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.”

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 fifth.

After yesterday’s rest day, the Tour will resume with today’s stage from Perigeuex to Bergerac.