Frenchman Warren Barguil delivered a Bastille Day victory on stage 13 of the Tour de France as Team Sky piled pressure on Fabio Aru in the yellow jersey.
Team Sunweb’s Barguil won the short, sharp 101 kilometre stage from Saint-Girons to Foix out of a breakaway which had been driven by Sky’s Mikel Landa and fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador.
Landa finished fourth to claw back one minute and 48 seconds in the general classification, putting him within 69 seconds of Aru in yellow as Sky plot to reclaim the yellow jersey Chris Froome lost on Thursday.
The top four in the general classification had crossed the line together in the third group on the road, keeping Aru six seconds clear of Froome, with Frenchman Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale 25 seconds down in third and Colombian Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac fourth at 35 seconds.
“Yesterday was a difficult day for me but today I felt a lot better and we played a lot with our team,” said Froome. “We had Mikel not a long way back on GC, and maybe over the next few days we can do the same thing again.”
There was speculation overnight that Landa’s late dig into Peyragudes – where he beat Froome to the line on Thursday – meant the Spaniard was not 100 per cent behind Sky’s three-time Tour winner and looking out for his own interests.
But in moving up the standings himself, he has given Sky plenty of options in the coming days. Their rivals must now try to cover both Froome and Landa if they launch attacks.
“We’ve got a lot of faith in Mikel and we showed that today,” Froome added. “He’s a real threat now for the overall title in Paris and it’s a great card for us to play, especially when Astana don’t have the numbers.”
Astana’s options were limited further on Friday when Criterium du Dauphine winner Jakob Fuglsang finally succumbed to the fractures he suffered in a stage 11 crash and abandoned.
Aru admitted Landa’s move had given him plenty to worry about in the days to come.
“For sure he was a bit far behind so I knew he could try something today, but I couldn’t follow everyone,” he said. “Now, considering where he is on the GC, I will give him less freedom.”
Contador and Landa broke clear on the second of the day’s three category one climbs, the Col d’Agnes, and quickly built a strong lead.
They were joined by a counter-attack from Barguil and Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar on the punishing Mur de Peguere, and once they had crested that with a lead of over two minutes it was clear they would contest stage honours between them.
Behind, the group of main contenders began a lengthy game of cat and mouse.
Irishman Dan Martin of Quick-Step Floors did much of the work pacing them up the climb, later revealing it was his only option as he lacks the explosiveness to follow attacks after being caught in Richie Porte’s crash on stage nine.
Froome tried a move in the final metres of the Peguere but was quickly shut down, while the long descent saw a series of attacks and counter-attacks.
“It was quite a great feeling to have to go out there and race for the win today rather than racing defensively and having that pressure of defending the yellow jersey,” said Froome, who is accustomed to taking yellow early in the Tour and carrying it to Paris.
“It felt quite nice having the shoe on the other foot.”
With the top four watching each other closely, Martin slipped away in the finale and was soon followed by Simon Yates in the young riders’ white jersey, and the pair picked up nine seconds by the finish line.
That leaves Martin in sixth overall, one minute and 32 seconds behind Aru, while Orica-Scott’s Yates sits seventh, two minutes and four seconds down but with a gap of more than two and a half minutes over his main rival for white, South African Louis Meintjes of UAE Team Emirates.
“I managed to get away and catch Dan, and we worked well until the finish. We gained only a few seconds, but it all counts,” Yates said.
It was a first career Tour stage win for Barguil, who has been out of form after he was one of six members of his team struck by a car during a training ride in January 2016, suffering another crash in this season’s Tour de Romandie as well.
“It feels really special,” the 25-year-old said of the win. “I’ve had two bad years behind me. Now I can show my real level again. I’m really happy.”
The day began with news from the UCI that 20-second penalties handed to three riders – including Uran – on Thursday for taking late bottles had been annulled.
There were complaints that Bardet also took a late bottle but escaped punishment, but rather than hand the popular Frenchman a penalty on Bastille Day, the race jury chose to cancel them all.
Final leading positions after Stage 13, (Saint Girons – Pau – 101km):
1 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb 2hrs 36mins 29secs
2 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
3 Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo both at same time
4 Mikel Landa (Spa) Team Sky at 02secs
5 Simon Yates (Gbr) Orica-Scott at 1min 39secs
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors at same time
7 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky at 01min 48secs
8 Christopher Froome (Gbr) Team Sky
9 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team
10 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac
11 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
12 Louis Meintjes (Rsa) UAE Team Emirates all at same time
13 Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team at 04mins 08secs
14 Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
15 Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
16 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data
17 Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
18 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team
19 Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty – Groupe Gobert
20 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe all at same time
Leading general classification after Stage 13:
1 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 55hrs 30mins 06secs
2 Christopher Froome (Gbr) Team Sky at 06secs
3 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 25secs
4 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac at 35secs
5 Mikel Landa (Spa) Team Sky at 01min 09secs
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors at 01min 32secs
7 Simon Yates (Gbr) Orica-Scott at 02mins 04secs
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team at 02mins 07secs
9 Louis Meintjes (Rsa) UAE Team Emirates at 04mins 51secs
10 Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 05mins 22secs
11 George Bennett (Nzl) Team LottoNl-Jumbo at 06mins 24secs
12 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky at 09mins 50secs
13 Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 10mins 33secs
14 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team at 11mins 13secs
15 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb at 14mins 05secs
16 Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 14mins 36secs
17 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 16mins 34secs
18 Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Teamat 18mins
19 Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty – Groupe Gobert at 21mins 47secs
20 Brice Feillu (Fra) Team Fortuneo – Oscaro at 22mins 34secs