Rigoberto Uran won a chaotic, crash-strewn stage nine of the Tour de France which saw Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte abandon the race while Chris Froome came home third to retain the yellow jersey.
Cannondale-Drapac’s Uran took victory in a photo finish ahead of Warren Barguil of Team Sunweb – one final twist of drama on a day that will live long in Tour history.
Team Sky’s Thomas suffered a suspected broken collarbone in a crash on the damp descent of the Col de la Biche, while BMC’s Porte went down in a frightening incident on the descent of the Mont du Chat – the last of seven categorised climbs on a brutal stage.
It all came down to a rare sprint finish between general classification contenders, with AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet fourth and Fabio Aru of Astana fifth.
With four bonus seconds on the line for third place, Froome extended his lead over Aru to 18 seconds. However, he has lost his rear-gunner as Thomas started the day second overall.
Bardet is up to third overall, 51 seconds down, four seconds ahead of former Team-Sky man Uran who catapulted up the standings with the win.
Irishman Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) was caught in the crash that ended Porte’s race and then came down again later in the descent, losing fourth place as he slipped to sixth, one minute and 44 seconds down, 18 seconds ahead of seventh-place Simon Yates of Orica-Scott.
The crashes were not the only cause of drama.
Froome suffered a mechanical problem on the Mont du Chat, the last of three hors categorie climbs on the day, and as the three-time Tour winner was calling for the team car Aru attacked in a clear breach of cycling’s protocol.
The other general classification contenders followed the Italian, but seemingly in order to remonstrate with him and tell him to wait.
Froome soon caught back up after a bike change but made his feelings known to Aru as he gave the Astana man a nudge after a corner.
UAE Team Emirates’ Vegard Stake Laengen put up a thrilling attacking display during stage six of the Tour to win the award for the most aggressive rider of the day and will go into stage seven wearing the red numbered bib.
A breakaway specialist, the Norwegian – who is competing in his first Tour de France – formed part of the three-man breakaway group that went on to head the race for over 210km. The group were eventually caught just 3km from the finish.
The riders fought with temperatures of over 30 degrees throughout the stage, which finished in the French town of Troyes, with Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) producing a sensational sprint finish to win his second stage of the Tour.
Speaking after the stage Vegard Stake Laengen, who was the largest man in the three rider breakaway group, said: “It was a hard stage, almost totally flat. It was hard to believe that the breakaway should arrive to the finish. Hopefully later in the Tour I will try on stages with more climbs. I’m taking more wind than the others, but I have a good position on my Colnago bike and I had good legs, so it was OK today.”
Stage seven is again suited to the sprinters, with just one categorized climb on the 213.5km course. The peloton will leave Troyes where the race will likely see a breakaway heading to Nuits-St-Georges. However, the breakaway group will expect to be drawn back in during what is anticipated to be a hard fought 50km sprint finish.