Team Sky's Chris Froome happy to sacrifice fifth Tour de France title for Geraint Thomas

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Chris Froome insisted he would be willing to sacrifice his chances of a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title to help team-mate Geraint Thomas achieve victory.

Thomas and Froome sit first and second in the general classification heading into the final week of the Tour, with Thomas one minute and 39 seconds ahead of his team-mate.

Team Sky – and Thomas – had continually insisted that Froome was their team leader, but the tone has shifted in recent days and Froome on Monday said he would be happy to help Thomas if necessary.

“As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy,” Froome said.

Asked directly if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour crown to help Thomas, Froome simply said: “Yes.”

Froome had said before the Tour he was aiming to come good in the third week, following his efforts in winning the Giro d’Italia in May, but, asked if he had identified places where he might attack and make up time on Thomas, he dismissed the question.

Geraint Thomas

“All this talk of attacking or not attacking… we’re in an amazing position, we’re one and two,” he said. “It’s not up to us to be attacking. It’s for all the other riders in the peloton to make up time on us and dislodge us from the position we’re in.”

There are now only six days until the Tour reaches Paris, but Thomas said he was trying not to shift his mindset despite holding yellow.

“Obviously the closer you get, the more you want to stay on the podium, but I’m still not really thinking about it,” he said. “I’m thinking day by day. The dream was to be in with a shot of a podium and that’s still on the cards. I’m trying to keep the same mindset.”

Thomas and Froome may be in a strong position on the podium, but Team Sky were hurt on Sunday night when Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert early on stage 15 to Carcassonne.

“It’s disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do,” Thomas said. “What’s done is done. We just concentrate on the last week. We’ve still got a strong team. We’re a rider down but all the boys are riding well together.”

Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford is planning to review whether Moscon should face further punishment for his actions after the Tour, but refused to rule out terminating the contract of a rider who has a chequered disciplinary record.

Gianni Moscon

“Obviously Gianni has left the race, which is very disappointing,” Brailsford said. “He’s really disappointed. He’s let himself down, he’s let his team down and now he’s gone home.

“From a team point of view, I’m going to keep the focus on the rest of this race here, and then next week I will gather the facts, look at the process and go from there.”

Brailsford accepted Moscon’s actions were unlikely to help Team Sky as they continue to face ill-feeling from elements within the Tour crowd, with Froome having been jostled and spat at, while Thomas has heard boos on the podium when collecting his yellow jersey this week.

“I don’t know how people are going to react but it’s not going to calm people down,” he said.

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Geraint Thomas shrugs off the boos which continue to come Team Sky's way at the Tour de France

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Geraint Thomas shrugged off the boos which continue to come Team Sky’s way at the Tour de France as he enjoyed another day in the yellow jersey.

Thomas finished safely in the pack as Magnus Cort Nielsen won Stage 15 to Carcassone from a breakaway, keeping Thomas one minute 39 seconds clear of team-mate Chris Froome, with Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin a further 11 seconds back.

But after standing on the podium to collect the yellow jersey for a fifth straight night, Thomas faced more questions about the negative reaction Team Sky so often get at the Tour.

If the situation is getting to the Welshman, he was not about to show it.

“For me this is the highlight of my career, it’s a massive honour and priviledge to be wearing the jersey and have such an incredible race so far,” he said.

“There’s a bit of negativity around and it isn’t nice but at the end of the day you need to stay strong in your head and crack on.

“The way I see it, I’d rather be in this jersey having the race of my life and getting booed than being 30th and dropped on the first climb and everyone cheering me on.”

On a day when the French newspaper Liberation wrongly described Froome’s recent salbutamol case as a ‘positive test’ which was ‘white-washed’ by the UCI, Thomas said questions about why there is ill-feeling towards Team Sky was perhaps one for the French press.

“It’s not a nice situation, and obviously we would prefer everyone to love us, but I’m not sure it’s anything we’ve done, or especially that I’ve done, to deserve it,” he said.

“You would have to ask the public, and maybe it’s a reflection of the way we’re perceived in the French media. It’s maybe a question for some of you guys.”

Fan reaction on Sunday’s 181.5km stage from Millau was more muted a day after Froome had an unidentified liquid thrown on him on the climb to Mende.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Luke Durbridge used Twitter to describe some of the behaviour on Saturday as “disgraceful” – comments which were appreciated by the four-time Tour winner.

“It doesn’t get us down, we stay focused on the race, but it is really nice to feel that camaraderie,” Froome said before Sunday’s stage. “A lot of guys are speaking out about it now, the riders are sick and tired of it.”

The targeting of Froome has reached a point that Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland said he had told his riders not to follow him because it was too dangerous, having seen his star man Vincenzo Nibali crash out of the Tour after tangling with a fan on the Alpe d’Huez.

Asked about Copeland’s comments, Froome said: “It’s a pretty sad situation if that is correct.”

chris froome 1

Thomas and Froome will now enjoy Monday’s rest day before the intriguing intra-team battle for yellow resumes on Tuesday, with three tough days in the Pyrenees having the potential to be decisive.

Froome, chasing a record-equalling fifth Tour title, will no doubt have ideas on where he might snatch yellow away, but Thomas warned he would not give up the jersey easily.

“I think I would have to have a bad day,” he said. “I wouldn’t give it up for any money. It’s the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. It’s a massive honour just to be wearing it. Obviously I want to wear it as long as possible.

“Like I’ve said from the start, who knows what is around the next corner. We’ll take each day as it comes.”

There was no movement at the top of the standings on Sunday, with the main contenders finishing in a group some 13 minutes after Nielsen outsprinted Jon Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segefredo.

The trio snuck off the front of the remnants of a 29-man breakaway on the descent off the Pic de Nore as crosswinds splintered the group, and neither Izagirre nor Mollema could compete with Nielsen’s sprinting skills as the Dane took a stage win on his debut Tour.

World champion Peter Sagan got into the breakaway, and he took third place in the day’s intermediate sprint to all-but wrap up the points classification, receiving his 100th green jersey at the finish.

After the stage it was announced that Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon had been disqualified from the race, with the team due to issue a statement on the matter.

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Geraint Thomas will wear yellow for sixth straight day as Magnus Cort Nielsen wins Tour de France Stage 15

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Magnus Cort Nielsen made it two wins in succession for Astana.

Geraint Thomas will wear the yellow jersey for a sixth straight day after Magnus Cort Nielsen won Stage 15 of the Tour de France to Carcassonne.

Dane Nielsen outsprinted Jon Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo to make it a second successive stage triumph for Astana, Nielsen the first three home from a 29-man breakaway which had been allowed to get away by the peloton.

The main contenders crossed the line more than 13 minutes later, with Thomas in the front group along with Sky team-mate Chris Froome, Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, and Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo to ensure there was no change in the general classification.

Thomas continues to lead Froome by one minute and 39 seconds, with Dumoulin a further 11 seconds back. Roglic sits fourth, two minutes and 38 seconds down.

World champion Peter Sagan got into the breakaway, and he took third place in the day’s intermediate sprint to all-but wrap up the points classification, receiving his 100th green jersey at the finish.

The peloton elected to take things relatively easy ahead of Monday’s rest day, with three big days to come in the Pyrenees next week.

Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate Rafal Majka attacked out of the breakaway on the climb of the Pic de Nore, crested some 41.5km from the finish, but was caught on the long descent towards Carcassonne as eight riders came together.

The final flat section towards town took the pack through fierce crosswinds, and that was the moment for Nielsen, Izagirre and Mollema to sneak off the front.

It is a second straight victory for Astana following Omar Fraile’s win – also out of a breakaway – in Mende on Friday.

It is a first career Tour stage win for the 25-year-old Nielsen, whose previous season highlight was victory atop the Cow and Calf on Stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Geraint Thomas remains in charge at the Tour de France.

Geraint Thomas remains in charge at the Tour de France.

It was some way for Nielsen to mark his Tour debut as Astana took full advantage of what was set to be a transition stage ahead of three tough days in the Pyrenees mountains starting from Tuesday.

Nielsen was one two Astana riders who fought hard to get in a breakaway group of 29 riders, along with compatriot Michael Valgren.

And when it came to the final kilometres, the race debutant seized the day.

Nielsen first underlined his ambitions 8km from the finish when he quickly countered Italian Domenico Pozzovivo’s effort to break clear.

And two kilometres further on, Nielsen was quick to join Dutchman Mollema and Izagirre when they left five of their breakaway companions behind.

A lack of cooperation in their wake meant the trio were allowed to build an insurmountable advantage over the closing kilometres.

But Nielsen was simply unbeatable after launching his sprint just under 300m from the finish, where Izagirre finished second and Mollema third.

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