Froome thanks key team-mate Kwiatkowski, again

Romans-sur-Isère (France) (AFP) –


Tour de France leader Chris Froome was again indebted to Sky team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski on Tuesday after maintaining his grip on the yellow jersey.

The 2014 world champion guided Froome through the tricky crosswinds over the final 20km of Tuesday's 165km 16th stage to ensure the Briton did not lose any time to his overall rivals.

And it was not the first time Kwiatkowski, 27, has made a telling contribution to Froome's title defence.

He has shouldered much of the pace-setting burden in the mountains, while on Sunday his close attention and quick-thinking saved the Tour for Froome when the champion had to stop on the side of the road with the race on due to a broken wheel.

Kwiatkowski jumped off his bike and changed Froome's wheel for one of his own, allowing the three-time champion to limit his time losses, and 20km later catch the rest of his rivals.

"It's not the first time I've said this but Kwiato has done an amazing job for me in this Tour de France," said Froome, 32.

"In the mountains, as we saw today positioning in the flats as well, to be in just the right place at the right time."

Froome actually gained time on a few top 10 rivals -- Dan Martin, Louis Meintjes and Alberto Contador -- as crosswinds caused havoc in the peloton, creating splits all over the road.

"He (Kwiatkowski) was instrumental in pushing that split today, and his mechanic skills certainly leave nothing to be desired either," quipped Froome about the Pole's wheel changing abilities.

"If you're looking for an all round rider then that's Kwiatkowski."

- 'Crazy stage' -

Froome was a relieved man but said his Sky team had been prepared for the wind at that crucial juncture just after a short climb.

"It was quite a crazy stage, I think, with the selection coming not long after that climb with 20km to go," he said.

"It meant a lot of GC guys (overall contenders) were quite far up in the bunch ready for that split, so maybe it's not the biggest differences between the GC riders we would have expected on that stage.

"A few guys in the top 10 did get caught out -- Dan Martin, Louis Meintjes as well, Alberto Contador -- unfortunately for them, especially Dan Martin.

"He didn't have many team-mates around him, it was a bit of a tough stage for Dan.

"The rest of the GC guys all seemed there and willing to roll through and keep position at the front.

"For myself and (team-mate) Mikel Landa (who is fifth overall) we're just glad to be on the right side of that split and looking forward to two days in the Alps now."

- 'Strange one' -

Martin said he'd been sick on Monday but also admitted he hadn't had the legs when he needed them most, undoing all his good work of the previous days.

Having stolen a few seconds on each of the previous four stages, he lost 51sec in one fell swoop.

"We haven't been bad before but it's a bit different doing a crosswinds stage in the last week rather than the first week," said the 30-year-old Quick-Step rider.

"That was a strange one with the climb. The climb put everybody in the red and then we had the downhill.

"The downhill was so dangerous. That was part of me losing position because there were a couple of near crashes with guys swept by the wind and coming left into the group and that lost me 10 or 15 positions."

He dropped two places to seventh with Briton Simon Yates, the leading young rider, moving up to sixth, just a second ahead of Martin.

"I was always in the right position, (team-mate) Jens Keukeleire did a fantastic job for me in the final when it really started to split with the wind," said the 24-year-old Orica leader.

"I can't complain, it was a perfect day for me."