Tour de France riders sprayed with tear gas amid protest by farmers

Tour de France halted after riders hit by pepper spray fired by police

Thomas still leads his Team Sky mate and defending champion Chris Froome by 1 minute, 39 seconds and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by 1 minutes, 50 seconds going into Wednesday's 17th stage, a brutal 65-km, up-and-down trek from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan.

"The last few days I felt really good, which is a good sign", said Martin. "I was sad for [Yates] but it could have happened to me, too, because I took a lot of risks".

According to a statement from French authorities in the local Aude department, a small group of 20 activists made the intervention to protest a planned reduction of European Union funding in their area.

Froome sits second in the general classification, 60.39 seconds behind Sky teammate Thomas.

A protestor faces French gendarmes during the 16th stage of the Tour de France.

Immediately after the F1-style start riders head straight into the mountains as they make their ascent up the Col de Peyresourde (1,569 metres).

The descent is the same pass where Fabio Carsartelli crashed and died in 1995.

Doctors and paramedics treated the riders at the side of the road and the race has since commenced. "Leave the road to the riders, respect them".

It was a tough day for Froome who said he'll now ride in support of teammate Geraint Thomas
It was a tough day for Froome who said he’ll now ride in support of teammate Geraint Thomas

Kangert was reeled in by King of the Mountain leader Julian Alaphilippe in the first climb of the day to Montée de Peyragudes, but held on to reach the top ahead of the Frenchman.

Gilbert has since been ruled out of resuming the Tour after a scan revealed he had sustained a fractured kneecap in the crash.

"Morale's pretty damaged right now".

The last time a Tour stage was blocked by a demonstration was in 2004.

But with only 5 kilometers of descent to go, Yates crashed turning a corner and could only watch as Alaphilippe flew past.

This stage was just 65km long, but featured three towering climbs between Bagneres-de-Luchon and Col de Portet.

Yates was quickly back on his bike, and followed home Bahrain-Merida's Gorka Izagirre to finish third. With a climb of 16 kilometres at an average gradient of over 8 per cent and an altitude of 2,215m, the Col de Portet has all the assets to become a new Tourmalet'.

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