Geraint Thomas shrugged off the boos that continue to come Team Sky’s way at the Tour de France as he enjoyed another day in the yellow jersey.
Thomas finished safely in the pack as Magnus Cort Nielsen won stage 15 to Carcassone from a breakaway, keeping Thomas one minute 39 seconds clear of team-mate Chris Froome, with Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin a further 11 seconds back.
But after standing on the podium to collect the yellow jersey for a fifth straight night, Thomas faced more questions about the negative reaction Team Sky so often get at the Tour.
If the situation is getting to the Welshman, he was not about to show it.
“For me this is the highlight of my career, it’s a massive honour and privilege to be wearing the jersey and have such an incredible race so far,” he said.
“There’s a bit of negativity around and it isn’t nice, but at the end of the day you need to stay strong in your head and just crack on.
For me this is the highlight of my career, it’s a massive honour and privilege to be wearing the jersey and have such an incredible race so farGeraint Thomas
“The way I see it I’d rather be in this jersey having the race of my life and getting booed than being 30th and dropped on the first climb and everyone cheering me on.”
On a day when the French newspaper Liberation wrongly described Froome’s recent salbutamol case as a ‘positive test’ that was ‘white-washed’ by the UCI, Thomas, pictured in yellow jersey below, said questions about why there is ill-feeling towards Team Sky was perhaps one for the French press.
“It’s not a nice situation and obviously we would prefer everyone to love us, but I’m not sure it’s anything we’ve done, or especially that I’ve done, to deserve it,” he said.
“You would have to ask the public, and maybe it’s a reflection of the way we’re perceived in the French media. It’s maybe a question for some of you guys.”
Fan reaction on yesterday’s 181.5km stage from Millau was more muted a day after Froome had an unidentified liquid thrown on him on the climb to Mende.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Luke Durbridge used Twitter to describe some of the behaviour on Saturday as “disgraceful” – comments that were appreciated by the four-time Tour winner.
“It doesn’t get us down, we stay focused on the race, but it is really nice to feel that camaraderie,” said Froome before yesterday’s stage. “A lot of guys are speaking out about it now, the riders are sick and tired of it.”
The targeting of Froome has reached a point that Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland said he had told his riders not to follow him because it was too dangerous, having seen his star man Vincenzo Nibali crash out of the Tour after tangling with a fan on the Alpe d’Huez.
Asked about Copeland’s comments, Froome said: “It’s a pretty sad situation if that is correct.”
Thomas and Froome will now enjoy today’s rest day before the intriguing intra-team battle for yellow resumes tomorrow, with three tough days in the Pyrenees having the potential to be decisive.
Froome, chasing a record-equalling fifth Tour title, will no doubt have ideas on where he might snatch yellow away, but Thomas warned he would not give up the jersey easily.
“I think I would have to have a bad day,” he said.
“I wouldn’t give it up for any money. It’s the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
“It’s a massive honour just to be wearing it. Obviously I want to wear it as long as possible.
“Like I’ve said from the start, who knows what is around the next corner?
“We’ll take each day as it comes.”
There was no movement at the top of the standings yesterday, with the main contenders finishing in a group some 13 minutes after Nielsen outsprinted Jon Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segefredo.
The trio snuck off the front of the remnants of a 29-man breakaway on the descent off the Pic de Nore as crosswinds splintered the group, and neither Izagirre nor Mollema could compete with Nielsen’s sprinting skills as the Dane took a stage win on his debut Tour.
World champion Peter Sagan got into the breakaway, and he took third place in the day’s intermediate sprint to all-but wrap up the points classification, receiving his 100th green jersey at the finish.