Bardet and Aru strike Froome Tour blow

Bardet won the 12th stage while Aru, who was third, stripped Froome of the race leader's yellow jersey.

Romain Bardet of France riding for AG2R La Mondiale celebrates as he wins stage 12.   -  Getty Images


Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru blew the Tour de France yellow jersey race wide open on Thursday as Chris Froome showed his first signs of weakness.

Bardet won the 12th stage while Aru, who was third, stripped Froome of the race leader's yellow jersey.

"It's one of the best things that can happen in life to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France," said a beaming Aru.

"I never imagined this would happen. It was a really tough day and tough stage.

"I'm delighted to wear this jersey, it repays all my team-mates who've helped me so much in this Tour - I dedicate it to them."

In an amazing finish on an uphill airstrip with a vertiginous 20 percent gradient, Aru went on the attack in the last few hundred metres.

Froome tried to respond but didn't have the legs to follow -- yet Bardet did.

The French hope overhauled Aru and won by two seconds from Colombian Rigoberto Uran, who finished in the same time as Aru.

"I'm delighted to have raised my arms (in victory), it's a weight off my shoulders because I hadn't done it yet this year," said Bardet.

'I gave everything'

Froome, who held an 18-second lead over Aru at the start of the day, was 22 seconds back in seventh and lost the yellow jersey.

"It was a very, very tough finish. I didn't have the legs in the final but there's still a long way to go," said Briton Froome, a three-time Tour winner and reigning champion.

"I just have to applaud Romain Bardet for winning the stage, it's a great win, and also to Fabio Aru for getting the jersey.

"I gave everything I could at the end but I didn't have the legs to follow."

Coupled with his four-second time bonus for finishing third, Aru took over the race lead by six seconds as things started to get cramped at the top of the standings.

Bardet remains third but just 25sec off Aru now with Uran still fourth. However, the Colombian is still 55sec off the lead, as he was at the start of the day, after being penalised 20sec for illegally taking a water bottle from his team in the final 10km.

The big loser of the day was Colombian twice former runner-up Nairo Quintana, who cracked some 12km from the end of the 214.5km mountainous stage from Pau to Peyragudes in the Pyrenees.

Quintana came home 11th more than two minutes down and is now more than four minutes off the pace, although still eighth overall.

Total control

Froome's Sky team had seemed to be in total control of the stage all day.

A 12-man breakaway was allowed a lead of more than six minutes at one stage and by the time they reached the top of the Porte de Bales hors category climb 40km from the finish, Briton Stephen Cummings was on his own with a lead of around a minute and half from the Sky led peloton.

But Cummings didn't have the legs on the first category Col de Peyresourde and was caught with 8.6km left.

Sky's tempo had riders falling out the back of the lead group with Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang, who started the day fifth but had suffered two fractures in his arm in a crash on Wednesday, first to fold.

Quintana was next to go amongst the favourites with Spanish two-time former winner Alberto Contador also wilting with just over 5km left.

But the young guns were still there with Froome.

Once the leaders reached the brutal last kilometre of the day, it was New Zealander George Bennett who attacked first but Froome's Sky team-mate Mikel Landa chased him down.

Aru was next to attack with Froome, who had vowed on Wednesday to stick to the Italian "like glue" trying to follow.

He couldn't and neither could Ireland's Dan Martin, but Bardet and Uran showed their strength.

And as it proved, the three riders closest to Froome at the start of the day, were the strongest at the end too -- stronger even than the Briton.

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