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Froome survives scare to retain Tour lead

From BBC - July 16, 2017

Britain's Chris Froome brilliantly recovered from a puncture to defend his slender Tour de France lead from a blistering attack on stage 15.

Froome took roughly 30 seconds to swap a back wheel shortly after Romain Bardet's AG2R La Mondiale team had put the defending champion in difficulty.

But he rallied and managed to rejoin his rivals on the category one climb with a monumental effort aided by his fellow Team Sky rider Mikel Landa, before Bauke Mollema went on to claim stage victory in a daring solo break.

Mollema attacked from a leading group with over 30km to go on Sunday's 189.5km ride from Laissac-Severac l'Eglise to Le Puy-en-Velay, and the Dutchman held on for his first stage win at the Tour.

Diego Ulissi, Tony Gallopin and Primoz Roglic were 19 seconds slower, with the main rivals for overall victory over six minutes further back.

Froome, a three-time winner of the Tour, remains 18 seconds clear of Astana's Italian rider Fabio Aru. Frenchman Bardet stays in third, 23 seconds behind, while fourth-placed Colombia rider Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale trails Froome by 29 seconds.

After Monday's final rest day, there will be six further stages before the race finishes in Paris on 23 July.

Froome digs deep to keep yellow

Froome had lost almost a minute on his rivals by the time he emerged from a wheel swap with team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski on the slopes of the Col de Peyra Taillade.

Team Sky had been in control of the peloton before reaching the foot of the climb - which included an 800m section at a gradient of 14% - but AG2R suddenly burst clear in an ambitious co-ordinated attack.

Froome and his team-mates were under severe pressure even before the puncture and many riders, such as Nairo Quintana, one of the pre-race favourites, were blown away by the pace.

Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka and Sergio Henao all dropped back to assist in Froome's pursuit, peeling off before the 32-year-old eventually bridged to Landa, who helped his team leader through the final charge required to meet his yellow jersey rivals, Aru, Bardet, and Uran, once more.

Froome said his forced wheel change "could not have come at a worse time".

"But all in all I am just happy to have got through without any major losses. I am going to pass out tonight. I am knackered," he told ITV.

Quintana drops down, Martin moves up

Quintana dropping out of the top 10 was the most significant movement in the overall standings.

The Colombian 27-year-old finished three minutes and 54 seconds behind Froome and fell from eighth to 11th. He now trails the Briton by six minutes and 16 seconds.

But Dan Martin finished strongly to move up to fifth in the overall standings, leapfrogging Landa.

The Irish Quick-Step Floors rider crossed the line 14 seconds ahead of the group led by Froome thanks to an attack inside the last 12km.

Martin lost one minute and 15 seconds a week earlier after crashing into Richie Porte - who was forced to abandon - on a hazardous descent, and has even been suffering from back pain ever since.

After the stage, he said the attack led by AG2R was "one of the hardest parts of the Tour so far".

"They were flying, and everyone was already in the red," he said.

"Chris is the only guy who could come back from a mechanical in that situation. They were not taking advantage of the mechanical, but I am happy he came back, because you do not want the Tour decided like that."

Stage 15 result:

General classification after stage 15:

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