Chris Froome holds on to yellow jersey as Bauke Mollema wins stage 15

Chris Froome was forced into a wheel change approaching the crucial Col de Peyra Taillade but fought back to retain the yellow jersey while Bauke Mollema won his first Tour de France stage

As the Tour de France enters its final week, the 2,500 -mile race is coming down to nerves and seconds, which builds Daniel Martins current strategy of some interest. Had he not been caught up in the accident which did for Richie Porte en route to Chambry and lost 1min 15 sec, the Irishman would have been an immediate threat to Chris Froomes yellow jersey; instead he is engaged in his own personal pursuit race, gaining period when the tiniest opening beckons.

In the closing kilometres to this town on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim trail, Martin was the only one of the magic circle immediately behind Froome to gain the slightest sum of time, once Romain Bardets attempt to set the race leader under pressure had been snuffed out.

Froomes response to his broken spoke amounted to a major present of strength from the Sky leader, who managed to close a 50 -second gap even as five of Bardets AG2R team mates were piling on the pressure at the front. Moreover , none of the riders breathing down Froomes neck in the overall stands had sufficient strength to assault before the yellow jersey regained contact.

On Fridays Bastille Day to Foix, Martin made a late attack to gain nine seconds; here, he zipped out of different groups containing Froome and another favourites on a small rise some 10 kilometres from the finish. As he made his move, the yellow jersey and Bardets AG2R team-mates both looked at each other, devoting him the margin he required. I saw everybody was on the limit, and after the downhill, everybody various kinds of stalled, he said afterwards.

The Col de Peyra Taillade reared up for an intimidate five miles, rising from the twisting ravine of the river Allier via hairpins through high grasslands and dead straight ramps at 14% where some of the riders in the lead group were reduced to zig-zagging to maintain momentum. Welcome to hell, said a placard on the roadside on the climbing; the principal victim was Nairo Quintana, who lost contact early on and was unable to hold Froome for more than a few metres when he and his team-mate Mikel Nieve came past in pursuit of the group.

With Mikel Landa dropping back from the Bardet group to help him in the final metres before he regained contact, Froome caught up with Bardet and Aru and company a couple of kilometres from the top of the Peyra Taillade and immediately had to respond to an attack from the Frenchman, who was racing on his home roads in front of his home crowd.

Through high hayfields where the balers were bustling, in scenery reminiscent of Bodmin Moor but at more than 2,500 feet, the 189 kilometres were something of a Romain Bardet love-in. The AG2R leaders home township of Brioude is about an hours drive to the north of the finish, and the banners were multifarious and multicoloured, but with a single theme: France expects its current favourite son to wear the yellow jersey some time soon, but Bardet is biding his time. Or so he says, and so the nation hopes.

With merely seconds in the overall standings, the stage also came down to two times nothing as the French set it, with the seasoned Dutchman Bauke Mollema attacking the remaining a massive breakaway group simply over the top of the ascending of Peyra Taillade and somehow hanging on to the finish to give some relief to the Trek-Segafredo team, whose leader Alberto Contador is appearing past his sell-by date and is lurking in ninth place overall.

Chris
Chris Froome rides ahead of Spains Mikel Landa during stage 15 of the Tour de France. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/ AFP/ Getty Images

Much of the stage ran over roads known as the route of the Beast after a massive wolf which struck anxiety into locals in the 18 th century; now, grinding a massive gear, Mollema was beasting as the cycling slang has it. He had to ride some 30 km on his own the hardest of his life, he said afterwards and his opportunities looked minimal when a strong chasing quartet of Diego Ulissi, Warren Barguil, Tony Gallopin and Primoz Roglic closed to within 100 metres on a short, steep rise simply 5km from the finish. This was a finale worthy of a one-day Classic, and not surprisingly Mollema shines in these as well, having won last years Clasica de San Sebastian.

The 30 -year-old from Groningen is a regular finisher in the top 10 of the Tour, but usually has at least one off-day in the final week. He has already finished seventh in the Giro dItalia, and in theory was here to back up Contadors bid for the overall. With the Spaniard fighting apart from a strong ride on the stage to Foix, Trek have lowered their sights to getting in breakaways and targeting stage wins.

If Bardet stalled a little, the same could not be said of Frances other current hero, Warren Barguil, who was again at the head of affairs mopping up points towards the King of the Mountains jersey. Meanwhile his team-mate, and room-mate, Michael Matthews again feed into Marcel Kittels lead in the green phases jersey standings, infiltrating the 28 -man lead group that dominated the stage, and taking maximum points in the intermediate sprint.

The Australian even sprinted for 16 th place, although phases at the finish go down only to 15 th but then, as Kittel said, this fight could last as far as the Champs-lyses next Sunday. As for the overall, Froome is already talking about Saturdays time trial in Marseille.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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