With Romain Bardet of AG2R on the attack, Froome suffered a rear-wheel problem on the approach to the category one climb up Col de Peyra Taillade and lost nearly a minute to his rivals as he took the wheel of Team Sky team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski before being paced up the hill by Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao.
Quick Step Floors rider Dan Martin attacked coming off the final uncategorised climb, and leapfrogs Landa into fifth place overall, 1 minute 12 seconds behind Froome.
With six stages to go, including a time-trial at Marseille’s Velodrome and the processional finish in Paris, Martin has realistically just two mountains stages in the Pyrennes to force his way onto the podium in Paris.
“I panicked a bit”, the three-time Tour victor said.
“If I didn’t get back in I wouldn’t expect to be in yellow any more this evening”.
“I’d like to think when we were controlling the race it was a bit calmer”.
Dutchman Mollema attacked in the closing stages of the 189.5km ride from Laissac-Severac L’Eglise to take the first Tour win of his career.
Froome was keen to thank all of his team-mates for their help, but it was the sight of Landa dropping back which was most notable. “We’d be ready for that”, said Froome, adding that his team is “not going to allow anyone to come back on GC [General Classification]”.
He had to ride some 30km on his own – “the hardest of his life”, he said afterwards – and his chances looked minimal when a strong chasing quartet of Diego Ulissi, Warren Barguil, Tony Gallopin and Primoz Roglic closed to within 100 metres on a short, steep rise just 5km from the finish. “That’s what I really like as a rider, is to fight three weeks in a row and give everything every day”, Mollema said.
Dutch rider Bauke Mollema claimed the 15th Tour de France stage for Trek-Segafredo.
I prefer to be ahead on GC at this point than having to make up time.
“It’s the biggest thing that could happen to me”, he said. “Yates attacked on the climb [after Froome rejoined the group] … he kind of stalled and I was a bit afraid … there were many teammates left [of other riders] … an Agr2r rider and Landa was there for Chris [Froome]”. But the French have been [going] so well [with] the stage wins and Bardet fighting for the win.
Ahead of two grueling days filled with some truly punishing ascents, the main contenders on the Tour de France were all hoping that Wednesday would be a nice, relaxed day on the bike.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had a rough day, losing nearly four minutes in the GC battle and moving down to 11th overall.