Chris Froome (Team Sky) turned the tables on Tour de France general classification rival Fabio Aru (Astana) on Saturday, finishing what should have been a relatively innocuous day 24 seconds ahead of Aru to regain the yellow jersey of race leader.
Aru looked as though he was out of position, struggling and crucially without team support on stage 14’s hilly final kilometres, and came across the line well down on Froome.
Froome started the day six seconds behind Aru, but the 24-seconds difference on the line saw the British rider leap 19 seconds ahead of Italian Aru overall. Romain Bardet (Ag2r) retained his third spot overall, at 23 seconds.
In the battle for stage honours, Australian Michael Matthews capitalised from solid work by the Sunweb team throughout the day to take the victory in Rodez by over a bike length. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took second with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) in third.
A day of two halves
A group of four riders formed an escape group early on in the stage as it left Blagnac, comprising Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Maxime Bouet (Fortuneo-Oscaro) and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) in his final Tour.
The quartet were given plenty of room by the peloton and swiftly built up a lead. The almost leisurely pace of the bunch allowed Reto Hollenstein (Katusha-Alpecin) to break free and bridge over to the four in front to make a five-strong group after 14km.
The quintet’s gap over the bunch then yo-yoed between two and three minutes as the peloton kept them in close check.
After a relatively flat first half, the stage became hillier and featuring two category three climbs, Côte du viaduc du Viaur and Côte de Centrès, with a further uncategorised climb nearer the finish and a rise to the line. Many of the teams had their eye on the stage as the final 30km were identical to the stage to Rodez in 2015, won by Van Avermaet. Classics rider territory.
As the riders hit the two categorised lumps, the make-up of the race started to change. Many riders started to get dropped from the bunch, including green jersey Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and British national champion Steve Cummings (Dimension Data).
In the break, De Gendt and Voeckler dispensed with their breakaway companions on the Côte de Centrès. De Gendt swept up the maximum KOM points on both climbs to move himself up to second in the mountain classification behind Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb). Over the top of the climb, De Gendt dropped Voeckler to go solo.
BMC and Team Sunweb massed at the front of the peloton heading towards the finish, working for Van Avermaet and Michael Matthews respectively. With 30km to go, De Gendt was one and a half minutes ahead of the reduced peloton, but his advantage was chipped away until he was caught with 13km to go.
On the twisting roads into the finish, Maurits Lammertink (Katusha) launched an attack followed by Damiano Caruso (BMC), Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro).
Team Sky and Quick-Step Floors riders joined the chase at the front of the peloton and the late attack was reeled in.
As Van Avermaet, Matthews, Boasson Hagen and Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) battled for the stage honours on the final climb, Froome and fellow GC contenders Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) were right behind them.
As the lead group crossed the line, the clock started ticking down… 10 seconds… 20 seconds and no sign of Aru. The Italian looked to be struggling, and came in 24 seconds adrift of Froome, his time in the yellow jersey over… for now.
The 2017 Tour de France continues on Sunday with a tricky stage from Laissac-Sévérac l’Église to Le Puy-en-Velay. The route features four categorised climbs, including the category one ascents of Montée de Naves d’Aubrac and Col de Peyra Taillade, the latter only 30km from the finish and featuring ramps of 14 per cent.
Alberto Contador’s Trek-Segafredo team suffered a setback during stage 14 as Fabio Felline withdrew from the race during the stage. There were no other abandons.
Tour de France 2017, stage 14: Blagnac to Rodez, 181.5km
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, in 4-21-56
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, at same time
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data, at 1 sec
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky
8. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
9. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at same time
10. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 5 secs
11. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5 secs
13. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 5 secs
20. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at 15 secs
30. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, at 25 secs
General classification after stage 14
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 59-52-09
2. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, at 18 secs
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 23 secs
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at 29 secs
5. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at 1-17
6. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-26
7. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 2-02
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 2-22
9. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates, at 5-09
10. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 5-37