Froome fends off attacks

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Chris Froome fended off numerous attacks in maintaining his commanding lead on Thursday’s final stage in the Pyrenees.

The 30-year-old’s Team Sky squad, with Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas to the fore, successfully nullified attempted attacks by Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) won stage 12 to Plateau de Beille.

The stage began in 35C heat at the start in Lannemezan, but conditions on the 195-kilometres route became challenging, with torrential rain falling on the final climb and thunder clapping overhead.

Contador, Nibali and Quintana made their moves within the space of a few minutes on the brutal 15.8km finishing ascent, but Porte and then Thomas reeled them in.

Froome then stretched his legs and next followed an attack by Quintana’s Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde.

Froome crossed six minutes 47 seconds behind Rodriguez, who soloed to his second win of the race, following his triumph on stage three to Mur de Huy, in 10th place alongside the main protagonists.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) remained 2:52 behind in second place and Quintana third, 3:09 adrift.

Valverde remained fourth, 3:58 behind, Thomas fifth, 4:03 back, and Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) one second further behind in sixth.

Defending champion Nibali (Astana) stayed 7:47 adrift despite appearing likely to lose contact.

World champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) had seemed to be performing under-par early in the race, but was prominent until the day’s final climb, when he was caught and overtaken by Rodriguez.

Kwiatkowski has been linked with a move to Team Sky for the 2016 season, although UCI rules prohibit discussion of transfers until August 1.

His team-mate Mark Cavendish has a slim chance of a 27th Tour stage win on Friday’s bumpy 198.5km stage from Muret to Rodez, but a breakaway could prevail once again as the race traverses east towards the Alps.

Alex Dowsett (Movistar) abandoned after being cut adrift early in the stage, having found the going tough since damaging an elbow in a crash on stage four.

A 22-rider lead group formed and it fractured the third of the day’s four categorised climbs, the 12.9km category one ascent of Port de Lers.

Kwiatkowski and Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo) broke clear over the top and led by 1:30 at the foot of the finishing ascent to Plateau de Beille.

Team Sky, led by Peter Kennaugh, controlled the tempo of the peloton, which was more than 10 minutes adrift as up ahead Kwiatkowski forged on alone with 13.5km to go.

Rodriguez reeled in Kwiatkowski with 7.7km to go and then Fuglsang passed the world champion, too.

Behind them Team Sky continued to drive the main bunch, with Porte followed by Thomas and Froome.

Contador made his move and Team Sky did not initially react, riding tempo in an effort to reel in the Spaniard.

His bid to break free was short lived and Nibali was next to try.

The Italian was more successful than Contador in opening up a gap, but Team Sky continued to ride an even pace.

Valverde next accelerated in a bid to bridge the gap to Nibali.

Porte picked up the pace slightly and reeled in both men.

Quintana next made his move and, with Porte spent, Thomas led the chase with Froome on his wheel and once more the attack floundered.

Froome then accelerated, stretching his rivals. Valverde responded and Froome followed, with Quintana and Contador behind him.

Valverde’s move was followed by another by his team-mate Quintana, but Froome stayed in his saddle as the group passed 4km to go.

Quintana attacked once more with 3km to go, but again Froome followed and nullified the effort.

Valverde stole a second in the closing metres, but it mattered little after another strong defensive showing from Froome and Team Sky.