After avoiding disaster, Froome ready to tackle Alps in close Tour

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And even though Sky's Froome is widely considered a better time-trialist than his rivals, and he now leads the race by 18 seconds from Fabio Aru, the Briton said he'd want more of a buffer to feel genuinely secure.

"It's clear we have to move on those two days in the Alps - we have high hopes for those two stages", said Jurdie.

The 2017 Tour de France will return on Tuesday after a second rest day.

"To have that card to play to put teams under pressure with someone other than Froomey as a GC contender is a great position to be in", said Rowe.

"I think that the particularity of this Tour de France is that there are so few mountain stages that every single one of them is raced flat out", he said.

Froome said he had no explanation for Aru's breakdown.

Froome, who had a six-second deficit at the start of the stage, is enjoying an 18-second advantage over Aru, who is paying for the weakness of his Astana team.

Is he going to get more help from his teammates and a shot at getting back the yellow?

The AG2R-La Mondiale leader has ridden very aggressively, and although alliances are a bit of a fantasy, Uran could possibly join him in trying to overthrow Froome, as the Colombian is something of an all-in type of rider.

Froome was dropped because of a mechanical problem on his bike ahead of the last big climb of the day.

The 30-year-old even snatched a place in the standings, moving above Froome's Sky team-mate Mikel Landa into fifth, now 1min 12sec behind Froome - Martin lost 1:15 a week earlier when taken out by a crashing Richie Porte on a hazardous descent and has even been suffering from back pain ever since. With the way Froome and Team Sky are riding now, it's going to take a team effort to give someone else a shot at the overall lead.

The first half of the 2017 Tour de France did little to capture the imagination. "The time I made up today could be very vital".

Further back, Froome realized that if he didn't catch them by the top, he might never do so. He had a lead of 1:47 after Stage 14 in 2016, of 3:10 in 2015 and 2:28 in 2013.

The one-day classics specialists had the stage victory in sight but sprinter Matthews stayed on their wheels on the last climb and outsprinted Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet, who ended up second two years after winning a Tour stage that ended in Rodez.

Bauke Mollema of the Trek-Segafredo team won the 15th stage, a 189.5km-ride from Laissac-Severac L'Eglise to Le Puy en Velay. "I'm really sorry. He's a champion who should be respected, who I respect as a rival and who doesn't deserve that kind of treatment", Bardet said. The thrillingly tight grouping at the top promises vigorous battles between them in the last week of racing.

Froome, who survived a puncture, retained the yellow jersey.

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