Chris Froome finished seventh in the Aveyron city, 25 seconds ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana) who lost his lead in the race and now sits 19 seconds adrift of the Briton.
Froome and Sky didn’t expect to regain the yellow jersey today, but knew that there was an opportunity to, given the stage’s steep climb at the end.
In 2015, stage 13 finished on exactly the same stretch of road with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) – who was second today behind Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) – winning ahead of Peter Sagan.
But further back, the general classification riders remained as one, though there was huge splits among the rest of the peloton.
The team watched the closing kilometres of that stage repeatedly this morning, knowing that time gaps in the overall standings were possible. That assumption was proved correct, because as well as Aru’s losses, Romain Bardet and Simon Yates conceded four seconds each and Nairo Quintana 22 seconds.
Watch: Tour de France stage 14 highlights
“We knew that from two years ago this finish was pretty tricky,” Nicolas Portal, Sky’s sports director, said. “We knew it was a fast run in and there was splits then [in 2015].
“Six seconds to Aru was a lot. When you looked at yesterday’s stage, it was so hard and technical. We had a good plan with Landa but didn’t really gain time on the guys close [to Froome] so we said today if we stay calm and everything is in control we can really focus it on the finish and why not take it on, and be just behind the sprinters or the guys who will win the race.
“It worked out perfectly. It’s a big up. We got more time and Chris has gained more than 20 seconds on a 700m finish. “We knew [taking] two, three or four seconds [from Aru] would be possible, but 25? That’s amazing.”
Aru’s poor position in the stage’s final kilometres was relayed to Portal by Vasil Kiryienka who dropped back through the peloton after doing his work for the day. Portal then informed the rest of the team that Froome had a chance to put time into Aru.
“Kiri was doing a good job, pulling to make sure the guys were in a good position with five kilometres to go,” Portal regaled. “A lot of guys dropped on the last climb, the long drag, and he said said to me in Spanish that Aru was quite far down.
“I repeated that in English to the guys and said ‘guys, keep doing a good job, this is perfect.’ The plan was to lead Froomey out in the best possible position.
“We said we didn’t need to be first as it will be hard with the punchy teams. We had to make sure that Froome could climb as best as possible and finish the work off. We couldn’t imagine we could take 25 seconds out of Aru and get the yellow jersey by 19 seconds.”