The two remaining British riders in the 2014 Tour de France, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates, in stage 14's escape

Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates – the only British riders remaining in the Tour de France – both went for the stage win on Saturday in Risoul. Thomas had a free card to play after Richie Porte fell out of overall contention on Friday and Yates, 21 years old and in his first year, was simply exploring new territory.

“It didn’t pay off,” Thomas said, “but it’s good to just be in the race.”

The escape of 17 men went 16 kilometres into the 177-kilometre stage. Thomas had team-mates Mikel Nieve and Yates rode alone in team Orica’s blue and white colours. Every so often, Yates was able to look to the experienced Thomas and share a word.

The two were part of a group of only four Brits that began the 2014 Tour de France. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) abandoned after a crash in stage one and Chris Froome (Sky), who crashed three times, left in stage five.

“We talked a little bit,” Yates said. “There wasn’t too much talk, though, once the climbs started.

“I had sneaky feeling he was going to be there today with Richie unfortunately slipping out yesterday. It might have been a chance for him, and he grabbed it with both hands.”

They did not win, but they had their share of success because they first made the escape and then the whittling down process on the Col d’Izoard. After the top at 2360 metres, only 10 riders remained to fight towards the summit finish at Risoul.

Thomas worked for Nieve, and Yates – who has never raced for 14 consecutive days before – pushed himself to new limits. Thomas faded first and then Yates, at 5.5 kilometres remaining, was forced to let go to a group with eventual winner Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and mountains leader Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha).

“It was hard day, a lot of climbing, but you have to try. If the opportunity’s there and I had the legs, then maybe I could’ve won,” Yates said.

“Nervous is maybe the wrong word, but it’s just that I’m in the unknown. I don’t know what I’m going to feel like the next day or the day after that. It’s just a completely new experience.”

Yates, who finished 3-25 minutes back, accepted the help from two Orica members to reach the team bus 200 metres later. He wants to keep racing, but he and the team may decide to not push it in his debut year and close the Tour de France early.

It was a new experience for the men in black after Porte fell out of the overall classification yesterday. Overnight, riders like Thomas were given the freedom to try to make an escape and go for a stage win instead of supporting Porte

“There’s no point being here and just riding ’round,” Thomas said. “That’s life, that’s sport. You can either be all depressed and ride around at the back of the peloton and do nothing for a week or get stuck in and race hard.

“It’s still the Tour de France. There’s still a lot to race for.”

Thomas stopped soon after crossing the line at 6-37 minutes behind winner Majka.