Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) powered to victory on stage 14 of the Tour de France after a busy day off the front, while behind, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) picked up a handful of seconds on the rest of the GC hopefuls in Mende.
The up-and-down profile made Saturday's stage a good one for the break, and a big group went clear in the early goings in pursuit of the win. After the escapees worked out to a huge advantage over the peloton, Matthews attacked with some 50km still go.
He initially built up a small gap on his own before he was joined by Felix Grossschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), Luis León Sánchez (Bahrain Victorious), and Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal).
Kron punctured out of the group on the day's penultimate climb, but the remaining trio continued to lead the race. On the final climb, the short but very steep Côte de la Croix Neuve, the chasers began to close down the three riders in the lead before Matthews went solo, attempting to hold on out front.
Halfway up the climb, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) surged clear of the chasers and rapidly made his way up to Matthews.
Bettiol then managed to gap the former green jersey winner, but Matthews would not be denied on the day. He clawed his way back near the top of the ascent and then dropped Bettiol for good, holding on through the short descent to the line to take his first Tour stage win since 2017.
Bettiol settled for second, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) nabbing third.
Well after Matthews finished, the GC group hit the steep gradients of the final climb, where Pogačar put in a big dig to distance all but Vingegaard.
The duo then pressed their advantage up and over the ascent, ultimately finishing 17 seconds ahead of a group containing Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), who was the highest-placed rider on the general classification inside the break, was the biggest winner at the top of the standings, surging up into the overall top 10 after briefly looking like a threat to take yellow.
How it happened
The 192.5km stage from Saint-Etienne was always going to be a good one for the breakaway, and a high-paced first hour saw a fierce battle to get into the early move, with Pogačar himself among those trying his luck with a big early attack that was ultimately reeled back in.
Others took up the charge from there, and when the situation stabilized, more than 20 riders were off the front hunting for the breakaway stage win, with the peloton content to let the group build a sizable gap on the undulating roads.
The escapees did a respectable job of working together for the next two hours, with breakaway rider Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) even temporarily threatening to take yellow as the gap to a Jumbo-Visma-led peloton continued to grow.
After the break made it up and over the Côte de Grandrieu, Matthews made a decisive attack on an uncategorized stretch of road with around 50km still to race. He powered to a gap almost immediately as the other chasers hesitated, but Grossschartner, Sánchez, and Kron managed to work their way up to him, forming a lead quartet with a decent advantage over the chasing group behind.
Over the ensuing trip up and over the Côte de la Fage, the leaders – minus Kron, who punctured and rode off the road – maintained an advantage over the other a shrinking chase group, with the peloton some 14 minutes back. The remaining trio then hit Côte de la Croix Neuve, but the gap to the chasers started to come down as the gradient soared. With the chasing group closing in, Matthews jumped, distancing Grossschartner and Sánchez.
Behind, Bettiol powered clear of the chasers in pursuit, and the Italian soared up the climb and closed down Matthews. A few seconds back, Pinot made a foray of his own out of the chasing group.
Bettiol briefly managed to put Matthews in the rearview mirror, but Matthews did not admit defeat, instead committing to chasing down the new leader.
Before the top of the climb, Matthews was back at the front, and then he put in a big surge to drop Bettiol. Matthews went over the top alone and descended solo for the win, with Bettiol arriving 15 seconds later and Pinot taking third at 34 seconds back.
Some 10 minutes later, Pogačar decided to apply some pressure to the dwindling GC group. With a powerful surge, he dropped all but the yellow jersey wearer, and then Pogačar and Vingegaard set to building their advantage over the rest of the GC riders. They arrived at the finish 12:34 behind Matthews but 17 seconds ahead of David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Thomas, and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), with Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) a further five seconds back and Romain Bardet (DSM) four more seconds behind Yates.
The biggest GC riser of the day was Meintjes, who climbed into the top 10 and now sits seventh ahead of Gaudu, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), and Enric Mas (Movistar).
TOUR DE FRANCE STAGE 14 RESULTS
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco, in 04-30-53
2. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education-EasyPost, at 15s
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 34s
4. Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar, at 50s
5. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 58s
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Israel-Premier Tech, at same time
7. Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 01-06
8. Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 01-12
9. Simon Geschke (Ger) Cofidis
10. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert, all at same time
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 14
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, in 55-31-01
2. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 2-22
3. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2-43
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, at 3-01
5. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-06
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkea-Samsic, at 4-15
7. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert, at 4-24
8. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
9. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 8-49
10. Enric Mas (Spa) Movistar, at 9-58
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