Tour: Aru still 18 secs down on Froome

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The race remains wide open as the Tour heads into the tricky alpine stages 17 and 18 - with just half a minute separating the top four riders.

"Once we heard that there were splits in the peloton we were all really motivated to push on and extend the gap", he said.

Overall leader Chris Froome managed to stick with the leading pack and therefore kept hold of the yellow jersey.

Frenchman Romain Bardet was nearly caught out but was paced back to the lead group by team-mate Oliver Naesen, while Fabio Aru had to bridge a small gap by himself.

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In the sprint to the line he edged out Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), who clashed with Matthews as the riders came to a stop, accusing him of veering towards him on the high-speed dash for the line.

German Marcel Kittel, who was dropped early in the stage after failing to sustain the pace in the first climb, was 3.2kph slower on average than Australian stage victor Michael Matthews.

Team Sunweb set Matthews up perfectly for a victory which leaves him only 29 points adrift of Marcel Kittel in the battle for the green jersey.

Degenkolb gesticulated at Matthews as the pair crossed the line, appearing to indicate that he felt the Australian had pushed him dangerously close to the barriers.

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He made the most of a slightly uphill section 500 meters from the line and accelerated after Greg Van Avermaet launched the sprint. I didn't change my line, I sprinted in a straight line.

"He grabbed me by the neck".

"Everyone knew it was going to split at some point", said Froome.

"I was trying to get in the breakaway early, but Quick-Step was following, they didn't want me in the breakaway", Matthews said. I don't think it's very sportsmanlike.

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