Chris Froome has rejected accusations that he deliberately rode into Fabio Aru after the Italian attacked when he suffered a mechanical problem during last weekend’s ninth stage of the Tour de France.

Aru launched an attack on the Mont du Chat, the final climb of the day, just as Froome was signalling his team car for a bike change. A move that is firmly against cycling protocol.

However, after Froome caught up, he appeared to ride into Aru as they went around a corner. He insists it was an accident and pointed out that anything else would have put his yellow jersey, and the 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.”

He went on to say that any suggestion that it was on purpose is “crazy” and that he would never have taken the risk of a deliberate collision.

For his part, Aru claimed that he didn’t realise that Froome had a problem when he was signalling the team car for help.

Froome finished third on the stage and picked up the final bonus seconds to extend his lead in yellow to 18 seconds over Aru who finished fifth.

The stage also saw Froome’s teammate, Geraint Thomas, crash out of the race and head home with a broken collarbone.

“It’s a massive blow to the team,” Froome said. “Not only was Geraint sitting second on GC going into the rest day, but he’s also a key helper for me in the mountains when the race is really on.”