18/07/17 - 12:40
Le Puy-en-Velay - Romans-sur-Isère
Tour de France • Stage16

Le Puy-en-Velay - Romans-sur-Isère
Tour de France - 18 July 2017

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That was a real Team Sunweb master class today - first they distanced Marcel Kittel on the early climb, then they led out Matthews for the intermediate sprint, then they kept him the right side of the crosswinds, then they saw their man win the stage. So that's another 50 points in the battle for green - and Kittel's lead of 79 is considerably slashed.


Dan Martin and Louis Meintjes lose 50 seconds today, while Alberto Contador came home in a group 1:30 down. So there will be a bit of change in the top ten - but not with the top five.


Here's the top ten today...


In the end, it didn't really merit a photo finish - Boasson Hagen certainly didn't miss out by the 0.0003 seconds that he lost to Kittel by in the opening week...


Boasson Hagen took second place and Degenkolb took third place - although the German was angry with the Australian's line... he did veer to the right and box Degenkolb against the barriers a bit. One for the race jury to chew over.


Victory for Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb!


Photo finish: John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews and Edvald Boasson Hagen all cross the line together!


Bennati is caught and it's Sunweb on the front as Van Avermaet goes early...


Under the flamme rouge for Bennati and he still has a small gap...


Attack by Daniele Bennati of Movistar! The Spanish veteran goes for a long one... he hasn't won a Tour stage for a decade...


It's going to be a funny finish today what with this reduced peloton. The big favourites are Van Avermaet, Matthews, Degenkolb and Boasson Hagen, but watch out for Bennati, Keukeleire and Laporte.


The Kittel gruppetto is now 11km in arrears!


Warren Barguil is here and could well move into the top ten today. The gap for the Martin group is now up to 38 seconds. And yes, Contador is in the third group now with his team-mate Bauke Mollema - 1:05 back.


Alberto Contador may not be in this leading group... we haven't seen him here, or in the second group either. It's his Trek team-mate Degenkolb who is setting the tempo - could the German have a chance at competing for the win today in the absence of the pure sprinters? Jens Keukeleire of Orica-Scott is there too - he could be one to watch.


The 30-odd lead group has about 25 seconds as they approach the area of the course that is not affected by winds. Oliver Naesen sets the tempo for Bardet. Christophe Laporte is there for Cofidis, but with Bouhanni dropped, he'll have to lone-ranger it at the finish.


The likes of Froome, Aru, Bardet, Uran, Landa, Yates, Contador, Caruso, Quintana and Barguil are all in this leading group - as are all sprinters except Kristoff and Greipel. It looks like Meintjes has also been caught out. Degenkolb and Matthews are in the leading group, as is Boasson Hagen, van Avermaet. But it looks like Bouhanni missed out too.


The only rider in the top seven who looks to have been caught out in this split is Dan Martin, who is in a group about 15 seconds down. Sniffing out an opportunity, Simon Yates drives the pace.


Aru is back on the front after closing the gap - and Romain Bardet looks to be the next GC rider to be in trouble - although he's shepherded to the front again by Oliver Naisen.


CRASH: Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) and Axel Domont (Ag2R-La Mondiale) hit the deck at speed. The Colombian looks a bit bashed up.


CROSSWINDS: Sky set a fast tempo as the winds get blustery and some splits are appearing... and Fabio Aru looks to be caught out!


Michal Kwiatkowski - the domestique de luxe - is now on the front ahead of the yellow jersey, Chris Froome, who looks increasingly assured in his role as race leader, despite the slender lead he holds over his three nearest rivals.


Astana and Lotto Soudal are on the front now, with the familiar face of Andre Greipel right near the tip of the peloton. Quick-Step Floors - or what's left of them - are present, too. But the winds - although strong - have yet to cause any damage. They're changing direction so regularly that their toll is not fully being felt in one consistent direction.


Chris Froome is sitting in fifth wheel on the front of the peloton with a couple of Sky team-mates. They don't want to get caught out. And the gap back to Kittel is now 8:45 for the German, whose grip on the green jersey will be much weaker tonight than this morning.


Astana have four riders near the front for their man Fabio Aru, in the national champions colour of Italy. Aru has been guilty of being caught out by splits - most notably three days ago when he lost the yellow jersey to Froome - and he will be very alert to avoid a repeat.


Direct Energie now move up to the front of the pack - they're working for their sprinter Thomas Boudat. Ag2R-La Mondiale have formed a train on the left with the Belgian national champion Oliver Naesen on the front and bringing up leader Romain Bardet.


That attack came to nothing - if anything it was a mere leg-stretching reminder of their presence - and Trek have been replaced once again by Sunweb on the front of the pack. The Kittel gruppetto is now more than six minutes down. Sky and Movistar have edged ahead because of those possible crosswinds.


ATTACK: Koen de Kort and Alberto Contador ignore - or exploit - the fact that Team Sky are taking on food, and put in a dig on a little climb. Kwiatskowski is forced to jettison his load and dig deep to chase it down. The Pole is such a work horse: winning Milan-Sanremo in March and being the consummate domestique in July.


CRASH: Serge Pauwels topples over when the road bottlenecks for road works and the peloton comes to a near-standstill. It's nothing too serious and he'll be back on his way.


Quick-Step, Cannondale-Drapac, Sunweb and Orica-Scott are on the front of the pack. It's a tail-crosswind at the moment.


Those reported crosswinds are coming up in this closing circuit - and already some riders have been distanced by the reduced pack thanks to the high pace.


Michael Matthews takes 20pts at the intermediate sprint ahead of Andre Greipel of Lotto Soudal. So, that's a job well done for Sunweb. Who'd have thought this green jersey battle would have got so intense one week ago when Kittel won back-to-back stages in central France?


Earlier, it was the crosswinds which did a bit of damage in the peloton, which had stretched out on the opening climb of the day. Here's a video which explains how the peloton tackles crosswinds and just how dangerous they can be.

Video - Science of Cycling – The echelon: How to deal with a crosswind


Team Sunweb still setting the tempo ahead of the intermediate sprint - working for their man Michael Matthews. If the Australian can get 20 points here and then a high finish in an hour or so, then he will be within striking distance of Marcel Kittel's green jersey lead.


The riders are deep in the Hermitage wine region near the town of Tain-l'Hermitage. We have the intermediate sprint coming up before a loop around towards today's finish town of Romans-sur-Isere. The gap is over four minutes still, so Kittel and Groenewegen will not be able to do a Bouhanni and get back into this race.


Superb effort from Bouhanni and Lemoine, who have done the impossible in getting the sprinter back into the back of the peloton. It'll take some time for him to edge his way through the field, but once there he'll be able to sit up a little and recover.


Marcel Kittel may have given up, but Nacer Bouhanni is determined to make it back into the main pack - and thanks to some help from Cofidis team-mate Cyril Lemoine, the French sprinter is now just 40 seconds down. They have Nils Politt of Katusha-Alpecin as a dead weight, but it's looking good - provided he doesn't knacker himself out too much before the finish.


Some superb field art in this neck of the French woods.


The gap is up to 3:40 now for the main pack over the green jersey chasing group so it's fair to say that neither Kittel, Bouhanni nor Groenewegen will win today.


As for the battle for the white jersey, well, Briton's Simon Yates looks destined to pick up where his twin brother Adam left off by winning the youth classification. He currently leads Louis Meintjes by 3:07. It's unlikely for him to level or better his brother's fourth place finish on GC, however. Yates is currently 2:02 down in seventh place, but has the likes of Dan Martin and Mikel Landa ahead of him.


There may be no change at the top of the standings today - unless the crosswinds whip up a fiasco in the second half of this stage - but the battle for yellow is still one of the most intense in the history of the race, with four riders separated by just 29 seconds with five and a half stages remaining. It's anyone's guess who will ride into Paris in yellow. The current standings have Chris Froome 18 seconds to the better of Fabio Aru, 23 seconds ahead of Romain Bardet and 29 seconds clear of Rigoberto Uran.


Our friends at GCN put together this rest-day recap looking back at all the main talking points from the second phase of the race - something for you to take a look at during this post-prandial lull in today's stage.


British national champion Steve Cummings looks to be edging to attack on a slight climb out of Saint-Felician but Team Sky swamp him in bodies to dissuade the Dimension Data rider from trying anything. The pack has just passed through the feed zone and have taken on a collective mussette. The pace has dropped accordingly, but with the gap now at three minutes, it can afford to.


Contador has Colombian team-mate Jarlinson Pantano alongside him to help pace him back into the peloton, which still leads the green jersey gruppetto by 2:35.


Bike change for Alberto Contador of Trek-Segafredo, who drops off the back of the peloton on this fast descent, which has just hit a small ledge at the town of Saint-Felicien. The Spaniard announced yesterday that this will be his last Tour de France: he will ride the Giro and possibly the Vuelta next year in his final season before retiring. Expect fireworks from him, then, in the Alps and that final time trial in Marseille. Or at least, attempted fireworks.


Kittel rides on the front of the chasing group on this long descent down to the valley ahead of the intermediate sprint - but it's a lost cause for the German, who is 2:15 behind the peloton which is still being driven by Sunweb. Can a team win the combativity prize? It may have to, today...


New Zealand's George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) has abandoned the race. We're hearing that he was ill today and called it a day when more than six minutes off the pace. Terrible blow for Bennett, who was 12th this morning and in line to better the previous highest Kiwi finisher in the Tour this year (Tino Tabak finished 18th in 1972).


Yes, and there it is - Barguil takes the point over the top to move onto 119pts. His nearest opponents are both on 38 points so it's looking very good for the Frenchman.


Warren Barguil, the polks dot jersey from Team Sunweb, has come to the front of the pack - as have Team Sky, for whom Michal Kwiatkowski just picked up a mussette. Frenchman Barguil will probably target the single point over the summit to consolidate his lead in the polka dot standings.


Sunweb lead the pack onto the Cat.4 Col de Rouvey (2.8km at 5.6%). On the front of the chasing pack, Lotto-Soudal, LottoNL-Jumbo, Cofidis and Katusha all share out tempo duties - but the gap is still at 1:55.


Not so tough, it seems...


The pace is high and the gap is up to 1:50 for the main pack over the chasing group that contains Kittel et others. We've just left the Ardeche and entered the Haute Loire department, renowned for its mushrooms.


Katusha-Alpecin are the latest team to lend a hand to Sunweb in the main pack with Tiago Machado coming to the front for a pull. They know that a distanced Kittel/Groenewegen/Bouhanni/Lotto Soudal train means a bigger chance for them to get a win through Alexander Kristoff, who has nevertheless been decidedly off the boil in this year's Tour.


So, it's been confirmed by LottoNL-Jumbo: Bennett is in the gruppetto alongside the likes of an ill Dan McLay of Fortuneo-Oscaro, and his team are clearly putting a possible stage win for Dylen Groenewegen above protecting the New Zealander's attempts to crack the top ten on GC.


Bad news for George Bennett: we're hearing that the New Zealander is in a group behind that chasing group, currently more than three minutes down. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider started today in 12th position but he must be suffering from illness or something, for this is catastrophic for his top-ten ambitions, and LottoNL-Jumbo are not committing Primoz Roglic to helping him out...


Zdenek Stybar and Fabio Sabatini are leading the chase from that distanced group off the back of the peloton, working hard for their man Kittel in the green skin suit.


Lone leader Chavanel has the experience to know when it's no good - and the French veteran (currently riding his 17th consecutive Tour) sits up and lets the peloton catch him up.


The riders covered 39.7km in this active start to the stage as Chavanel rides with a 20-second gap over the pack, which has caught De Gendt. Meanwhile, the green jersey group is still 1:20 down. The race enters the Ardeche department of central-eastern France.


With the break being reeled in, Sylvain Chavanel goes for broke and attacks as the race enters a dense pine forest. Impey, Degand and Edet are caught by the peloton, while De Gendt continues to ride somewhere in between.


The winds on this plateau - plus the fast pace and tension - has stretched out this race and caused numerous echelons in the race... intriguing. For now, the big casualty is Kittel and New Zealand's George Bennett, who this morning was 12th on GC but is now behind all his rivals.


Some interesting names have been caught out in this Kittel gruppetto: George Bennett and Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo, sprinters Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Luke Rowe of Sky. So, that's why Boasson Hagen and Matthews are motivated: some of the peloton's fast men are off the back. Andre Greipel is in the right group, but he's without his Lotto Soudal pilots Jurgen Roelandts, Lars Bak and Adam Hansen...


Dimension Data are helping out on the front of this pack with Team Sunweb with Steve Cummings - who tried his luck earlier getting in the break - putting in a decent shift. They're motivated for their man Edvald Boasson Hagen, who would be a good bet in the sprint in the absence of Marcel Kittel.


The gap is growing to 45 seconds now for the peloton over the Kittel gruppetto, so it's not looking good for the green jersey. Quick-Step Floors are in a bit of a quandry: they've committed men to help the German which has left Dan Martin exposed - he only has Jack Bauer alongside him in the main pack, so Quick-Step won't be their usual echelon-inducing selves if the race blows apart in the crosswinds later on. While we're talking of the Belgian team, here's their explanation for Philippe Gilbert's DNS today...


The Sunweb-fuelled chase group have been caught by the peloton and it's the black-and-white army of Michael Matthews who continue to set a fast tempo in the pack in a bid to pile the pressure on Marcel Kittel, the green jersey, who is in a second pack a further 20 seconds back. The four leaders have 50 seconds to play with now, so it's looking good for De Gendt, Degand, Chavanel and Edet. In fact, there's a fifth rider there now - South African Daryl Impey of Orica-Scott.


The race is up on a plateau now as things start to settle. The four leaders have 35 seconds over the large Matthews chasing group and 50 seconds on the peloton, with the Kittel gruppetto at 1:10.


The irrepressible De Gendt leads the four escapees over the summit with a small gap over those chasers and the peloton. The Belgian pockets 2pts in the KOM competition, which puts him up to 38 points - level with Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo - and a distant second to polka dot jersey Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) who has 116pts and looks a shoo-in to win the mountains classification come Paris.


The race is all over the road, but I'll try and simplify it a little. Chavanel, De Gendt, Degand and Nicolas Edet are in the lead with a 10-second gap over a chasing group that includes Michael Matthews and his Sunweb team-mates Laurens ten Dam and Simon Geschke, with the Sky-led peloton a further 10 seconds back and ahead of a second peloton / gruppetto.


With Marcel Kittel, the green jersey, beginning to be distanced by the pack, his points classification rival - Michael Matthews - attacks from the pack, knowing that more intermediate sprint points, plus a high finish, would put him very much back in the frame. Kittel currently leads the green jersey standings with 373 points to Matthews' 294. But should the Australian take the maximum 70 points today, that would reduce the gap to just seven points...


Ah, that explains things: Dan Martin of Quick-Step Floors managed to get himself into the break, which is why Sky upped the tempo. The Irishman is only 1:12 down on Froome on GC and could have been a threat had the pack exploded in crosswinds and he was further up the road.


Chavanel and De Gendt won't give up the ghost here - and despite Team Sky's high tempo on the front, they're resisting, along with handful of others. With reports of crosswinds later in the stage, Sky want to be able to control things and don't want a large group out ahead - even if it seems a bit greedy of them given none of the riders ahead pose any significant GC threat to Froome.


Many riders have been spat out of the peloton - including a host of Wanty riders clearly suffering from their breakaway exploits in the opening week of the race...


We're onto the Cat.3 Cote de Boussoulet (4.5km at 6.3%) and Team Sky aren't happy with the situation and are leading the chase on this large break.


Bora-Hansgrohe lead the chase as numerous riders come out of the peloton and manage to bridge over to the break ahead of the first climb of the day. We're talking around 20 riders now with around the same amount of advantage in seconds...


It's all change after that break is reeled in and another three riders try their luck: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Thomas Degand (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie). They're soon joined by Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC).


German national champion Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe) has bridged over to the two leaders, while Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) has sparked movement off the front of the peloton. The Sky team-mates of Chris Froome have come to the front to try and regulate things - they will want a break to go out and stick so that there's less tension and stress in the pack.


Maurits Lammertink (Katusha) and Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie) have attacked from that tentative break - which has pretty much been reeled in - to open up a small gap.


Around 15 riders ping off the front soon after the start. It's another hot day in the Massif Central with the sun out, the temperature in the mid-20s but some potential crosswinds anticipated for later on in the stage.


Christian Prudhomme, the race director, waves his flag and this intriguing transitional stage is under way. 174 riders in the peloton today following the withdrawal of Belgian Philippe Gilbert of QuickStep Floors.


Hello and welcome to live coverage of stage 16 of the Tour de France - a 165km rolling ride from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isere.