LYON, France (AP) — Italian cyclist Matteo Trentin won Saturday’s hilly 14th stage of the Tour de France in a perfectly-timed sprint finish, while race leader Chris Froome preserved his overall lead after staying safely in the main pack.
Froome and the other main contenders were more than seven minutes back when Trentin crossed the finish line in Lyon to become the first Italian to win a stage on this year’s Tour.
“It was a really great sprint,” Trentin said.
Julien Simon was looking to become the first Frenchman to win a stage this year, but was caught by a handful of riders with about one kilometer to go.
As they contested the sprint, the 23-year-old Trentin was near the back but surged forward to beat Swiss rider Michael Albasini by half a wheel length. American Andrew Talansky was third.
They were followed 7 minutes, 17 seconds later by the mass of riders in the peloton, with Froome’s Sky and Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff teams forming a shield around their star riders.
Froome, the Tour favorite, lost more than one minute to Contador, the two-time former champion, and Dutchman Bauke Mollema in Friday’s incident-packed sprint stage.
This time, he stayed well out of trouble over the 191-kilometer (119-mile) trek from the winemaking town of Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule in central France to the east-central city of Lyon, one of the gourmet capitals of France.
The finish was outside the Stade Gerland stadium, home to seven-time French league champion Lyon.
Froome remains 2:28 ahead of Mollema, considered an outsider, and 2:45 clear of Contador, the 2007 and ’09 champion who was stripped of his title the following year for doping.
An 18-man breakaway set off early, with 41-year-old German Jens Voigt, Jan Bakelants and the 36-year-old British rider Millar driving it hard to get Garmin-Sharp teammate Talansky — the group’s highest-placed rider in the general classification — in a good position.
Voigt’s first Tour was in 1998 and Saturday was his 303rd day of racing in the showcase race in his 16th Tour.
The yellow jersey group was about five minutes behind when the front-runners had all completed Saturday’s second category 3 climb. Those two were the biggest ones of the day but only moderate ascents compared to what awaits the riders on Sunday’s enormous 20.8-kilometer climb up to Mont Ventoux.
Even though the 2004 Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland chased after the breakaway group, they extended their big advantage, and the pace proved too much for veterans Voigt and Millar, who both dropped back.
With about 15 kilometers (9 miles) left to go, Simon pulled away and opened a lead of nearly 30 seconds heading into Lyon.
American Tejay van Garderen and Frenchman Blel Kadri closed the gap but were unable to sustain their attack and fell back.
Froome saved his legs for Sunday — which is Bastille Day, France’s national day. Judging by the thousands of people who turned out on the roadside to cheer on Saturday’s stage, the atmosphere on Ventoux promises to be electric.
Froome’s Sky teammates have clearly struggled in two stages so far — the second one in the Pyrenees on stage 9 and Friday’s flat stage — and he needs them to be at their best to repel any attacks from Contador on Ventoux.
Following Monday’s rest day, Contador will have his eye on the grueling climbs of the final week in the high Alps.
Although Wednesday’s 17th stage is strictly a time trial, it is a rolling one which suits Contador more than the time trial on stage 11 earlier this week, where he lost more than two minutes to Froome.
After that there are three straight days of tortuous climbing — including two ascents up the famed l’Alpe d’Huez pass in one day on stage 18. The next two days both feature two Hors Categorie climbs each — so tough they are considered beyond classification.
The race ends the following day with a night time finish on the Champs-Elysees.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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