Carcassonne: Magnus Cort Nielsen held on in a sprint finish to win stage 15 of the Tour de France.
A break with seven kilometres to go from Cort Nielsen, Ion Izagirre and Bauke Mollema proved decisive, and it was the Dane, who was victorious in the end.
He made it two stage wins in a row for Astana following Omar Fraile’s triumph on Sunday.
There were no changes to the overall General Classification standings as all the major contenders finished in the peloton, including yellow jersey holder Geraint Thomas, his Sky teammate Chris Froome and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin.
The prospect of a maiden triumph is looming, but Thomas insists team orders will prevail when it comes to stopping rivals upsetting Team Sky’s Tour de France victory plans.
Welshman Thomas is in prime position to add a maiden Tour de France victory to a growing collection of titles from the road and the track.
But the former Olympic team pursuit champion has more than the Pyrenees mountains standing in his way over the final seven stages of the race.
Froome is team leader at Sky, owns six Grand Tour titles and can win a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey here.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford may have key decisions to make in the coming seven stages, when Dutchman Dumoulin will be looking for key allies in the Pyrenees mountains to help him dent Sky’s hopes of a sixth victory from the past seven editions.
Thomas says the priority is to make sure Sky don’t race against each other.
“I’ve said it before, but it’s the first time I’ve raced for three weeks, as a GC leader so it’s a bit of an unknown,” said Thomas.
“We have a plan for the first Pyrenees stage, then for the next.
“The main thing is we win there and we don’t end up racing against each other and Dumoulin wins.
“Then, we’d look really stupid.”
After impressive back-to-back wins in two gruelling alpine stages, Thomas is on the form of his life — leading to calls for Sky to give the Welshman their full backing.
Yet his Grand Tour ambitions have often fell short.
Sitting fourth overall in the 2015 Tour, where he helped Froome to his second yellow jersey, Thomas struggled on stage 19’s climb to La Toussuire, losing 22 minutes and dropping to 15th overall.
In last year’s Giro d’Italia, won by Dumoulin, Thomas crashed out injured. And in last year’s Tour de France the Welshman, having taken the yellow jersey on the opening stage, crashed out on stage nine while sitting second overall to Froome.
Thomas claims he is taking the challenge “day by day” safe in the knowledge that: “If something happens to me, we still have him [Froome] in the race.”
Meanwhile, spectators continue to taunt Froome along the roads after the four-time champion was cleared of doping.
Before the start of Stage 15 on Sunday in the southern town of Millau, one spectator leant over the barriers toward Froome and made a gesture like he was injecting his arm.
Throughout the Tour, spectators have voiced their disapproval of the Team Sky rider.
A cloud had hung over Froome after a urine sample taken during the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.
Tour organisers had informed Froome that he wasn’t welcome at this year’s race until the International Cycling Union announced five days before the event started that Froome’s result did not represent an adverse finding.