Richie Porte rode into the race lead at Paris-Nice with an emphatic victory on stage five and La Montagne de Lure.
"You don't always get the opportunity to ride for yourself in a team like this so when it comes you have to grab it with both hands"
The Tasmanian looked comfortable in the bunch as Team Sky pushed the pace on the first category climb, thinning out the peloton before Porte unleashed an explosive winning kick.
The result was a 26-second victory over nearest rival Denis Menchov (Katusha) while overnight race leader Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) led a small group of contenders home seven seconds later.
After Team Sky had set a searing pace through Danny Pate, Kanstantsin Siutsou and David López it was left to Porte, who timed his attack to perfection after Talansky had tried to go clear for the third time.
With the contenders looking at one another behind Porte was able to take full advantage, moving into a 32-second overall lead and pulling on the yellow jersey with two days to go.
When we caught up with a happy Porte after his victory he told us: "It all went like clockwork today.
“It’s nice to win a stage of Paris-Nice and to take the jersey. I know full well that tomorrow is another day and there’s also the last stage. But I feel we have a good to team to defend yellow so fingers crossed.
“It all played into our hands in the finale, especially having López there as my wingman. He was so cool, calm and collected which was really helpful. So credit to him and the whole team today."
Porte has grown visibly during the race in a leadership role, something he puts down to some high-profile teachers during his career.
“I’ve done an apprenticeship if you like under Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and also before that Alberto Contador," he added. "You don’t always get the opportunity to ride for yourself in a team like this so when it comes you have to grab it with both hands. It’s just nice to get a big victory and I’ll take the rest as it comes.”
Sports Director Nicolas Portal also heaped praise onto the team and onto Porte for the way he has grown into a team leadership role.
“Today was a perfect result for Richie and for the team," he said. "It was a really impressive performance.
“The manner of victory too today makes it even better. Going clear on his own and taking that time out of his rivals was perfect. It was also good because he wasn’t just strong in the legs, he was strong tactically. Talansky made a bit of a mistake and Richie knew when to attack.
“Every day in this race he has always been in a good position, concentrating and in the right moves. He’s been riding confidently and without stress. He’s learned a lot over the last year. All eyes were on him and he waited and waited before counter-attacking at the perfect time. It’s also great for the team having a lot of new guys here. Everyone is really happy with how we rode today – not just on the final climb but the whole stage.”
Portal also filled us in Jonathan Tiernan-Locke who was forced to pull out of the race during the day. He continued: “The only sad thing today was that Jonathan had to abandon. He was suffering with a few stomach problems and he was totally empty. No one wants to stop at this point in the race but there was nothing he could do. We saw on Wednesday exactly what he is capable of.”
After five days of intriguing and open racing the queen stage arrived in the form of a 176km run from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to the mountaintop finish of La Montagne de Lure.
There were no less than five categorised climbs to crest before the peloton even arrived at the foot of the decisive ascent, meaning the day was a bit more structured than the attack-filled previous tests.
Out of the 170 that took the start four men went up the road with Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard), Thierry Hupond (Argos-Shimano), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) joining up after 16km.
Garmin-Sharp again took up the controlling duties on behalf of Talansky with the gap hitting 6:35 before it was closed back down. With the general classification so close there were a number of interested teams willing to put men on the front.
On the early slopes of the 13.8km ascent it was Team Sky who took it up – Pate taking it up before handing over to Siutsou and López. Riders were quickly shelled from the bunch while up ahead Voigt pushed on with a defiant attack.
López took it up heading into the final 7km but it wasn’t long before the attacks started, Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) all trying to distance their rivals to no avail.
Talansky chanced his arm with a number of moves but Porte was able to follow each time, eventually hitting out himself with just over a kilometre remaining.