulations to MTN, it’s a massive victory for a wildcard team and they fully deserve it.”
In the fight for victory, Cummings hid at the back of a 20-man breakaway throughout the day, keeping well hydrated and taking few turns at the front.
“I just time-trialed the last climb, I didn’t think about the victory, I just did it as well as I can,” said Cummings.
“I guess I just paced my effort better than everyone else.”
Bardet had stormed clear on the climb before being caught by Pinot.
But then the two started looking at each other rather than racing to the finish, giving Cummings his opportunity to come back at them and strike.