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Tour de France 2017: Stage 14

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We're back and it's stage 14 of the Tour de France from Blagnac to Rodez - 181.5km of racing that's ideally suited to a break. After two incredibly tough days in the mountains, there's a real chance for the breakaway specialists to stay away today.

Of course we've finished in Rodez as recently as 2015 when Greg Van Avermaet ended his nearly-man tag by beating Peter Sagan in the sprint. It was a major win for the BMC man who hasn't looked back since. He's a real candidate once again but why not spare a moment to look back his win from two years ago.

Roll out is about 38 minutes from now and the peloton have a short neutralized section before grand fromage, Christian Prudhomme, drops the flag. Riders are already signing on though, BMC Racing have held court outside their team bus with Van Avermaet providing soundbites in French, Flemish and English. Everyone will be looking to him today when it comes to a possible break. 

This isn't meant to be a day for the GC men but the final kick to the line could create some problems. The final 570m kick up with the top of the climb at 9.7 per cent. It's not on the same scale as Peryagudes, where Froome lost yellow, but a few seconds can be won or lost, for sure. Bardet, Martin and Aru will be well positioned in order to jump if they see any of their rivals under pressure.

In term of the GC, here's how things stand going into today's stage. Aru still leads, with three other riders within 35 seconds. Team Sky's 'secret weapon', 'Plan B', 'saboteur'  - whatever you want to call it, Mikel Landa, is now up to fifth at 1;09.

This is a really big day for Michael Matthews, actually. He's over 100 points down on Kittel in the Green Jersey standings but today offers a huge opportunity to close that gap. There's the intermediate sprint early on but at the finish Matthews has a much better sprint than the German on a sprint like this. If it does come down to a sprint, Degenkolb is another man to watch out for.

All of the peloton have signed on now and the majority of the riders have made their way to the start line. Roll out in just under ten minutes. One big name rider not here is Jakob Fuglsang. He abandoned the race yesterday due to the injuries he sustained in a crash on stage 11. Astana would be weaker without an all-firing Fuglsang but he has been on the ropes for the last two days and finally made the right decision to go home yesterday. Full story, here.

This is John Degenkolb and he's never won a Tour de France stage before. He could be in the mix today.

And this is the man who last won in Rodez in 2015. Greg Van Avermaet.

And the riders have rolled out of the start village, with Aru front and centre at the moment. Great conditions at the moment with sun at both the start and finish. There's a slight crosswind at the finish in Rodez at the moment. 

Thomas de Gendt for the break? He's right at the front of the peloton, next to Aru, and we've seen so many breaks go from the gun in this race. It should be a different story today, as more of the breakaway specialists will be on the move. We've not mentioned Gilbert yet. He's another leading contender if he can make it into the key selection of the day. He has been on the attack several times already in this year's race and today's profile also suits him. 

Prudhomme hasn't popped out from his Skoda sunroof yet but it's only a matter of time before he does and then drops the flag on today's proceedings. Quite a few Sunweb riders are near the front too. 

Maybe the sunroof is broken and Prudhomme is stuck? It's the only explanation. There's no way I might have misjudged the length of the neutralized zone... Seriously though they should be through it in the next five minutes. Lotto now have two men on the front as Aru and Barguil drop a little further down the bunch. Degenkolb is right at the front as well. 

Cummings for the break? Not today. He's right at the back of the bunch and set for a relatively easy day in the saddle. Voeckler is at the front as the peloton starts to bunch up. Rowe, Knees and Bramilla are also present and accounted for. And Froome but he's just going to keep out of trouble. He offers the camera a quick nod and a smile and then gets back to his conversation with an AG2R rider.

Prudhomme leaves it late, but stands up, waves the flag and even announces the fact that Voeckler has attacked. We're off and racing on stage 14 of the Tour France. 

And Voeckler is joined by three other riders, including De Gendt but there's more action from the bunch as a few more riders try and break clear. 

Bouet and Roosen are the other two riders in the break. and it looks like they have clean air between themselves and the peloton. If that's the case, and we don't see a real counter attack then I'm calling a bunch sprint with Etixx, Trek, Sunweb and BMC Racing controlling the peloton for Gilbert, Degenkolb, Matthews, and Van Avermaet. Dimension Data for Boasson Hagen too, perhaps. 

Sky, Lotto and Sunweb and spread out over the road and shut things down. That's it. That's the break of the day. 

177km remaining from 181km

The four leaders have 2'38 with Reto Hollenstein (Katusha-Alpecin) just over a minute down, and stuck on his own. He's slowly pegging the break back but at this rate it's going to be hard going. 

And BMC and Sunweb have moved to the front and started to ride tempo. They don't want to give De Gendt too much room, even with over 170km still to race during the stage. 

He's done it and the break were wise to wait for him. Reto Hollenstein (Katusha-Alpecin) makes it a five man move with 165km to go. The break will really benefit from the extra help there as they start to build the lead once more. 

The gap is coming down, and it's just over two minutes as the peloton set their sights on another sprint finish. It's as if there are two sets of sprinters in the race - with the pure sprinters like Kittel and Bouhanni sitting back and riders like Degenkolb, Matthews and Van Avermaet taking over due to the final climb at the finish.

Alexandre Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) said on the startline that his chances of success were not brilliant but he will do his best. "I did this finish before, in 2015, and then it was too hard, and when I hit the wall I just exploded. I was on my limit and I didn’t expect such a tough climb , this time round at least I know what’s coming, I will try. This could be a good stage for Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) or Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), those kinds of riders, also maybe Dan Martin (Quick Step Floors). Maybe it’s a bit hard, but you never know."

Three minutes now for the break as we see Moinard set the pace for the bunch. BMC are playing the right tactic here to be honest. They came to the race with a lot of firepower and although Porte has gone home, there's no point wasting all that strength in depth. You it or lose it, as the CN account manager would remind me at the end of every financial year. 

148km remaining from 181km

BMC have pulled their efforts back slightly and have left just one man on the front. Sunweb's intent, however is clear as they set their entire team at the head of the race. Their morale will be sky-high after their stage win yesterday, as we see Bouet drop back to the team car and pick up some food and some team orders. 'Get back to work' seems to be the instruction. We've a strong group off the front but the bunch are not letting them have more than 2'20. The terrain does change in the second half of the stage with the flat roads left behind and rolling sections taking over.

Bahrain Merida have posted a man on the front of the bunch. Are they thinking of Colbrelli? The 27-year-old was super competitive during the first few months of the season but he's been off the pace at the Tour. Either that or he's just not at the same level of the best sprinters. Just two top tens to his name in the race so far. 

And we're handing over to Susan Westemeyer for a while. 

 The field seems to be enjoying a quieter start than yesterday. They sure aren't letting the group get far away, though!

 None other than former rival Vincezo Nibali has praised Astana's Fabio Aru for taking the yellow jersey. It comes with a price, though -- Nibali said that Aru now owes their training group a no-doubt very expensive dinner. Read about it here.

125km remaining from 181km

About two minutes later, the field came over. QuickStep delivered Kittel perfectly to the line, just ahead of Sunweb's Michael Matthews.

It is quite warm today, 26-27°C, and sunny. 

Happy birthday to Diego Ulissi, turning 28 today. He is UAE Team Emirates' candidate for the win today, and wouldn't the team's first Tour stage win be a nice birthday present?

The peloton is certainly not letting this group get far away. The gap is holding steady around the 2:20 mark. With 114km to go, we have a gap of 2:14.

Bahrain-Merida, BMC and lots of Sunweb at the front of the field right now.

Voeckler drops back to the team car to pick up a snack.

And we're handing live commentary back over to Daniel Benson for the final 105km.

106km remaining from 181km

The riders are approaching the feedzone but they're already starting to climb. We've only two third category climbs on the menu today but there's barely a meter of flat out there, as well as the final climb towards the line in Rodez.

Perhaps the main winner on GC yesterday was Quintana. He's now around two minutes off the race lead, and considering where he started ahead of stage 13, he has to be pleased with where he is now. It's very unlikely he'll be allowed to use the same trick twice in this year's race but his podium chances aren't finished yet. You can read up on his stage 13, right here.

Decent ride from Bouet today. The 30-year-old was a solid performer at AG2R La Mondiale and spent two years at Etixx where he mostly worked for other riders. At Fortuneo he has a similar role but brings with him a wealth of experience. 

Luke Roberts: We knew coming into this Tour de France that today would be one of the best chances for Michael Matthews. We saw the way Greg Van Avermaet won in this finish two years ago, so he’s a favorite. BMC have shown that they’re keen to control the stage, riding together with us on the front. We will keep this controlled, and hopefully bring these five riders back.

Romain Bardet:

These are quotes from the start if you wondering. We're not calling up riders mid-stage. We're good but we're not that good.

Greg van Avermaet:

John Degenkolb:

Ben Swift:

Daniel Martin:

82km remaining from 181km

We see Alberto Contador near the front of the bunch. He's just keeping out of trouble at the moment but he'll be tested on that final climb. When the race came here to Rodez two years ago he finished with the GC men and although he's five minutes down this year he'll want to keep his top ten place, despite the hunt for stage wins.

Michael Valgren:

De Gendt on the front and pulling along as part of this five-man time trial. Behind the break Bahrain Merida have committed a couple more teammates as Team Sky and Astana enjoy a relatively easy day back in the bunch.

Landa, the man at the centre of attention at the Tour, has said he will fight for the podium, but not at Chris Froome's expense. He's been linked to several teams for next season, including Movistar. Here's the story.

Bouet and De Gendt have a quick catch up in between turns on the front of the break as the gap drops to 1'44 with 65km to go.

The road begins to climb once more as Bahrain Merida, Sunweb and now Astana patrol the front of the main field. No sign of Trek yet as they look to set up Degenkolb for the finish but there's still a long way to go. 57km to be precise. 

Flat for Roosen who is now forced to chase. The break will not wait for him, not with the gap under two minutes. The riders are now on the first categorised climb of the day - the Cote d u viaduc du Viaur. Roosen is coming back through the team cars but it's a long chase.

Roosen makes it back by the time they reach the summit but De Gendt sprints to the summit with Voeckler on his wheel. The Lotto rider is first over, then the Frenchman and then Hollenstein.

50km remaining from 181km

 Susan back in the saddle again for a brief spell. Kittel seems to be falling off the back of the field, perhaps he has a mechanical? Or is just plain suffering on the undulating road.

Trek Segafredo has said that Felline had to abandon with gastrointestinal problems.

Sunweb has no doubt noted that Kittel is suffering, and could now turn on the speed in the hopes of dropping him out of the time limit. Although with 43 km to go, that seems unlikely. He now has several teammates with him and a few other riders who had been dropped. They are about 30 seconds down already.

Meanwhile, the gap from the leaders to the peloton is down to 1:32

QuickStep sent Sabatini back to help Kittel. They can't really spare anyone else, as they want to help Philippe Gilbert to the stage win.

The cat. 2 Cote de Centres is rearing its head. Hollenstein is having problems staying up with the others in the lead group as the gradient increases.

Bouet has had to drop from the front group., as Kittel once again dangles off the back of the field.

Handing off back to Dan Benson!

Roosen has been dropped as we approach the top of the final climb. De Gendt is doing all the work as Voeckler does all he can just to hang on. 36km to go with the bunch at 1'33. The peloton are in control of the situation but de Gendt can't be given too much room.

And it's the Lotto rider who goes over the top first with Voeckler on his wheel. They start the descent with the Direct Energie rider struggling to hold the wheel. Back in the bunch and we see Barguil going to work as Sunweb continue to work for Michael Matthews. He won a stage in Revel last year  - from a break - but he's never won a bunch sprint in the Tour. Today is a huge chance for him, however. 

Any faint hopes of Kittel being involved are over. The German has been dropped and isn't going to come back at this rate. 

More and more riders have been dropped as AG2R make a play and put their riders on the front. They'll be looking to keep Bardet out of trouble but Bakelandts was third or fourth here two years ago. It looks like de Gendt is all alone now too, having dropped Voeckler. The Lotto rider has his car alongside him, takes a bottle and then sets himself up for a time trial that he hopes will last 29.2km.

And just like that de Gendt has lost almost 20 seconds as the road flattens out briefly. 25km go to.

Barguil turns super domestique for Matthews, dropping back and picking up bidons for his teammates. Near the front of the bunch it's Sky, Movistar and Astana,who hover around their team leaders in a bid to keep them safe and well positioned. 

19km remaining from 181km

Team Sky have started to organise their efforts too. They've lined out behind BMC and Sunweb with Froome and Landa well positioned. 16km to go.

Just 48 seconds for De Gendt as he climbs out the saddle. 15km to go.

Another ten seconds is chopped off De Gendt's lead but he's not in a hurry to give up just yet. 

Contador is near the back of the main field. He will need to smartly move up if he's to protect his position on GC. He will not want to give away silly time, even if the win is out of the picture. De Gendt has just 18 seconds. 14km to go.

The Lotto rider moves out of the saddle to find a few more Watts but if he turns around he'll be able to see the bunch closing in on him. 13km to go. The catch will be made within the next 2000m.

Ten seconds for De Gendt. It's almost all over but this is a good point to set up a counter attack as the road continues to climb. Voeckler has been dropped. 

12km remaining from 181km

The move from Martin is snuffed out but it's cost Sunweb more energy. 12km to go.

Contador is back near the front, near Froome and Aru. Bardet is where he needs to be as well.

Another attack from Katusha and it's countered by BMC. Sunweb chase. 

BMC will not sure, surely as Sunweb launch a rider up the road and now we have three leaders. No help for the Katusha rider, as you would expect. 

Caruso, Arndt are there and a Fortuneo rider has made it a foursome. No real cooperation with BMC and Sunweb just marking the move. 10km to go.

It's Perichon from the French team as we see the bunch ease off. And it's Team Sky who set the pace as they look to keep things steady and Froome in contention and safe. The four leaders have 15 seconds at the moment as we head towards the final 9km. No panic from the bunch as only half the break are working. 

Froome's lot are content to keep things as they are. Maurits Lammertink is the Katusha rider but he's shaking his head because of the lack of help. He can't honestly expect Caruso or Ardnt to help though.

And the break begin to attack each other with Perichon the first to blink. He's chased down as Dimension Data set up Boasson Hagen. 7km to go.

Just five seconds for the break with QuickStep also in the mix for Martin and Gilbert. 

Into the final 6km with only Perichon prepared to work. The gap is down to less than eight seconds. 

Another attack from Maurits Lammertink as we see Aru right near the back of the bunch. Where are his team? He's alone and having to sprint around several riders. 

Maurits Lammertink is the only rider left out there as we head towards the final 4km.

Where is Aru? It looks like he's still a long way back. 

Aru is in trouble here and he's not moving up. Still 3.5km to go but he can't afford to start the climb that far back. 

It's downhill at the moment so not much chance to move up as Bauer set the pace for Martin/Gilbert.

Aru is maybe 40th, 50th in the bunch. Froome is right near the front as we see Astana try and make amends.

2km remaining from 181km

Boasson Hagen is on the front and Bouhanni is well placed too. 1km to go.

Ag2r hit the climb first. with Martin in second wheel.

Matthews, Gilbert, Degenkolb are all there.

Gilbert hits the front.

Matthews attacks.

Greg Van Avermaet is the only rider to try and challenge but it's Matthews is the one who takes the win.

Huge gaps and Froome made that split. Guess who didn't? Aru... he could be out of the jersey.

So much to go through about that last climb and the finish - both for the stage and then the overall. 

Gilbert led out in the finale but Matthews came off his wheel. Van Avermaet was trying to get on terms with the Sunweb rider but he just didnt have the speed. Boasson Hagen was third and Dan Martin and Froome were the only riders from the GC to make the split. Aru, I think, is out of the yellow jersey. 

Here's the stage results:


1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb 4:21:56
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data 0:00:01
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5 Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:05
8 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
9 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac
10 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal

Was it a mechanical for Aru? That's the only viable explanation unless he simply made a huge mistake in terms of positioning. He was drifting around at the back inside the final 3km and simply never made it back to the front. Once he hit the climb he was already on the back foot and there was no way back. 

And there we have it. Froome is back in the yellow jersey:

Aru started the stage with a 6 second advantage over Froome. It's been reversed and more. What a gift for Team Sky.

Gilbert went too early by the way. 

Correction to the stage results:

1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb 4:21:56
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data 0:00:01
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5 Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky
8 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
9 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac
10 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:00:05

Bardet and Uran also lost a few seconds there but nothing compared to Aru. He drifted through the finish area and straight to the Astana team bus.

Lets hear from the winner, Michael Matthews:

I think it was as expected. We rode all day, and when we kept the breakaway so close, I knew it was going to be hard to have a lot of teammates in the final, because we had to ride quite hard to bring De Gendt back.

 

Matthews was so dominant in the sprint. Greg Van Avermaet, no pushover, and who won here two years ago, had no response when the Australian opened up his sprint. 

Still no word from the Astana camp as to why Aru was so far back? Did he just not have the legs in the finale? If so that's a major concern heading into the final week. This was supposed to be a relatively easy day for the GC contenders. 

And here's what Froome has to say on moving back into yellow: 

 

This is from Valgren. He rides with Aru on Astana:
 [Asked what happened with Aru]

 

McLay has made it to the finish, almost 25 minutes down. No sign of Tim Welllens, however, who was also reportedly suffering out there.

Just here you'll find our brief report, photos and results.

More from Froome at the finish:


I knew the finish from two years ago, but I have to say that was all the team today, keeping me at the front through all those twisty corners in the final. Without the job the team did today there was no way I could have found myself in that position, especially Kwiato in the final, did an amazing job to keep me there in the last k. The last 500m he was just shouting in the radio, ‘go go go, you’ve got a gap, it’s splitting to bits back here, just push!‘. It was amazing to hear that.

Apologies that we keep straying to the GC situation. It overlooks what was a huge win for Matthews. He's been close a number of times in the Tour so to come away with a stage is massive. It's also his second Tour stage win in as many years and getting back-to-back results like that does wonders for a rider's palmares. Add into the mix that he was brought to Sunweb to deliver results just like this and it's the perfect day for him. Also for his team, who have won two stages in two days and carried on their excellent form after winning the Giro d'Italia.

Coming up we'll have some comments from Fabio Aru. Thanks for sticking with us.

Fabio Aru:

In the last kilometre, I was a bit too far back, and so I had to make too big an effort to get back on to the group. I got caught out. Today it happened to me, tomorrow it could happen to somebody else. These are race situations, the important thing is, at the end of the day, to be able to fight on.

Quintana and Contador also lost time today, 21 seconds to Froome. That's more of an issue for the Movistar rider, who gained significant time yesterday. 

Tim Wellens made it over the line, 28'54 down on Matthews. Luke Rowe remains the lanterne rouge, almost three minutes down.

Despite being dropped today, Marcel Kittel continues in the Green Jersey. He has 101 points over Matthews, who picked up 29 points today on his rival. 

Thomas De Gendt moved into second in the KOM standings but he's still some way off Barguil. 

Full results are now live and they're just a click away.

Race video highlights from the stage have been posted. Here they are.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) - most aggressive rider

Timo Roosen (LottoNl-Jumbo) had this to say about his foray off the front today:

Fabio Aru downplayed losing the maillot jaune today, saying there is still a very tough week of racing ahead in the Tour de France.

We spoke to Matt White and Jim Ochowicz about the strangely tight Tour de France GC, read what they have to say here.

Chris Froome restored the gaps he had on the first day in the Pyrenees, and was pleasantly surprised to be back in the maillot jaune today. Read what he had to say here.

Team Sky have once again proven themselves as the dominant squad in this Tour de France. We analyze at the situation here.

Thanks for following the Tour de France with Cyclingnews today. It should be another stage full of mayhem and intrigue tomorrow - join us for full live coverage!

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