Mark Cavendish believes a roadside spectator sprayed him with urine during the Tour de France time trial on Wednesday, his team manager said.
Patrick Lefevere of Omega Pharma-Quick Step said the incident may have been linked to anger among some fans who claimed — unfairly in his view — that Cavendish intentionally bumped into Dutch rider Tom Veelers and caused him to crash in the final sprint a day earlier.
"[Cavendish] explained to the other guys in the bus that the public was not very fair with him, and then somebody put some urine on him," Lefevere told The Associated Press after Stage 11.
"We are always happy in cycling that there is no hooliganism, but of course, when there are 100,000 or 200,000 people on the road ... somebody had bad behaviour," he added.
After the stage, it did not appear that Cavendish had spoken publicly about the incident.
The liquid thrown at Cavendish smelled like urine and was "all over him," team spokesman Alessandro Tegner said. The team didn't know exactly where it happened on the 33-kilometre (20-mile) course to Mont-Saint-Michel on the Brittany coast.
Cavendish's teammate, Jerome Pineau, reacted angrily to the news.
"I'm ashamed when my friend Mark Cavendish tells me that he was jeered and even sprayed with urine," Pineau said on his Twitter feed. "It's scandalous."
Race leader Chris Froome of Britain said it was disappointing to hear about the incident.
"Mark, he's one of the big characters in the sport, and some people love him and some people hate him. But to do something disrespectful like that, that's really sad," he said. "One individual doing that, it just leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth — a bad taste in Mark's mouth!"
At least one cycling aficionado suggested it was all part of the sport.
Lance Armstrong tweeted: "why all the sudden shock and outrage. this has been happening for 100 years in some form or another."
Cavendish, fourth all-time with 24 Tour stage wins, was adamant that his bump with Veelers wasn't deliberate. Veelers said Cavendish knocked him over, though the Dutchman's Argos Shimano teammate Marcel Kittel of Germany, who won Tuesday's stage, gave the Briton the benefit of the doubt.
The race stewards did not sanction Cavendish over the incident, a sign they don't believe he was to blame.
The millions of fans who throng the roadsides often use the passage of Tour riders as an opportunity to picnic, wave flags, and deliver political or other messages aimed at TV cameras on helicopters overhead. The free, non-ticketed event offers closer access for fans to athletes than at many other sports competitions.
A spectator once punched five-time champion Eddy Merckx in the kidneys.
Lefevere noted that on the legendary Alpe d'Huez — which the pack will scale not once but twice in Stage 18 next week — has often been known for rowdy fans who douse passing Tour vehicles with beer: "They do it on our cars as well, so we ride with closed windows ... it should not happen."
Tony Martin narrowly wins 11th stage
German rider Tony Martin won the the 11th stage of the Tour de France and second-placed Chris Froome finished way ahead of his main rivals to significantly strengthen his overall lead.
As the two-time world time trial champion, Martin did not disappoint over the 33-kilometre (20.5-mile) route in Normandy from Avranches to the medieval walled city of Mont-Saint-Michel.
Froome was quicker over the first two time splits but slowed down in the last section and rolled in 12 seconds slower than Martin, who won in just over 36 minutes.
Froome was the only rider to get within a minute of Martin, with Belgian Thomas De Gendt 1:01 behind in third.
While Martin is not a Tour challenger, others who are supposed to be slipped further behind.
Alejandro Valverde and two-time former champion Alberto Contador were two minutes or more slower than Froome, while 2010 champ Andy Schleck and 2011 champ Cadel Evans all lost massive time.
Valverde is still in second place overall but is 3:25 adrift.
Svein Tuft of Langley, B.C., a time-trial specialist, finished sixth in 38:04.
Contador looked stern-faced and tense when he prepared to start — and with good reason, because he is now almost four minutes adrift of Froome.
The Spaniard finished in 15th place, 2:15 behind Martin; Evans was 2:30 slower, and Schleck finished 4:44 behind Martin.
"No one's won the Tour de France yet and no one's lost it. We have to get to Paris yet," Contador said. "It's true that Chris Froome is in impressive form and is a great climber, but there are still many stages left."
Martin, meanwhile, was lucky to even still be in the race after losing consciousness on his team bus after his heavy crash on stage 1. It was so bad that his left lung was bruised and layers of skin were shredded off his back, preventing him from sleeping properly for several nights.
"It's pretty much OK. There are still some deeper wounds that are left to heal but it's not that painful anymore like directly after the crash," Martin said. "[Today] the feeling was good. I was just focused on the race. It was more or less like every time trial."
Martin won the penultimate stage of the 2011 Tour, an undulating time trail in Grenoble. Martin also finished second behind Bradley Wiggins in the time trial at the Olympic Games last year in London.
Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal remained the top Canadian in the overall classification in 41st place, 32:38 behind Froome. Quebec City's David Veilleux was 130th overall, while Tuft was 178th.
Wednesday's ride started in Avranches, whose website dates the town's origins to Celts in the 9th century B.C. It ended at the breathtaking island citadel of Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage site because of the Gothic-style Benedictine abbey erected between the 11th and 16th centuries. It is 80 metres tall and upward of three million visitors take in the panoramic view from its ramparts every year.
But riding at an average speed of 54 kph (34 mph) in humid, muggy conditions, there was little time for Martin to take in the sights.