WATCH - Chris Froome dismisses suggestions that he rode into Fabio Aru deliberately
Chris Froome has rejected suggestions he deliberately rode into Fabio Aru after the Italian attacked him when he suffered a mechanical problem during Sunday's hectic stage of the Tour de France.
Aru launched an attack on the Mont du Chat, the final climb of a brutal day, just as Froome was signalling his team car for a bike change. Attacking the race leader at such a moment goes firmly against cycling protocol, and the rest of Froome's rivals set off after the Astana rider to tell him to wait.
But after Froome caught back up, the three-time Tour winner appeared to ride into Aru as they went around a corner.
Froome insisted it was accidental, pointing out anything else would have put his yellow jersey - and his entire Tour - at risk.
"Once I got back to the group I think the very next hairpin we went round I lost my balance a little bit and swerved to the right," Froome said.
"Aru happened to be on my right and he had to swerve as well. That was a genuine mistake and I think Fabio Aru was the first to recognise that.
"I apologised straight away on the road as soon as it happened.
"Any suggestion that it was on purpose is just crazy - first of all it's not anything I would ever do, and I was already on my spare bike, so to risk putting my derailleur into Aru's front wheel - it's just crazy. I wouldn't risk that at all."
Aru, who was immediately behind Froome when he signalled for help, claimed after Sunday's stage he did not realise the Team Sky man had a problem.
The stage extracted a heavy price from the peloton, with Froome's team-mate Geraint Thomas and his friend and rival Richie Porte of BMC among four riders to crash out of the race, while several others shipped time and 10 were eliminated having missed the time cut.
Froome finished third on the stage, picking up the final bonus seconds to extend his lead in yellow to 18 seconds over Aru, who came over the line fifth.
Thomas had begun the day second in the general classification, having led the race for four days following the opening time trial in Dusseldorf, but headed home on Sunday night with a broken collarbone after a fall midway through the stage.
"It's a massive blow to the team," Froome said of the Welshman's exit.
"Not only was Geraint sitting second on GC going into the rest day, but he's also a key helper for me in the mountains when the race is really on.
"We're definitely going to miss him in the next half of the race, but obviously first and foremost we're all just thinking of G and hoping he heals up quick."
Thomas said he expected to have surgery later this week before setting a target date for a return.
"I'm going to see a specialist tomorrow and get an operation later this week," he said. "I'll have a week off and then get on the turbo trainer but I'm in no massive rush to get back. We'll decide what the program will be in a week's time after the dust has settled."
After Monday's rest day, the Tour will resume with Tuesday's stage from Perigeuex to Bergerac, the first of two relatively flat stages before the peloton heads to the Pyrenees and the battle for yellow resumes.
"The weekend has been a really tough block for everyone and will have taken its toll, so we'll all really be soaking up this rest day," Froome said.
"Certainly the next two days for the GC riders will be on mainly flatter roads and should be controlled by the sprinters' teams.
"I'm looking ahead to the next week of racing. Even though we're a man down now, I think the team is in great spirits and we're in a good position to defend the yellow jersey."