Defending champion Chris Froome almost crashed out of the Tour de France — after being knocked off his bike when an overzealous policeman mistook him for a fan on Stage 17 on Wednesday.
Team Sky leader Froome, a four-time champion, finished the stage in eighth place at 1min, 35secs behind Colombian winner Nairo Quintana and 48secs behind teammate and overall leader Geraint Thomas.
The Kenyan-born Briton had put on his rainjacket and was cycling back to the Team Sky bus when a policeman on the side of the road mistakenly took him for one of the thousands of cycling fans who traditionally ride up the mountain stages to catch a glimpse of their idols.
He tried to get Froome to stop and in the confusion the six-time Grand Tour champion crashed.
He avoided injury and is set to start Stage 18 on Thursday.
"It was a misunderstanding. Chris is fine," said a Team Sky spokesman.
Froome, who had been aiming for a fourth consecutive Grand Tour victory after triumphing at the Vuelta a Espana last year and this year's Giro d'Italia, is now in a battle for a podium place.
Team boss Dave Brailsford said they will now plan to make sure Froome joins Thomas on the Tour de France podium: "He's not out of it necessarily, there's a big mountain day to come, and the time trial.
"We'll sit down tonight, review everything, see how everybody feels then make our plan of attack."
Froome throws weight behind Thomas
Froome virtually ended his bid for a record-equalling fifth victory but gave his full backing to Sky teammate and race leader Geraint Thomas.
Froome, 32, had been hoping to join an elite club of five-time winners and become the first cyclist since Marco Pantani, in 1998, to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in the same calendar year.
But Froome's bid to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain on the five-time winners list may have to wait another year.
"It was a very intense day but I've got no regrets," said Froome at the finish after struggling to keep pace with Thomas when Slovenian Primoz Roglic launched one of several attacks in the closing kilometres.
"'G' (Geraint) has ridden such an amazing race and he deserves to be in yellow — and, fingers crossed, he holds it now until Paris."
Froome had also been bidding to claim his fourth Grand Tour win in succession after adding the 2017 Tour of Spain and this year's Giro d'Italia to a collection that has often been boosted by the help of Thomas.
He added: "I've won the last three Grand Tours I've done now, so it's certainly been a tough build-up for me, but I'm still going to try and fight for the podium and try and obviously keep 'G' up there in yellow."
Thomas, who won back-to-back stages in the Alps to underline his yellow jersey credentials — and crucially give himself a 1:39 advantage over team leader Froome — is now assured of Froome's support over the coming stages.
"He looks really strong so I imagine he'll be able to finish it off," said Froome. "We've just got to try and look after him now, these next few days."
"We've got a lead of two minutes," said Brailsford.
"The probability of us winning this race lies more with Geraint now I think, but it doesn't mean it's all over.
"At this moment in time, overall, we'll look towards the next mountain stage, try and retain the jersey then it will all come down to the time trial."
Brailsford, though, was quick to credit Froome for his support of Thomas throughout.
"If 'G' goes on to win the race, he'll be a legend," added Brailsford.
"But if Froomey helps him, the way he sacrificed today, he'll be a titan. One of the all-time greats, without even winning the race."
The 18th stage on Thursday is a mainly flat ride from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau that should favour the few real sprinters still in the race.
On Friday, Thomas and Froome will be praying they successfully negotiate a 19th stage featuring six categorised climbs. It starts in Lourdes and finishes in Laruns.
Asked what advice he could give Thomas, Froome laughed: "I don't think he needs any. I think he's doing just fine."
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Updated Date: Jul 26, 2018 07:52:53 IST