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In a day full of surprises, Chris Froome won his yellow jersey back as race-leader Fabio Aru cracked in the final one-kilometer sprint up to the town of Rodez. “Never at this start of this stage would I have thought that I would take 25 seconds out of Fabio Aru,” Froome said simply after the finish, only too happy with his seventh-place finish.
Words: AFP and James Startt | Images: Startt
Meanwhile, Australian Michael Matthews won the stage comfortably ahead of Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet in the tough uphill sprint finish at the end of to the 181.5km ride, while Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen finished third.
“A lot of planning went into that day, not just today, weeks or months of planning, to deliver a win like that from my whole team,” said Matthews. “I targeted this stage from the beginning of the year, I’ve been gearing my efforts around that finish and it came true.”
Aru was caught out, well down in the peloton, as gaps appeared in the finale, allowing reigning champion Froome to retake the jersey he’d lost to the Italian on Thursday. “It’s a great day today, I didn’t think I could get back the jersey on a stage like this,” admitted a smiling Froome.
In this type of finish, positioning is crucial and Aru failed to manouevre himself to the front of the peloton in a rapid last 10km. Froome did, though, and was in the right place when the sprint for the line started in the last 600 metres. The Briton finished seventh, just a second behind Matthews, while Aru was down in 30th, 25 seconds further adrift.
Froome now leads the race by 19 seconds from Aru with Romain Bardet third at 23 seconds, having also lost four seconds to Froome in the finish, although gained two on the yellow jersey.
Of the overall contenders, only Rigoberto Uran and Dan Martin stuck with Froome. Uran remains fourth but closed in to 29 seconds off the lead, with Martin also gaining six seconds and now at 1:26 in sixth, just behind Froome’s Sky team-mate Mikel Landa at 1:17.
Several riders in the top 10 overall were caught out, with Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador finishing 23rd and 24th, 22 seconds behind Matthews.
But the biggest loser was Aru, who found himself near the back of the peloton as it was strung out almost in single-file in the speedy downhill section before the uphill finish. It showed the importance of a strong team and what was notable in the finish was the massed ranks of yellow-helmeted Sky riders near the front, while the yellow shirt of Aru was well back.
“Thanks to my teammates for staying at the front in the end,” said Froome. “Michal Kwiatkowski did great work at the end there and I have to thank him for retaking the jersey.” Having lost his lead on Thursday on a steep finish, Froome retook time off all his rivals barring Uran and Martin. Those two may be only fourth and fifth but are increasingly looking like Froome’s strongest challengers.
Stage 15 on Sunday could well produce more surprises as it rolls through sinuous and hilly Massif Central to Le Puy-en-Velay, before the Tour’s final rest day on Monday.