Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo has won Stage 15 of the Tour de France in Le Puy en Velay from the break following a gripping stage in which Team Sky's Chris Froome had to battle hard to hold onto the overall lead after finding himself 45 seconds behind his rivals at one point.
Ahead of tomorrow’s rest day, AG2R-La Mondiale used the 189.5-kilometre stage from Laissac-Sévérac l'Église, raced on Romain Bardet’s home roads in the Auvergne, to put Froome under pressure.
Approaching the 50 kilometres to go mark, the French team were grouped en masse at the front of the main group, forcing the pace, their efforts rewarded as defending champion Froome lost contact.
He battled back on, but almost immediately had a mechanical issue, depriving him of the services of Michal Kwiatkowski, who gave his rear wheel to his team leader.
Froome who now found himself 45 seconds adrift of the group comprising the overall contenders, including his team mate Mikel Landa.
With the day’s main climb beginning, Sergio Henao and Mikel Nieve helped Froome as he battled to rejoin the main group, with Landa dropping back to help him complete the task ahead of the top of the descent, with 33 kilometres still to ride.
As a result, the top of the overall standings remains unchanged, Froome leading by 18 seconds from Astana’s Fabio Aru with Bardet a further seven seconds back.
Quick Step Floors rider Dan Martin attacked coming off the final uncategorised climb, and leapfrogs Landa into fifth place overall, 1 minute 12 seconds behind Froome.
Stage winner Mollema had been a member of a strong escape group comprising 28 riders, including Katusha’s Tony Martin who launched a trademark attack from 65 kilometres out.
The world time trial champion was overhauled on the main climb by Team Sunweb’s Warren Barguil, who consolidated his leadership of the mountains competition by cresting the summit first.
Mollema would subsequently attack from a much reduced front group with 27 kilometres remaining, and despite being chased by a quartet comprising Barguil plus Diego Ulissi of UAE Team Emirates, Lotto Belisol’s Tony Gallopin and Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo, he would hold on to win by 19 seconds.
Race leader, Chris Froome
I broke a spoke coming into the bottom of the last climb. My wheel wasn't straight anymore so I think it was a broken spoke but I'm not sure.
I'm grateful I was able to come across because it was a critical moment. Thanks to my team mates who helped me, I save myself.
We still have difficult roads ahead of us, especially in the Alps. I've had a difficult day in the Pyrenees but I feel much better now.
I hope to keep the yellow jersey until the time trial in Marseille. But I expect some more aggressive racing in the Alps.
We knew it would be tight on GC because of very few summit finishes and time trials but I'm very grateful that I'm on the right side of the time split.
I prefer to be ahead on GC at this point than having to make up time.
Stage winner Bauke Mollema
It's really amazing. I'm so happy to win a stage at the Tour de France.
I've worked for it so hard in the last few years. That was a big goal for me. I needed a chance, but a lot of teams wanted to go up the road today.
I did the first climb full gas, trying to bridge to the first group. Eventually we made it with 25 guys.
That was the first goal. Then I just gave it a try in the last 30km.
It was a long time riding alone. It was close to the chases at the end. But I made it! This is the biggest win of my career so far. The Tour de France has always been my dream. I'm incredibly happy.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.