Team Sky enjoyed their finest day so far as Chris Froome claimed a spectacular win on stage seven of the Tour de France and Bradley Wiggins finished third to move into the leader's yellow jersey.
The 199 kilometres route from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles finished with the first big climb of the race and Team Sky put down a stunning marker to the rest of the field.
Coming into the foot of the 5.9km ascent, which had an average gradient of 8.5%, Edvald Boasson Hagen took up the pacesetting on the front of the peloton, with team-mates Michael Rogers, Richie Porte, Froome and Wiggins right behind him.
The fierce pace and the gradient combined to split the bunch in two, and by the time Porte came to the head of affairs the front group had been reduced to just eight men.
It was soon down to five, with reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) the only riders able to stay with Froome and Wiggins.
Australian Evans accelerated away with one kilometre to go and Froome, Wiggins and Nibali went with him.
Froome then summoned the energy to overtake Evans and dart for the line for a first Tour stage win which also netted him the polka dot jersey for leading the mountains classification.
Dreams come true
"It wasn’t the plan to go for the stage win, my only concern was keeping Bradley up there," said a delighted Froome afterwards. "We’d come to see this climb previously and I knew what the finish was like. When it came to it I thought ‘I’m there, I’ve got the legs, so why not give it a kick and see what happens’. I just couldn’t believe it when Cadel couldn’t follow my wheel. I thought ‘wow! This could actually come off, and it did.
"I'm speechless really at what we’ve achieved today in terms of British cycling – it’s a dream come true and I never thought I’d win a stage here, so I’m chuffed to bits but there's still a long way to race."
It was Team Sky's fourth stage win in cycling's most prestigious event, following Mark Cavendish's victory on stage two this year and Boasson Hagen's two successes in 2011.
There was an even greater prize for third-placed Wiggins, who justified his pre-Tour favourite billing after wins in the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine stage races.
It all means that Wiggins replaces Fabian Cancellara at the top of the overall standings, leading by 10 seconds from Evans, with Nibali a further six seconds back in third.
Wiggins is only the fifth Briton to don the maillot jaune, following Tom Simpson (1962), Chris Boardman (1994, 1997 and 1998), Sean Yates (1994) and David Millar (2000). He has now held the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours.
"It’s an incredible feeling to have done what we’ve done and it hasn’t sunk in yet," explained Wiggins. "It sounds corny but this is something I’ve dreamt of since I was a child – sat on the home trainer in Kilburn watching my hero Miguel Indurain do it. Those dreams have come true now and I’m sat here at the top of a mountain in yellow. It’s phenomenal.
"We’ve trained for performances like that all year and on the climb I was shouting at Froomey with 1.5km to go to save a little bit because he didn’t need to go any harder. I knew he could win the stage if he just kept a little bit back and it was a great finish for him.
"My priority was to watch Cadel because I knew I was going to take yellow. It’s fantastic – Froomey’s taken the stage and is King of the Mountains, and I’m in yellow, so it was an incredible day.
"I'm chuffed for Froomey because he had some bad fortune last week [when a puncture cost him time on stage one] but now he’s got his stage and is going to be an integral part to me winning this race now. I’ve survived a very, very manic first week and just pleased to be in the yellow."
It is the first time Team Sky have led cycling's biggest event and they extended their lead in the team classification in the process - with three riders in the top 10 on the GC as Froome is ninth and Rogers 10th.
Long way to go
Sports Director Sean Yates was a proud man after seeing Wiggins join him in the select group of riders to wear the most famous jersey in cycling, and he said: "We came here to try and win the Tour, and there’s still a long way between here and Paris, but we’ve set the bar high today and this team has delivered, just like they have done all year.
"Up to now in the Tour it’s been sprint stages and we’ve been waiting for today. We laid down the law though today and proved we are very, very strong.
"We’re here to ride our bikes and do that to the best of our ability and if we do that the riches will come, and are coming. Everything is running as planned but there’s a long way to Paris and you can’t take anything for granted. Today’s performance tastes sweet though and I’m really happy for Froomey. We’ll just continue to do our job to the best of our ability now."
Day of reckoning
The day's stage had begun with the peloton counting the cost of the crash 26km from the end of stage six to Metz, with Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) among those who abandoned.
Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) joined him, taking the total number of withdrawals to 17, the most after seven days' racing since 1998.
The best-placed of the day's seven-man escape group was Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), who began the day in 55th place, five minutes four seconds behind Cancellara.
The numbers in the breakaway persuaded Cavendish not to contest the day's intermediate sprint and the world champion was later seen on domestique duty, returning to the Team Sky support car to retrieve water bottles for his team-mates and carrying them in his rainbow jersey.
After two category-three climbs, the escape had an advantage of three-and-a-half minutes with 30km remaining.
Team Sky - with Christian Knees and Bernhard Eisel both doing a huge amount of work - and BMC Racing were prominent at the front of the peloton and, despite losing Hesjedal, Garmin-Sharp worked hard to reduce the deficit to the escape, apparently in a bid to help set up Dan Martin.
The breakaway's lead fell to under two minutes with 20km remaining and less than a minute with 12km to go.
Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) lost touch at a crucial moment as Team Sky led the pursuit of the escapees, who were caught on the lower ramps of the finishing climb.
Then the first fireworks of the Tour took place as Cancellara was dropped, with Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) among those who followed as Team Sky's tempo decimated the field and set up a memorable finale.