Romain Bardet on Monday hit out at French fans from his home region who jeered Tour de France leader Chris Froome.
The 15th stage of the Tour passed through Bardet's Auvergne region on Sunday where he basked in passionate support while Froome was subjected to jeers and insults from some people.
AG2R leader Bardet was runner-up to Froome last year and this year sits just 23 seconds behind the Sky team leader in third place.
"It was great to be supported like never before, it felt like I was in the Marcel Michelin stadium over 189 kilometres," said Bardet, referring to the ground of the French rugby union champions Clermont, the top team in the Auvergne.
"It was great to go through that, even though there was a slight snag to it.
"I heard that Froome was abused at times. I'm really sorry, he's a champion who should be respected, who I respect as a rival and who doesn't deserve that kind of treatment."
It's not the first time Froome has found himself facing the ire and even hatred of fans by the roadside.
Two years ago at the Tour he had urine thrown over him, was spat at, insulted and one of his Sky team-mates was even struck.
That time Froome was pretty shaken up by his treatment but he brushed off Sunday's incidents.
"It's to be expected if this is Romain Bardet's home stage. It's understandable that all the locals around here are supporting him -- that's bike racing," he said on Sunday.
"The support on the roads has been fantastic so far and I want to thank everybody -- it's been a great atmosphere."