Caleb Ewan on Tuesday sprinted to his second victory in the Tour de France as Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the overall lead after Stage 16, while Geraint Thomas fell, but finished with all the main contenders.
As France experienced a heat wave, defending champion Thomas mistimed a curb and was left with a gash on his left leg after hitting the tarmac hard on the 177km run around the southern city of Nimes.
After his third fall in this Tour, Team Ineos sports director Nicolas Portal said that Thomas felt fine.
“He’s okay, he needed another bike. All his left side is a bit messed up, but nothing serious,” he said. “We have to refocus after the rest day.”
Thomas remains 1 minute, 35 seconds behind Alaphilippe in the overall standings, with the following three riders all within 27 seconds ahead of three challenging days in the Alps.
He also tumbled after flying over a barrier in Brussels on the opening day, and again on the road to Saint-Etienne on Stage 8.
This time the 33-year-old had no problem getting back to the pack on a flat stage with no wind to split the peloton.
Thomas’ teammate, the 22-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal — who is fifth 27 seconds behind Thomas, but 2 minutes, 2 seconds behind Alaphilippe — was a picture of serenity after the race.
“Okay it was hot, but it wasn’t so bad,” said Bernal, who has the best under-25’s white jersey.
“I rather like these conditions and to be honest I’m looking forward to the Alps. In terms of altitude it’ll be like in Colombia” he said. “The day off really did me good, I feel great today.”
Bernal said that Thomas was in good shape despite his heavy fall.
“I spoke to him just now and he’s seen the doctor already and he’s just got a couple of cuts, nothing serious” Bernal said.
Alaphilippe has signed autographs the past two weeks, but went straight to his team bus on Tuesday and did not reappear.
Meanwhile, Ewan was following up his victory on Stage 11 and with Nimes melting under 35°C, the Australian was favorite for a repeat performance, this time edging Italian Elia Viviani on the line.
“I’ll look back on this Tour and say it was a success,” Ewan said. “This is the furthest I have ever been in a Grand Tour, I’ve never finished one before.”
Peter Sagan, who came fourth on the day, but is in the green sprint points jersey, said it was too hot to race and that something should be done to protect riders.
Dehydration was a major issue as team cars were carrying an average of 200 water bottles, many of them with added minerals and saline with riders expected to drink 15 of the half-liter bidons each.
Some fans stayed away due the extreme afternoon heat, but the conditions failed to slow the peloton as it sped past the celebrated regional vineyards and olive groves.
One of the pre-race favorites, Jakob Fuglsang, the Criterium du Dauphine champion, pulled out with 25km to go after falling and hurting his hand.
Yesterday’s 17th stage was to see the Tour head north toward its Alpine reckoning with a 200km run from the Pont du Gard bridge in the Camargue to Gap, where bonus seconds atop a climb 10km from the finish line ensure further drama ahead of the three much-awaited stages that follow it.
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