English rider Steve Cummings claims smash-and-grab Tour stage win
Steve Cummings claimed a stunning smash and grab win on stage 14 of the Tour de France to Mende on Saturday.
The 34-year-old from the Wirral claimed African squad MTN-Qhubeka's first Tour stage success after powering past Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the finishing straight.
The 178.5-kilometre route from Rodez finished at Mende airstrip after the punishing 3km ascent of the Cote de la Croix Neuve.
Cummings had been part of the day's 20-man escape group and stayed in touch as Bardet led Pinot over the summit before the near 2km run-in along the flat to the line.
And there Cummings, in his third Tour, took his chance.
Cummings rode for Team Sky in 2010 in support of Bradley Wiggins and in the 2012 Tour, riding for BMC Racing's Cadel Evans.
Team Sky leader Froome had anticipated attacks on his near three-minute advantage, but instead enhanced his lead.
It was the third British success of the 2015 Tour after Mark Cavendish's win on stage seven in Fougeres and Froome's success on Tuesday's 10th stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
Froome finished 20th on the stage, four minutes 15 seconds behind Cummings but one, significantly, second ahead of nearest overall rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The Colombian climber is now his nearest challenger, 3mins 10secs behind, after Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) conceded 40secs to Froome on the stage.
The American is now 3:32 adrift after a stage played out through the stunning scenery of the Tarn Valley and stifling heat.
A puncture meant Richie Porte was unable to support Froome in the finale.
The Briton had to handle attacks by himself and again came out on top.
Australian Porte revealed Team Sky had been the subject of abuse in the Pyrenees and claimed he had been punched by a roadside spectator on the ascent to La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
Fans are in such close proximity at the Tour that incidents have happened across the 102 editions of the race.
There has also been threats made on social media, although it is difficult to gauge how serious these are.
It is uncertain if any animosity directed towards Team Sky is down to the British squad's dominance or the rumours and innuendo which has resulted from its strong showing in the race so far.
Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal told cyclingweekly.co.uk: "I hope the public will chill out. It's pretty hard, especially for me since I'm French.
"There is just a barrier and nothing else on the road (to stop anyone). Anyone can cross the road and punch someone."
A number of breakaway groups converged to form a 20-man escape, which included Britons Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) and Cummings.
The group fractured on the lower slopes of the concluding climb as Bardet attacked and Pinot then bridged the gap after Yates had tried in vain to follow Bardet. The 22-year-old from Bury went on to finish 10th, 33secs behind Cummings.
Behind Quintana made his move, with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde following.
Froome chased himself, with Contador and Van Garderen on his wheel.
Pinot caught Bardet with 1.8km remaining and Cummings came from nowhere to pass the pair and power to the line for a memorable win.
Sunday's 183km 15th stage is from Mende to Valence and should finish in a sprint, giving Cavendish the chance to go for a 27th Tour stage win of his career.
It will likely be the last opportunity before the concluding stage in Paris a week later.