ROMANS-SUR-ISERE, France — Michael Matthews won a sprint to the line on Stage 16 of the Tour de France as Britain’s Chris Froome kept the yellow jersey on Tuesday ahead of two difficult days in the Alps.
Heavy crosswinds played havoc in the last 30 kilometers of the 165-kilometer (102.5-mile) ride between Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-en-Isere, causing the peloton to stretch and frequently break into several groups.
Froome and his main rivals — Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran — managed to stay at the front and crossed the finish line together.
Froome, the defending champion, has an 18-second lead over Aru, with Romain Bardet 23 seconds back in third place.
Matthews claimed his second stage win in this race, three days after his victory in Rodez, reducing the gap with green jersey holder Marcel Kittel in the best sprinter’s classification.
Matthews made the most of a slightly uphill section 500 meters from the line and accelerated after Greg Van Avermaet launched the sprint. Matthews then resisted Edvald Boasson Hagen’s late surge to prevail by a wheel’s length. John Degenkolb completed the podium.
The day’s big loser was Irish rider Dan Martin, who was caught in a split in the finale and lost 51 seconds, dropping to seventh place overall, 2:03 off the pace.
On a difficult terrain with constant up-and-downs across the lush forests of Massif Central, several attacks took place during the first hour of racing. With gusts of wind up to 65 kilometers, the peloton split, with Kittel getting dropped in a group struggling at the back.
Kittel could not count on teammate Philippe Gilbert to bring him back as the former world champion did not start the stage in Le Puy-en-Velay due to gastroenteritis. Standing 12th overall, Lotto NL Jumbo rider George Bennett had a bad day and dropped out about 100 kilometers from the finish.
Looking to increase the pressure on Kittel, Matthews’ Sunweb team hardened the race at the front, joining forces with other sprinters’ teams to increase the gap to more than three minutes with 75 kilometers remaining.
Caught in the split with Kittel, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni did not give up the chase and managed to bridge the gap after an impressive effort with his Cofidis teammates before Matthews won the intermediate sprint.
On long and flat sections vulnerable to wind, Froome’s Sky team rode at the front, making sure their leader would not miss out on possible splits.
The high tempo imposed by Sky stretched out the pack as Jarlinson Pantano heavily crashed on the side of the road and Alberto Contador was dropped.
The battle for the yellow jersey will resume on Wednesday during the first of two Alpine stages in high altitude. It will lead riders to the ski station of Serre Chevalier through a grueling 183-kilometer trek featuring four climbs, including a nearly 12-kilometer ascent to the Col du Galibier, one of the Tour’s most fearsome and famed climbs.Source: denverpost