RODEZ, France: Australian Michael Matthews won the 14th stage of the Tour de France on Saturday as Chris Froome retook the yellow jersey from Fabio Aru.
Matthews won comfortably ahead of Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet in the tough uphill sprint finish to the 181.5km stage from Blagnac to Rodez, with Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen third.
“A lot of planning went into that day, not just today weeks or months of planning, to deliver a win like that from my whole team,” said Matthews.
“I targeted this stage from the beginning of the year, I’ve been gearing my efforts around that finish and it came true.”
Aru was caught out well down in the peloton as gaps appeared in the finale, allowing reigning champion Froome to retake the jersey he’d lost to the Italian on Thursday.
“It’s a great day today, I didn’t think I could get back the jersey on a stage like this,” admitted a smiling Froome.
In this type of finish, positioning is crucial and Aru failed to manouevre himself to the front of the peloton in a rapid last 10km.
Froome did, though, and was in the right place when the sprint for the line started in the last 600 metres.
The Briton finished seventh, just a second behind Matthews, while Aru was down in 30th, 25 seconds further adrift.
Froome now leads the race by 19sec from Aru with Romain Bardet third at 23sec having also lost four seconds to Froome in the finish, although gained two on the yellow jersey.
Of the overall contenders, only Rigoberto Uran and Dan Martin stuck with Froome.
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.
Several riders in the top 10 overall were caught out with Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador finishing 23rd and 24th, 22sec behind Matthews.
But the biggest loser was Aru, who found himself near the back of the peloton as it was strung out almost in single-file in the speedy downhill section before the uphill finish.
It showed the importance of a strong team and what was notable in the finish was the massed ranks of yellow helmeted Sky riders near the front, while the yellow shirt of Aru was well back.
“Thanks to my team-mates for staying at the front in the end,” said Froome.
“Michal Kwiatkowski did great work at the end there and I have to thank him for retaking the jersey.”
Having lost his lead on Thursday on a steep finish, Froome retook time off all his rivals barring Uran and Martin.
Those two may be only fourth and fifth but are increasingly looking like Froome’s strongest challengers.