Mollema secures stage 15 victory at Tour de France

Riders may have gained on Froome, but the 32-year-old has consistently done what he has to in order to take top spot. There are two likely sprint finishes left and a possible third, all of which favor Kittel, so Matthews would have to score serious points on stages 16 and 17, with Kittel drawing nearly none, to really have any shot at taking the lead.

Froome didn't say as much but acknowledged that Landa could even beat him to the title.

Bardet's AG2R La Mondiale team had upped the pace as the category one Peyra Taillaide - the penultimate climb of the day - approached with around 40km left, and had already distanced Froome once before the Team Sky man was forced to pull over.

Nonetheless, since losing that chunk, Martin has been steadily snatching back time on Froome and the other contenders, a few seconds at a time.

Uran remains fourth but closed in to 29sec off the lead, with Martin also gaining six seconds and now at 1:26 in sixth, just behind Froome's Sky team-mate Mikel Landa at 1:17.

Irishman Stephen Roche, the Tour victor in 1987, said he thought Landa was the biggest threat to Froome winning a fourth title.

Mikel Landa, who looks strong enough to be a leader in another team, was riding at the front but waited for Froome to catch up and the pair worked together to finish with the main contenders. "But that he was going to be 29 seconds behind? No". He thanked his teammates for their essential role in keeping him at the front, allowing him to pounce on the final climb while Aru was stuck. "Killer instinct - you've got to go for it", he said.

"It's still so close in the top five there, anyone within a minute is a potential threat", added Froome. Eight players are just separated by 2:22 seconds with seven stages left.

"Kwiatkowski is sharp, super sharp, and I guarantee he'd have made the call and he did well", Brailsford said.

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Froome was impressed. "He has ridden a very good race so far".

Mollema won his first stage at the Tour last time out and will feel confident about repeating the trick after the swift pace he set at Laissac.

He was so assured of victory that he sat up at the end and cruised over the line. "And I'm happy I kept on believing and dreaming, and here I am today for the eighth".

Aru is now 18 seconds behind Froome with Romain Bardet at 23sec and Rigoberto Uran at 29sec in one of the tightest yellow jersey battles in years.

Rodez: Australian Michael Matthews won the 14th stage of the Tour de France yesterday as Chris Froome retook the yellow jersey from Fabio Aru.

"It could be a winning move for us in the days to come".

The stage on Sunday will lead the peloton to Le Puy-en-Velay in Massif Central during a spectacular 189.5-kilometer (118-mile) ride on rolling terrain with four climbs that could offer more surprises.

"He won't do it again", Rowe said.

  • Tabitha Byrd