Chris Froome regains Tour de France yellow jersey after tough 14th stage in Rodez
Chris Froome reclaimed the yellow jersey in the Tour de France as Michael Matthews won stage 14 in Rodez.
Australian Matthews burst clear of Belgian Greg Van Avermaet on the steep finish to the 181.5km stage from Blagnac to claim honours on the day.
Team Sky's Froome crossed the line just behind in seventh place while Astana's Fabio Aru struggled up the hill and lost his overall lead.
Three-time Tour winner Froome now leads the general classification by 18 seconds from the Italian, with Frenchman Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale third, 23 seconds back.
With gradients of 10 per cent in the 600-metre climb to the finish line, Saturday's stage was primed for the punchers and so it proved as Matthews did battle with Philippe Gilbert, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Van Avermaet - winner on this finish in 2015.
Quick-Step Floors' Gilbert went early with BMC's Van Avermaet on his wheel, but Matthews burst past them both and the Team Sunweb rider had time to celebrate before the line.
Van Avermaet finished second with Norwegian Boasson Hagen of Team Dimension Data completing the podium.
The climb was enough to create gaps in the peloton, and Froome pounced to significantly boost his bid for a fourth Tour crown and third in a row.
Irishman Dan Martin and Colombian Rigoberto Uran were with Froome at the line to strengthen their places in the overall top 10 while others lost pockets of time.
Cannondale-Drapac's Uran sits fourth, 29 seconds down, with Froome's Spanish team-mate Mikel Landa 77 seconds off the pace in fifth place.
Martin once again defied the back problems he has been suffering since a crash on the Mont du Chat last week with a fine ride, and is now only 86 seconds off yellow in sixth.
Bury's Simon Yates of Orica-Scott retains the white jersey as the best young rider, seventh overall and two minutes and two seconds behind Froome.
Froome had lost yellow on Thursday's stage to Peyragudes, but blamed the time he gave up on the brutal final climb up the mountaintop airfield on a lack of proper fuelling rather than a loss of form.
There was certainly no shortage of power in the way he attacked the finish to this stage, and he will now hope to carry yellow to Paris.
"We've given up the yellow jersey once and I've seen a pretty disappointed Froomey when he had to hand it over," Sky's Luke Rowe said at the finish. "He won't do it again."
This remains the closest the Tour de France has ever been at this stage in the race, but even after losing yellow Froome stayed favourite for overall victory with a time trial still to come in Marseille next weekend.
That status is only reinforced with the yellow jersey back on his shoulders.
"It did help to know the finish from two years ago, but I'm back in yellow because the team kept me at the front," Froome said.
"Without their job, there's no way I could keep my position. In the last 500m, I heard shouting in radio, 'push, push, push'... It's amazing to hear that. Every second here is worth fighting for. It is still so close."
It is a second victory in as many days for Team Sunweb after Frenchman Warren Barguil delivered on Bastille Day in Foix on Friday.
It is a second career Tour stage win for Matthews, who said this day had been his main target since the start of the year.
"A lot of planning went into this day," he said. "It wasn't just today. It was weeks, months, to be able to deliver at the finish like that, from my whole team and my personal effort too.
"We targeted this from the start of the year and I've been doing all my specific efforts around that finish. Today it all came true."