With Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome sitting first and second in the overall standings, Team Sky has complete control over the Tour de France.
Thomas and Froome, both of Britain, took advantage of their powers in the hilly 14th stage in the Massif Central on Saturday, allowing a large group of breakaway riders to build a lead of nearly 20 minutes and then fending off the few attacks thrown their way on the short but steep finishing climb.
“We can really just ride off each other,” Froome said. “I imagine for our rivals it’s making their lives quite difficult, having two guys to watch like that.”
While Thomas is trying to win the Tour for the first time, Froome is aiming for a record-tying fifth victory in cycling’s biggest race.
rimoz Roglic, in fourth place, was the only Tour contender to gain time, finishing eight seconds ahead of Thomas, Froome and the third-place rider Tom Dumoulin — with all four riders finishing more than 18 minutes behind Stage 14’s winner, Omar Fraile, who remained far back in the standings.
Thomas leads Froome by 1 minute 39 seconds. Dumoulin, the time trial world champion and last year’s Giro d’Italia winner, is 1:50 behind, and Roglic is 2:38 back.
When Dumoulin attacked with two kilometers remaining, Thomas chased him down with Froome towing along.
Fraile escaped from a large group of breakaway riders on the finishing climb, a 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.”
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 the three-time world champion Peter Sagan came in fourth.
It was the first career victory at the Tour for Fraile, who rides for the Astana team. He became the third Spanish winner of a Tour stage in Mende, after Marcos Serrano in 2005 and Joaquim Rodríguez in 2010.
The hilly 188-kilometer (117-mile) route from St.-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in southern France passed through the Ardàche 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.
The finishing climb on the Côte de la Croix Neuve measured only three kilometers but was a steep challenge at an average gradient of slightly more than 10 percent.
A sea of fans lined each side of the road up the Côte de la Croix Neuve, and the crowd was disappointed when the French contender Romain Bardet could not keep up with the leaders.
Bardet, who crossed 14 seconds behind Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin, is in fifth place over all, 3:21 behind.
Strong crosswinds at the start in the Rhone Valley split the peloton into “echelons” — groups of strung-out riders fanned across the road.
Thomas and Froome were in the front echelon, while Roglic, Bardet, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde were caught behind.
Eventually, the peloton came back together, although by then a group of 32 breakaway riders, including Fraile, had formed ahead.
Stuyven surged ahead alone before the final climb but was passed by Fraile with two kilometers to go.
“In the last few kilometers,” Fraile said, “I knew that I could win.”