BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France — Before launching his downhill attack, Chris Froome landed a left jab — to a spectator’s face.
That’s what happened when a fan wearing the yellow shirt of Colombia’s national soccer team and a yellow wig got too close to Froome during Saturday’s eighth stage of the Tour de France.
“I have absolutely nothing against the Colombian fans. I think they’re fantastic. They bring great (spirit) to the race. But this guy in particular was running right next to my handlebars,” Froome said after winning the stage and taking the yellow jersey with a successful solo attack from the top of the day’s final climb in the Pyrenees.
“He had a flag that was flying out behind him and it was just getting dangerous so I pushed him away,” the defending champion added. “I lashed out and pushed him away.”
The spectator was supporting Froome’s main rival, two-time Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia.
“It’s fantastic having so many fans out on the road but please, don’t try and run with the riders,” Froome said. “It gets really dangerous for the guys behind you.”
The incident appeared to motivate Froome, who left Quintana and the other leading contenders behind on the way down from the Col de Peyresourde.
Aiming for his third Tour win, Froome established a 23-second lead over Quintana in the overall standings.
“Entering the descent of the Peyresourde, I took a bottle of water to refresh myself. Froome profited from that move to take a chance into the downhill and open a gap,” Quintana said. “I hesitated for a couple of seconds and he was gone.
“(Teammate) Alejandro (Valverde) went flat out to chase that move, but it wasn’t enough,” Quintana added. “Those are seconds I hope won’t decide the race. The teammates were perfect, but at the end it was a mistake from myself.”
Froome’s audacious downhill attack will surely gain him the respect of more fans.
Previously known as a more calculating rider who slowly wore down his opponents without any surprise moves, he constantly faced doping accusations en route to winning last year’s Tour.
During one stage in 2015, a spectator yelling “doper!” hurled a cup of urine at Froome.
“I have no doubt people out there will already be calculating my VAM (velocity ascended meters per hour) going down that last climb, and saying that it was off the charts,” Froome said sarcastically, flashing a wide smile.
“I’ve never won a stage like that,” Froome added, turning serious again. “It really did feel like just taking the race home and enjoying it.”