MICHAEL Matthews has blamed the urgent need to urinate for failing to win a second consecutive stage.
The Aussie was looking strong in a 28-man breakaway at the start of the decisive Col de Peyra Taillade with less than 40km remaining in stage 15 when he caved to an all-day urge and lost contact.
On a volatile day of racing in the Massif Central, Dutchman Bauke Mollema won his first Tour de France stage and Chris Froome survived a broken spoke and searing rival attacks to stay in yellow.
But six weeks after his Sunweb teammate and Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin was forced to answer a more serious mid-race call of nature, Matthews was similarly caught out.
Matthews, whose emphatic stage 14 win kept his green jersey hopes alive, was the fastest finisher in that lead group of riders and would have been the favourite if he’d stayed in touch on the 8.3km climb.
“I really think I had the legs to win today and unfortunately, with busting for a nature break, I think it cost me the win,” Matthews said.
“When you’re in the breakaway it’s hard to stop for a nature break because there’s so many people on the side of the road.
“You can’t do it while you’re riding and then if you stop, the peloton was going quite fast. I was really busting the whole race and the only time I could really find to stop and have a piss was on the climb. It didn’t work out so well.”
With green jersey leader Marcel Kittel dropped early, Matthews’ intermediate sprint win cut the German’s lead to 79 points.
Behind Matthews, Froome was pushed to the brink in a fight to save his Tour campaign. With the peloton meandering along, AG2R suddenly massed on the front of the peloton and went full-gas through the tight and twisting roads to the Col de Peyra Taillade that French team leader Romain Bardet trains on.
Moments later, Froome and Team Sky were in panic stations when the race leader broke a rear wheel spoke and fell 45 seconds behind.
Froome grabbed a wheel from Michael Kwiatkowski and used teammates Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve and, briefly, Mikel Landa to impressively rejoin the remnants of the peloton well up the climb.
“It was a stressful moment. I wasn’t sure if I’d get back on again,” Froome said.
“AG2R rode their race and rode fast. Just before the climb, I had a problem with my back wheel. It was damaged. I gave it my maximum to get back up to the leaders.
Gutsy Irishman Dan Martin, who bravely attacked on the downhill run to Le Puy-en-Velay to climb to fifth overall, said the AG2R attack was vicious.
“That was probably one of the hardest parts of the Tour so far,” Martin said.
“I have to say, they were going and we were flying. Everybody was in the red at the bottom of the climb. I dare say, I think Chris was probably the only guy who could have come back from that mechanical because we were going so fast.
“They weren’t taking advantage of the mechanical; they attacked before Chris’ mechanical and were doing their race. But I’m happy he came back because you don’t want the Tour to be decided like that.”
Despite the stress, Froome enters the final rest day seemingly satisfied with his 18-second lead over Fabio Aru and 23-second advantage on Bardet.