Froome refuses to be blown off course as Matthews wins stage

Britain's Chris Froome.
Britain's Chris Froome.
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Michael Matthews won stage 16 of the Tour de France to Romans-sur-Isere as Chris Froome fought off fierce crosswinds to protect the yellow jersey.

Australian Matthews won his second stage of this year’s Tour in a reduced sprint finish ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen and John Degenkolb.

The peloton battled strong winds over lengthy stretches of the 165 kilometres stage from Le Puy-en-Velay, and Team Sky kept Froome the right side of the splits by doing much of the work to create them.

Froome said: “For us it was more about just being on the right side of it. Knowing it was going to kick off on that open section in the last 20 kilometres to go, the guys committed to that and we saw the gaps opening out straight away.

“We weren’t really concerned about what the other teams were doing. It was more about what we needed to do and being in the right place and the right time for us.”

Irishman Dan Martin was caught on the wrong side of the split as he surrendered 51 seconds and dropped to seventh overall, now two minutes and three seconds back.

Froome leads the Tour, the closest in history at this stage in the race, by 18 seconds from Italian national champion Fabio Aru, with Frenchman Romain Bardet a further five seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran is fourth, only 29 seconds down.

Martin’s losses saw Bury’s Simon Yates move up to sixth in the best young riders’ white jersey, one second ahead of Martin.

“The team did a fantastic job,” the Orica-Scott rider said. “I was always in the right position. Jens Keukeleire did a fantastic job once it started to split there in the wind. Once the gap was made I was in the front and just happy to be there.”

Team Sky had upped the pace with a little over 20 kilometres remaining to cause the decisive split as only 22 riders made it into the front group.

Jack Bauer did his best to drag Martin back up to the leaders, but Martin could not keep up with his Quick-Step Floors team-mate.

“I was a bit sick yesterday and then some of the other guys have been sick as well,” Martin said. “The team’s really struggling today.

“We put on a brave face this morning hoping that they would be able to protect me but in the end I only had Gianluca (Brambilla) and Jack.

“They did an incredible job all day. Jack was killing it at the end. I wasn’t in a bad position, but it was probably me who didn’t have the legs or the power in the wind. It happens.

“It’s unfortunate. We worked so hard to be in this position but it’s not over.”

Two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador was also dropped, a day after his Trek-Segafredo sports director Steven de Jongh told Dutch television this would be his final Tour.

It proved a hugely profitable day for Matthews, who cut his deficit in the points classification from 79 to 29 as Marcel Kittel struggled in the green jersey, finishing in a group more than 16 minutes behind the leaders.

Team Sunweb had ensured no breakaway could get away as they sought to deliver Matthews to the intermediate sprint, piling the pressure on as word came through of Kittel’s struggles.

Matthews said: “We took it from the word go. We were attacking for the whole first climb to make it hard for Quick-Step to shut us down over the top.

“We really tried to put the pressure on.”