Chris Froome was seething with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali as the Tour de France leader set up a duel for overall victory up Alpe-d’Huez with Nairo Quintana.
Nibali (Astana) was determined to rescue some consolation from his title defence ending poorly and surged to victory on Friday’s 138-kilometre 19th stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire.
Froome felt the Italian’s initial acceleration was exploiting the Team Sky leader’s mechanical problem, but Froome fought back and limited the damage on the concluding climb to Quintana (Movistar).
Chris Froome fan clubhttps://t.co/B3FTBP2pGG— Off The Ball (@offtheball) July 24, 2015
Nibali won by 44 seconds from the Colombian, with Froome one minute 14 seconds adrift to take a lead of 2:38 into Saturday’s final stage in the Alps. The race finishes in Paris on Sunday.
The history between Froome and Nibali – the pair had a heated discussion on the Astana team bus after stage six to Le Havre as the Italian erroneously felt Froome was culpable for a crash – darkened as the pair had a finish-line exchange.
“I told him exactly what I thought of him,” Froome said.
“I felt very specifically the moment he attacked in the mountains today it was almost as if my mechanical provoked his attack.
“A piece of asphalt or small stone got stuck between my brake calipers and my rear wheel. The rear wheel just jammed up. I had to stop and get it out before I could continue.
“I’ve heard from other riders that he turned, could see I had a mechanical and then attacked.
“In my opinion it’s very unsportsmanlike, it’s not in the spirit of the Tour de France and it’s definitely not what this race is about.”
Froome felt the danger was not Nibali, who was more than eight minutes adrift at the start of the day, but those riders whose positions he was threatening.
Nibali moved up from seventh to fourth overall as a result of the win.
“I won’t even tell you the words Froome said to me at the finish. They’re too harsh to repeat,” Nibali said.
Froome was not aware of the television footage which appeared to show a roadside spectator spitting on him.
He has been subject to innuendo, abuse and interrogation in this Tour and was doused in urine during stage 14 to Mende.
The 2013 champion, who was the target of a rude gesture from another fan as he chased back to the bunch following his mechanical, added: “That’s appalling behaviour.
“You can’t come to a bike race to spit at someone, or to punch them or to throw urine at them. That’s not acceptable at any level.”
Alpe-d’Huez is where the Tour will be won – Sunday’s final stage is a procession and usually won by a sprinter – and often has an atmosphere which ranges from joyous to over-zealous and hostile after days of waiting.
“Every rider is a little bit on edge about what is going to happen up on that climb,” Froome said.
“Hopefully it won’t be too different to last time (in 2013), it’s a great atmosphere up on the climb and the race isn’t going to be affected in any way.”
Quintana, runner-up to Froome two years ago, vowed to go for glory.
“I’ll try again tomorrow from further out. Let’s see how strong he is then,” Quintana said.
La Toussuire was the scene of Froome’s attack on Team Sky leader Sir Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour, but now the Kenya-born Briton is the undisputed leader.
Woet Poels was the only Team Sky colleague to provide strong support for Froome as Geraint Thomas’ own podium challenge came to an end as he fell from fourth to 15th place, losing 22:00 to Nibali on the stage.
“I was just empty,“ the 29-year-old from Cardiff said.
“Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. I was a cheapy little Ikea one today.”
Quintana attacked with around 5km to go of the concluding 18km ascent.
Froome added: “I went into time-trial mode. Keeping tomorrow in mind I didn’t want to go super deep, but I couldn’t give Nairo too much time either.
“I’m in a great position, two and a half minutes advantage.
“I can’t wait to get up (Alpe-d’Huez) now.”