Tour de France: Chris Froome retains yellow jersey despite puncture
Stage 15 won by Dutchman Bauke Mollema, in the closest ever Tour at this stage
Christopher Froome, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, rides ahead of Spain’s Mikel Landa during stage 15 of the 104th edition of the Tour de France between Laissac-Severac l’Eglise and Le Puy-en-Velay. Photograph: Getty Images
Amidst a full-scale offensive by Romain Bardet’s AG2R team, Chris Froome survived a puncture at the foot of the key climb of Sunday’s stage across the Massif Central, won by the Dutchman Bauke Mollema.
The Team Sky leader held on to his narrow lead, while conceding a few seconds to the Irishman Daniel Martin, but critically he and the other contenders for overall victory eliminated Nairo Quintana, who lost almost four minutes and dropped out of the top 10.
These are nervous days, with the Tour poised on a knife-edge and in the gorge of the river Allier, Froome could potentially have seen his chances of victory prejudiced when his back wheel broke just as Bardet and his team-mates had decided to pile on the pressure going into the technical valley roads leading to the 8.3 kilometre climb of Peyra Taillade.
The race leader had to pull in to the right side of the road and swap wheels with his team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski, as AG2R set the pace with five riders on the front. Froome lost about 50sec, and had to chase hard with his team-mates Sergio Henao and Mikel Nieve, with the small group around the race leader dodging its way past groups of backmarkers who had been ejected from the main group due to the searing pace.
A storming, aggressive ride from Bauke Mollema gave him his first stage victory, while Chris Froome just about retained the yellow jersey after suffering a puncture at a particularly inopportune moment
“It was extremely stressful, panic stations,” Froome said. “I thought that the yellow jersey could be changing shoulders. Things had been going perfectly, I broke a spoke and the wheel wasn’t straight any more. We changed the wheel as fast as we could, but the speed was at its highest and my team mates had to empty themselves to get me back. I had to go very deep, that was a full race effort, if I hadn’t got back before the top of the climb we could have been looking at some pretty big losses, it could have been game over.”
Froome faced a hostile reception from fans on the climb as he fought his way back with just over 32 kilometres to go, but he attempted to play it down. “It’s to be expected, this is the home stage for Romain Bardet so I can understand all the locals here supporting him.”
Asked if he felt his rivals had missed an opportunity to break him, the race leader replied: “There was a lot happening in that group, Nairo Quintana was dropped and I think people were happy to ride to distance him. In the finale when we hit a category four climb, Romain Bardet tried, Uran tried, I don’t think you can say the general classification contenders didn’t try anything. With the main climb being so far from the finish everyone hesitated to make such a big effort.”
Going into Monday’s rest day, Froome still has a lead of 18sec over the Italian Fabio Aru, 23sec over Bardet and 29sec on the Colombian Rigoberto Uran, with Martin closing to fifth place, 1min 12sec behind, and Froome’s team-mate Mikel Landa in sixth at 1min 17sec, making this the closest the Tour has ever been at this stage of the race.