Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and Italy's Fabio Aru, far right, climb towards Mont du Chat pass on Sunday. Photo: Christophe Ena, AP

CHAMBÉRY, France – Chris Froome and Fabio Aru both denied they had a spat during Sunday’s gruelling and crash-filled ninth stage of the Tour de France.

Aru appeared to attack on the final climb of the 181.5km stage from Nantua to Chambery at a moment when race leader Froome had a mechanical problem.

Froome was enraged two years ago when he felt Aru’s Italian compatriot Vincenzo Nibali had done likewise on another Tour stage.

There’s an unwritten rule in cycling not to attack the yellow jersey if he suffers a mechanical issue.

But just as Nibali had claimed not to have been aware of Froome’s problems two years ago, so too Aru played innocent.

“Today, we planned to attack, we had to do it far from the top of the final climb. Thus, I found a good moment on the Mont du Chat and attacked,” said Astana’s Aru.

“Honestly, I did not see the moment when Chris Froome had a mechanical problem. I was fully concentrated on my attacking moment.

“Later, I was told by radio that Froome had to stop because of a mechanical. So, I stopped as well to wait for him.”

Aru’s version seemed a bit at odds with the television pictures in which Froome was in front of him and raising his arm while turning back to look for a support car.

At that moment Aru, from well back amongst the group of leaders, put in a burst that left Froome trailing. All the main contenders followed Aru’s attack, but none would come through to take a turn at leading.

Aru was seen gesturing angrily to others to come through and lend a hand, but no one complied.

Froome changed bikes and was helped back up to the leaders by three teammates.

Shortly afterwards he was seen barging his shoulder into Aru, but the Briton insisted that had nothing to do with retribution for the Italian’s attack and was simply a balance problem.

“I didn’t see him attack there, I just lost the handlebars,” said Froome. “I want to thank them for waiting.”

Froome said his good friend and fierce rival Richie Porte, who on the subsequent descent of that same climb crashed out of the Tour, had been instrumental in making sure everyone else respected Tour etiquette.

“At the bottom of the Mont du Chat, I had a bit of a mechanical problem and my gears stopped working, so I had to swap bikes,” said the 32-year-old. 

“Also for that, I think Richie was quite instrumental in slowing the group down and basically saying, ‘Guys, this is not the time to be attacking the leader of the race’, so thanks to Richie and I really hope he makes a speedy recovery.”