Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb has won his second stage of the 2017 Tour de France in Romans-Sur-Isere, winning the sprint at the end of Stage 16 on a day when a split in the peloton dealt a blow to the overall ambitions of Quick Step Floors rider Dan Martin.
It was Team Sky that forced the move that broke the peloton into pieces, and Chris Froome was among the riders on the right side of it and retains the race lead.
Strong winds throughout the stage and a twisting route, particularly late on, meant there was an ever-present risk of echelons forming, meaning the riders towards the top of the overall standings had a nervous day.
The threatened split eventually happened with 15.5 kilometres to go after Team Sky had moved to the front of the peloton to force the pace.
Besides Martin, fifth overall this morning and 1 minute 12 seconds off the race lead, riders on the wrong side of it included Louis Meintjes of UAE Team Emirates, eighth overall at the start of the day and second to Orica-Scott’s Simon Yates in the best young rider’s competition.
Safely in the front group were the three riders occupying the podium positions this morning – overall leader Froome, Astana’s Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet of AG2R-La Mondiale.
Also there were Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac, fourth this morning, and Yates, who moves sixth overall, just 1 second ahead of Martin and 2 minutes 2 seconds off the race lead.
It was a bad day for Quick Step Floors, long considered the masters of exploiting crosswinds to their advantage.
Early on in the 165-kilometre stage from Le-Puy-en-Velay, green jersey Marcel Kittel had been dropped due to strong riding from Matthews' team mates as the Australian looked to close the gap in the points competition.
He can be fully satisfied with his day’s work – besides the stage win, he also won the intermediate sprint, and now lies 29 points behind Kittel, who last week seemed to have an unassailable lead, and will be looking to try and pick up more points in the next two days as the race heads into the Alps.
Race leader, Chris Froome
It's been quite a crazy stage, with a selection being made not long after the climb. A lot of GC guys were quite far up in the peloton. That's why there wasn't much difference between us in the crosswinds.
Unfortunately Dan Martin wasn't with us at the end. I guess some of his team-mates stayed at the back with Marcel [Kittel].
I'm just glad myself and Mikel Landa were on the right side of the split.
We have two mountain days ahead of us. I do believe they are the two most decisive consecutive days of the Tour. I don't know if the classification will remain tight or if it'll blow up.
But my goal was to come to third week feeling the way I'm feeling now.
Stage winner, Michael Matthews
It doesn't feel real. We had a goal this morning, it was to try and get the intermediate sprint. Whether it was from the breakaway or trying to somehow distance Kittel, we definitely didn't plan that it would work out like this.
On his day, Kittel can climb well. Today he must have been a little bit off on the first climb. I could take advantage of that.
I was hoping to still have some good legs left for the final. I still had full support from three guys. When you have a team riding for you all day and you're sitting out of the wind, what more can you ask for?
The spirit in the team is amazing. We're willing to do everything to each other to get a win. Nikias Arndt told me it gives him tingles to know what I achieved and he's a winner himself.
Warren Barguil is fighting for the polka dot jersey and he's also the guy who was closing on Daniele Bennati in the finale and I didn't even ask him to do it.
I'll try to get more points everywhere, knowing that Marcel Kittel will probably beat me in the flat finishes.
We have a very different game plan and we'll see at the end which one works out the best.
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