Tour de France: Time penalties annulled as yellow jersey fight hots up

As a result only 35 seconds cover the top four in the race. Fabio Aru holds the yellow jersey

Time penalties for the three riders who took water bottles from spectators, have been annulled. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Time penalties for the three riders who took water bottles from spectators, have been annulled. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

 

The fight for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France has become even tighter after the race jury reversed its decision to give 20-second time penalties to three riders who took illegal water bottles on Thursday’s stage 12.

Rigoberto Uran, George Bennett and Serge Pauwels were all given penalties after video footage showed them taking water bottles inside the last 10 kilometres, after the 20km feeding cut-off point.

There was also video footage which appeared to show stage winner Romain Bardet taking a bottle but no time penalty was given to the Frenchman.

A UCI statement said: “In light of the inability of teams to resupply their riders before the last climb of stage 12 of the 2017 Tour de France due to specific circumstances of the race which had blocked vehicles, the UCI Commissaires Panel has decided to annul the penalties imposed on riders Serge Pauwels (Team Dimension Data), George Bennett (Team Lotto NL-Jumbo) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team).”

As a result only 35 seconds cover the top four in the race. Fabio Aru leads the general classification by six seconds from Team Sky’s Chris Froome, with Bardet 25 seconds back and Uran now 35 seconds back in fourth.

Uran’s Cannondale team had accepted the Colombian’s penalty on Thursday night but complained that AG2R La Mondiale’s Bardet had not been punished as well.

Bardet is seeking to become the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985, and there were complaints that the race jury did not dare punish him following a stage win on the eve of Bastille Day.

The ruling will ramp up the tension for Friday’s short, sharp 101 kilometre stage from Saint-Girons to Foix, which will take the riders over three category one climbs.

Froome lost the yellow jersey on Thursday when he could not respond to attacks from Aru and Bardet on the steep gradients of the Peyragudes airstrip at the end of a 214.5km stage from Pau.

The three-time Tour winner now finds himself in a tense battle as he looked well short of the form which brought him overall victories in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

But while Froome predicted a close fight for yellow, he will not have expected it to be Aru who took the jersey from him.

Froome was looking to the likes of Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana to put up the strongest fight this summer, but Porte crashed out last week while Quintana is paying the price for contesting the Giro d’Italia, and has faded badly.

Aru was not even supposed to be here this summer, having been lined up to ride the Giro until suffering a knee injury, but his third place on Thursday saw him overhaul an 18-second deficit on Froome with the added help of four bonus seconds.

Up until stage 12 to Peyragudes, Froome had ridden an almost textbook Tour as Sky held the yellow jersey from the opening day and looked to make the most of their strength in depth.

They may yet be grateful they do not need to defend the jersey on Friday’s stage, with a fight for position expected from the drop of the flag until the finish line.

That job will instead fall to an Astana squad weakened by a stage 11 crash which saw key domestique Dario Cataldo abandon and their second-strongest rider, Jakob Fuglsang, suffer fractures in both his elbow and hand — injuries which took a clear toll on Thursday.

With the time trial in Marseille to come at the end of the third week, Froome’s rivals know they need to take significant time out of him — perhaps as much as 90 seconds — before then or risk losing yellow at the penultimate hurdle.

Unless Froome is really struggling, that remains a tall order with only one summit finish remaining in the race.

“I can only say congratulations to Romain Bardet for winning the stage and to Fabio Aru for taking the yellow jersey,” Froome said on Thursday.

“The race is certainly on now.”

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