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Nielsen rules 15th; Thomas stays on top

CARCASSONNE, France (AFP) – Danish race debutant Magnus Cort Nielsen handed Astana their second consecutive victory when he won the 15th stage of the Tour de France in Carcassonne on Sunday.

Welshman Geraint Thomas, of Sky, maintained his 1min 39sec race lead over teammate and compatriot Chris Froome after a 181.5km ride from Millau in which the yellow jersey holder’s rivals tried, but failed to launch a challenge.

Thomas and the main peloton soaked up futile attacks from Irishman Dan Martin (UAE) and Rafa Majka (Bora) before crossing the finish line just over 13 minutes in arrears on what, for them, was a comparatively easy stage ahead of Monday’s rest day.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good. Days like today are always a bit funny because you don’t really want to push. You want to recover as much as possible,” said Thomas.

The 32-year-old Welshman, however, refused to speculate on whether he, and not Froome, will lead their charge over the following, decisive stages into the Pyrenees mountains.

“No honestly, I’m not thinking about that,” added Thomas.

“I’m taking each day as it comes. I’m looking forward to the rest day, then the next stage, the next climb, and just keep on doing what we’re doing.”

Astana, meanwhile, took full advantage of what was set to be a transition stage ahead of three tough days in the Pyrenees starting from Tuesday.

Nielsen was one two Astana riders who fought hard to get in a breakaway group of 29 riders, along with compatriot Michael Valgren.
And when it came to the final kilometres, the race debutant seized the day.

Nielsen first underlined his ambitions 8km from the finish when he quickly countered Italian Domenico Pozzovivo’s effort to break clear.