Chris Froome put in an emphatic climbing display to take victory on Mont Ventoux and extend his lead at the Tour de France.
The Team Sky Brit benefited from the huge work rate of his team-mates on the famous climb before attacking hard with 7.2 kilometres to go.
The 28-year-old bridged across to the lone attack of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) before forging onwards to become the first British winner on Ventoux – winning the stage by 29 seconds and extending out his race lead to four minutes and 14 seconds, reclaiming the polka dot jersey in the process.
Team Sky pushed the pace from the foot of the climb as the whole team arrived on the front in a superb display – Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, David López and Kanstantsin Siutsou all pushing hard as the race hit the lower slopes of the hors categorie climb.
Peter Kennaugh then continued his superb Tour debut by pushing onwards, setting a strong tempo to peg the attack of Quintana before Richie Porte took over.
The Tasmanian’s attack split an already depleted peloton into pieces, with only Froome and Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) able to hold his wheel.
With Porte’s effort over Froome unleashed a powerful attack to distance all his rivals and claim another stunning victory. Contador faded in the closing stages to finish sixth, 1:40 back after Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel Euskadi) had rounded out the podium on the day.
Big day out
After taking the stage win, one day after the anniversary of Tom Simpson's death on the climb, Froome admitted:“I think today has to be the most memorable and the biggest win I’ve had in my career so far - given that this is the 100th Tour de France. To win a stage like that, at the end of 242km of racing, with the crowds that were out on the road and the way the team delivered me to the climb – it was just a massive, massive victory for me.
“The team did a huge job in getting me to the climb in that first position. Kosta took it up at the bottom and Pete took over once Quintana had attacked. He held him there for a good 5km or so and then Richie did a huge pull, pulling back Quintana all the way and then in the process dropped most of the GC riders. That’s when I knew that that was the moment to squeeze on a little bit more to try to get rid of Contador."
“My main objective of the day was to try and get as much time on the GC as possible. I tried to gap Quintana several times but he just wouldn’t budge from my wheel. I had actually almost surrendered the fact that I was going to have to tow him to the line. I thought he would win today, honestly, but he just lost his legs in the final 2km. I was just pushing on to try and take as much time as possible. That was really a bit of a bonus, winning the stage as well as taking that much time on the general classification."
Froome is well-placed heading into Monday's second rest day, adding: “I’ve got quite a decent advantage now on the GC but I’m definitely going to welcome the rest day tomorrow to recover from today’s effort. Seeing the guys giving 110% of their energy to keep me in yellow it just motivates me that much more to do exactly the same to make sure I stay in yellow.”
Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford looked back over the stage and was happy to see it pan out just to plan.
"From this morning obviously we were concern about the break, who was going to be in there and how that performed," he confirmed. "That was the first part of the race. Europcar decided to chase which made it more interesting and then Movistar decided to ride in order to try and win the stage. But our plan was always the same in that we wanted to get Froomey, Richie and Pete into the ideal situation at the foot of the climb as fresh as possible. That was the job of everyone else and they did that perfectly.
"Chris was trying to put as much time as possible into his adversaries. He was thinking about the GC and time gap with the rest day tomorrow. Today was always earmarked for us as a day where we could gain time. When you’ve got the form that he’s got at the minute and he’s going well – when you’ve got your self-belief systems in place that’s what sport is all about.”
Giant of Provence
As was befitting of Bastille Day there was plenty of French representation up the road on the longest stage of the race at 242.5km.
After a rapid first hour of action (50km/h) a 10-man group – including the green jersey of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) - were finally allowed to go clear by the bunch.
The Team Sky-controlled peloton were happy to let the move to with Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) the best-placed rider on the GC at 14:57 down. Other teams weren’t as happy, with Europcar pushing hard for much of the second hour after missing the break.
On the run up to the Giant of Provence Sagan took 20 sprint points uncontested and it wasn’t long before Team Sky hit the front to begin to string things out on roads lined with fans.
That set the scene for an incredible finish with Froome once again proving his climbing pedigree as he extended his grip on yellow.
Bauke Mollema (Belkin) finished eighth on the stage but was able to hold on to second overall, 4:14 back with Contador a further 11 seconds back in third.