MENDE, France (Reuters) - Spain’s Omar Fraile powered to victory with a late burst in the last climb of the 14th stage of the Tour de France, a 188-km ride from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, on Saturday.
The Astana rider caught Belgian Jasper Stuyven near the top of the Cote de Croix Neuve, a 3-km ascent at an average gradient of 10.2 percent and did not look back as he crossed the line.
France’s Julian Alaphilippe was the fastest in the climb but he made his move slightly too late and finished six seconds behind, just ahead of Stuyven.
Briton Geraint Thomas keeps the yellow jersey after finishing ahead of his main rivals.
“Winning a Tour de France stage is the best for a professional rider,” said Fraile, who also has a Giro d’Italia stage win to his name.
“When I attacked I was not sure I would be able to keep my advantage. I knew Alaphilippe was coming strong.”
All three featured in an early breakaway that built a lead over the main pack of almost 20 minutes, although none of the 32 escapees were a threat in the general classification.
Welshman Thomas retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey with a one minute 39 second lead over team mate and defending champion Chris Froome, with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in third place, 1:50 off the pace.
Froome, who was cleared of a suspected doping offence in the week leading up to the start of this year’s race, has for years been targeted by the French crowd and on Saturday had some form of liquid thrown at him as he neared the finish.
“I don’t actually recall it but I’m not surprised, we’ve had a bit of that and it’s always been water from what I’ve seen,” Thomas told a news conference.
Only Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who is fourth overall, 2:38 behind Team Sky’s Thomas, gained some time on the main contenders when he attacked in the final climb.
He crossed the line 18:01 behind Fraile, but eight seconds ahead of Froome, Thomas and Dumoulin after the Dutchman also attacked in the climb.
The move hurt Frenchman Romain Bardet, who ended up 22 seconds off Roglic’s pace. He is fifth overall, now 3:21 off the pace and faces a massive challenge in the approaching Pyrenees if he is to finish on the Tour podium for the third time.
Sunday’s 15th stage is a 181.5-km hilly ride from Millau to Carcassonne ahead of the second rest day and three stages in the Pyrenees that could shake up the overall standings.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton and Pritha Sarkar