“It was tough”. Like mice trying to escape a hunting cat, the escapees rode furiously, eyeing the stage win in the town of 26,000 people. Its speciality dishes include aligot, a mix of melted cheese and mashed potato, and tripe.

The cat had other plans.

“But they were elbowing and punching their way to the front”, Swiss FDJ rider Steve Morabito said. The gap melted like ice cream.

Frenchman Arnaud Demare attacked out of the peloton but ran out of steam as Van Avermaet surged past.

Sunday’s 15th stage is a hilly ride between Mende and Valence. Both were ravenous to win.

It was a successful day on the bike for Froome, who believes Quintana is his most likely rival for top spot on the podium a week on Sunday as the race heads towards the Alps.

“I was pushing out of the saddle and then I came to his [Van Avermaet’s] wheel and I sat down. We’ve been doing well so far in this Tour and I think that this victory is a reflection of that performance”.

“I’m really happy I could hold on and have a victory like this”.

Sagan glowered at a reporter who asked how it felt to be second again.

The green jersey competition, however, remains extent, making the transition stages through the most lush parts of France that much more interesting.

The 25-year-old is in the first year of three of his lucrative contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, but such is owner Oleg Tinkov’s frustration with results, it is rumoured he could be allowed to leave.

Sky’s French sporting director Nicolas Portal said: “I hope the public will chill out”.

Cummings said: “The last few years I thought I was capable of doing this, I just needed to find the right team to get an opportunity”.

Meanwhile, Chris Froome extended his lead in the yellow jersey to 3 minutes 10 seconds as Tejay Van Garderen struggled on the steep climb to the finish in Mende.

“I was waiting for too long”, Sagan said.

But he said that, given a 570m climb with an average gradient of 9.6 percent had provoked a battle among the favourites, Saturday’s 14th stage would see even greater hostilities.

Peraud’s left arm was covered in road rash and bloodied, and his finger was bent back as he spilled and rolled on the scorching tarmac near the end of Friday’s 198.5-kilometer (123-mile) 13th stage from Muret to Rodez.

The story Tour de France 2015: Chris Froome makes stand against rhino poaching first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

The 2013 champion insists he is a clean rider.

Colombia’s Nairo Quintana is third, 3:09 back.