MENDE, FRANCE - Sky teammates Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome remained 1-2 in the Tour de France after the hilly 14th stage as an anticipated shakeup in the overall standings didn’t come to fruition on Saturday.
Spanish rider Omar Fraile won the stage in the Massif Central by bursting from a large group of breakaway riders on the finishing climb, a short but steep three-kilometer ascent that was followed by a quick descent and flat finish on an air strip.
“When I saw that the breakaway was so big, I knew it was going to be a tough stage, but I picked my moment well and pulled it off,” Fraile said. “I knew that I still had another gear. . . . I have raced here before and I knew the course to perfection.”
Fourth-placed Primoz Roglic was the only overall contender to gain time, finishing eight seconds ahead of Thomas, Froome, and third-placed Tom Dumoulin — with all four riders finishing more than 18 minutes behind Fraile, who remained far back in the standings.
Thomas leads four-time champion Froome by 1 minute, 39 seconds. Dumoulin is third, 1:50 behind, and Roglic is fourth, 2:38 back.
Fraile had time to celebrate before crossing the line, finishing six seconds ahead of Julian Alaphilippe, the Frenchman wearing the polka-dot jersey awarded to the Tour’s best climber.
Jasper Stuyven of Belgium finished third, also six seconds back, and three-time world champion Peter Sagan came fourth.
It was the first career victory at the Tour for Fraile, who rides for the Astana team. His only other victory at a Grand Tour came with a stage win in last year’s Giro d’Italia. The Basque rider also won the mountains classification in the Spanish Vuelta in 2015 and 2016.
Fraile became the third Spanish winner of a Tour stage in Mende after Marcos Serrano in 2005 and Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez in 2010.
The hilly 188-kilometer (117-mile) route from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux in southern France passed through the Ardeche gorges, home to cave paintings dating back some 36,000 years.
Stage 15 on Sunday from Millau to Carcassonne is another hilly leg before the race’s second rest day on Monday. Then come the Pyrenees and a possibly decisive individual time trial in the penultimate stage before the traditional finish in Paris next weekend.
There were three categorized climbs before the finale, including the Col du Pont sans Eau, which translates as “the hill of the bridge with no water.”
Most of the action came on the Cote de la Croix Neuve (hill of the new cross), which measures only three kilometers in length but is a steep challenge at an average gradient of slightly more than 10 percent — that’s more than the 8.1 percent average gradient of the much longer Alpe d’Huez.