Spaniard Omar Fraile ended Belgian hopes of a Tour de France victory on their national holiday with a gutsy, maiden win on the race on the 14th stage on Saturday.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas, of Team Sky, retained the race leader’s yellow jersey after crossing the line with teammate Chris Froome and Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) just over 18 minutes in arrears.
Froome, a four-time champion, remained 1minute, 39 seconds behind, with Dumoulin, arguably Team Sky’s biggest threat over the final stages, 1:50 off the lead.
“I felt good today. Obviously it was tough, but it was pretty good,” Thomas said. “I think we can be satisfied with our run.”
With four days of climbing in the Pyrenees to decide the outcome of the yellow jersey, the main peloton and all the race favorites were happy to allow an early breakaway escape in the opening kilometres.
Intentions seemed clear on Belgium’s national holiday after seven Belgians got in among a group of 32 frontrunners including Philippe Gilbert and yellow-jersey holder Greg van Avermaet.
However, Astana rider Fraile, who claimed his maiden Giro d’Italia stage last year following a long breakaway, was intent on ruining their party.
“It was one of the stages I had marked and when I saw the breakaway go, I told myself that I had to get in it,” he said. “It’s a dream. Soloing over the finish line was incredible.”
“I think when a cyclist wins on the Tour de France it’s fabulous,” he said. “It’s the most important race in the world.”
When Jasper Stuyven (Trek) capitalized on a mid-race spat between Gilbert and Fraile to break away on his own with more than 30km to race, it looked like Belgium would have reason to celebrate.
However, Stuyven, a one-day classics specialist who finished in the top ten of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders earlier this season, fell victim to his lack of climbing prowess.
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