LE PUY-EN-VELAY, France (AP) — Chris Froome fought back from a bike breakdown to cling onto his race leader’s yellow jersey on the tricky Stage 15 of the Tour de France, won Sunday with a courageous solo breakaway by Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands.
The back wheel of three-time Tour champion Froome broke at the worst possible time, just as the AG2R team of close rival Romain Bardet was picking up the pace ahead of the last big climb of the day, an 8.3-kilometer (5-mile) slog up the steep Col de Peyra Taillade — scaled for the very first time by the Tour.
By the time Froome had stopped, taken a wheel off his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski and got going again, Bardet’s group was already way ahead — about one minute ahead of him down the road.
Aside from Bardet, other top riders were also in that group, including Fabio Aru and Rigoberto Uran — all within 30 seconds of Froome in the overall standings. Froome had two choices: catch them or lose the overall race lead and the famed yellow jersey that goes with it.
He hared after them and, helped first by teammates Mikel Nieve and then by Mikel Landa, Froome worked furiously on the climb to reel in Bardet’s group — past cheering crowds with some people who booed him as he labored past them.
“It was a stressful moment,” Froome said. “I thought I might not get back to the front.”
By recovering from the mishap, Froome now takes the jersey and an 18-second overall lead into Monday’s rest day, the last of two at the 104th Tour, ahead of a crucial last week of racing in the Alps and with a time trial in Marseille.
Mollema, a top-10 finisher at the Tours of 2013, 2014 and 2015, sped away on the descent from the Peyra Taillade climb and worked like a coal miner over the last 30 kilometers (20 miles) to stay out in front of a group of four riders who laid chase.
They couldn’t catch the Trek-Segafredo rider.
Mollema held his arms out in a cross shape as he sped across the finish line in Le Puy-en-Velay, the start of a famed Christian pilgrimage route to Spain.
NBC Sports Gold coverage of Stage 16 starts Tuesday at 7:25 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coming on air at 7:30.
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