Tour de France 2017, stage 14: Chris Froome regains leader's yellow jersey after Michael Matthews beats Greg Van Avermaet

Chris Froome sensationally reclaimed the yellow jersey after a thrilling uphill sprint at the end of stage 14 of the Tour de France.

Chris Froome
Chris Froome

It was not even supposed to be a general classification day. It was a stage for the strong, fast men – the Greg van Avarmaets, the Michael Matthews, the Philippe Gilberts – of the peloton. Yet it ended up being just decisive to the GC as the dramatic summit finish up to Peyragudes in the French Pyrenees on Thursday. This Tour de France just keeps throwing curve balls.

Another extraordinary, unpredictable day ended with Chris Froome reclaiming his maillot jaune in emphatic fashion as Fabio Aru and Astana went completely Awol on the short sharp uphill finish into Rodez.

As the bunch amassed for the final 3km, having caught the day’s breakaway, the yellow jersey was nowhere to be seen, Aru’s shredded Astana team having failed to keep him near the front.

Froome’s team mate Vasil Kiriyenka, having done his turn, was dropping back through the pack and spied an opportunity. The Belarussian radioed the team to alert them to Aru’s poor positioning. 

Sky’s sporting director Nicolas Portal repeated the message to Froome and his support team, just to make sure they had heard. They had.

Michal Kwiatkowksi – who has been utterly sensational at this Tour, arguably Sky’s star performer – turned on the afterburners, giving Froome a run-in to the final climb. The 32-year-old, so shaken two days ago, came home seventh, one second behind the stage winner Matthews [Sunweb].

Aru, battling desperately to minimise the losses, ended up losing 24 seconds to his rival, seeing a six second advantage turn into a 18-second deficit. It was utterly brutal.

“I really didn’t think I could get the jersey back on this stage,” an ecstatic Froome said after the podium ceremony. “We knew there were going to be time gaps today – but I didn’t expect that. It’s incredible to be back in yellow, especially after a tough day in the Pyrenees a couple of days ago. To bounce back like this now feels amazing.”

Froome reserved special praise for Kwiatkowski, the former world champion who is now dutifully playing the role of super domestique.

“He’s been just amazing, this whole race. Everything we’ve asked of him he’s done it – and more. 

“Today again, in the last few hundred metres he was shouting on the radio, ‘You’ve got a gap, you’ve got a gap, push forward, all the way!’ It’s such a great feeling.”

Froome added: “I’m not going to be safe until I reach Paris. As we’ve seen, each day has had surprises. The time gaps are so small, as we expected they would be in this year’s Tour, so at this point we’re just fighting for every second we can.”

So unpredictable has this Tour been that Froome is right to be cautious. It has been a funny old Tour in that respect. Dull as ditch water at stages, wildly controversial at others. 

But it has developed into one of the most intriguing general classification battles in years, with any of the top four – now separated by just 29 seconds – capable of victory, and even the likes of Dan Martin [QuickStep-Floors] and Simon Yates [Orica-Scott] well in contention, at 1min26sec and 2min02sec respectively. That is an incredible situation heading into the final week.

To add to the intrigue, the memory of Froome’s ride up to Peyragudes has not completely erased the suspicion that he is not quite firing on all cylinders. And with some big Alpine days to come – including a huge test on Friday to the Col d’Izoard – there are still plenty of opportunities for his rivals to test his legs. But the prevailing feeling on Saturday night was that Aru might have blown his chance. Froome will surely not give up yellow a second time.

Cedric Vasseur on French television wondered whether Astana manager Alexandre Vinokourov – “a great tactician” – might have conceded the jersey on purpose since Astana, shorn of so many men, would not be strong enough to defend it day after day. But 24secs really was very generous. This was a monumental cock-up.

After all the talk of whether Sky had played their cards correctly during Friday’s extraordinary stage when they had Mikel Landa up the road and, at one point, almost the virtual maillot jaune, only for Chris Froome and Michal Kwiatkowski to help chase, Sky suddenly look in control once again.

And sound it too. “We’ve given up the yellow jersey once and I saw a pretty disappointed Froomey when he had to hand it over,” Sky’s road captain Luke Rowe told ITV. “He won’t want to do that again.”