Lotto Belisol's Tony Gallopin attacked with 2.4 kilometres remaining to the line to clinch stage 11 of the Tour de France in Oyonnax this afternoon. The Frenchman, who spent Monday's Bastille Day in the race leader's yellow jersey having temporarily taken possession of it from Astana's Vincenzo Nibali, had gone off the front on the last descent.
He and was joined in the final kilometres by Cannondale's Peter Sagan, Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Michal Kwiatkowski and Tinkoff-Saxo's Michael Rogers, and when he made his second move, the trio were unable to organise themsleves to chase him down.
With the peloton closing in on him as he approached the line, Gallopin held on to win by a matter of metres, with Giant-Shimano's John Degenkolb second and Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step third.
Today’s 187.5 kilometre stage from Besançon took the race into the Jura mountains, with four climbs late on, two of them Category 3, the other two Category 4.
After some early attempts at an escape by riders including Cannondale’s Peter Sagan and IAM’s Sylvain Chavanel, three men got away after 13 kilometres – IAM’s Martin Elmiger, plus Cyril Lemoine of Cofidis and the Bretagne-Séché Environnement rider, Anthony Delaplace.
Swiss champion Elmiger got away from his fellow escapees on the first climb, the Category 3 Côte de Rogna, crested with 46.5 kilometres remaining.
Meanwhile in the main bunch behind, three men broke clear, Jan Bakelants of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Tom Jelte Slagter from Garmin-Sharp and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicolas Roche, his team now seeking stage wins to rescue its Tour after Alberto Contador’s exit on Monday.
On the third categorised climb, the Côte de Desertin, Roche and Bakelants finally bridged across to Roche, and they were later joined by Movistar’s Jose Herrada and Europcar's Cyril Gautier.
With Cannondale, working for pre-stage favourite Sagan, and Orica-GreenEdge, whose Simon Gerrans and Michael Albasini were also fancied today, forcing the pace at the front of the main bunch, the break was doomed and was caught on the final climb.
On the descent, Gallopin launched himself with 13.5 kilometres left and while that attack didn’t stick, his second, around 11 kilometres later, proved decisive.
One of the performances of the day came from the man who came home last, Garmin-Sharp rider Andrew Talansky.
The American, heavily bandaged after a series of crashes in recent days, punctured early on during today’s stage and was unable to rejoin the peloton, and seemed set to abandon at some point.
He remounted though and bravely continued to battle on his own, crossing the line 32 minutes after Gallopin, but inside the time limit.
Stage 11 winner, Tony Gallopin
Have I become another rider? No. I don't think so. I always try to follow my path but I don't attack enough. I often focus on riders like Sagan and I finish 5th, 6th… I should always ride the way I did in San Sebastian last year [when he won the one-day race].
I have an inferiority complex in relation to the best riders. My attacks in today's finale weren't planned. I had sore legs all day. This morning I was convinced that the breakaway would work. I came for a training camp in Les Rousses not far from here with my father Joël and my fiancé Marion [Rousse]. We rode the course of today's stage but not the last five kilometres at the entrance of Oyonnax so when I felt better with 20km to go, I called my team car to ask [Lotto-Belisol team manager] Marc Sergeant to show me the road book. It gave me some ideas.
It would be a finale in between puncheurs. I didn't want another sprint of 20 or 30 riders like in Sheffield or Nancy. I tried my luck in the small hill that wasn't categorized but I knew it. When the three guys came across [Sagan, Kwiatkowski, Rogers], I knew I had no chance to beat them in a sprint, so I had to go again.
To win a stage and to take the yellow jersey deliver different feelings. The Maillot Jaune, I was thinking about for five hours before I got it. I had mentalized it. But today, until one hundred metres to go, I didn't believe I could win, so the emotion is stronger than for the yellow jersey.
It's a dream come true. I've experienced so mixed feelings in a couple of days: I was over the moon when I took the yellow jersey, the next day was a nightmare on the bike and now I'm a Tour de France stage winner. It's incredible.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali
It's been hot today. We've passed from an extreme condition to the opposite one but I'm not sure the heat is particularly good for me because I'm from Sicily. By now I have ridden my bike and performed in any kind of weather condition.
A big trouble because of the heat can happen to anyone, any time. Maybe that's what happened to Talansky today, I don't exactly know. It's been reported that I can lose the Tour because of the heat, because of crashes or because of my team. Crashes also can happen to anyone. It happened to my team-mate Michele Scarponi today but from the team car I got to know that rode over other riders uphill. But he remained quiet and didn't spend any useless energy. I didn't need him on my side as Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang were there along with me.
My team worked very well today again. Many of my team-mates were involved in that work. We have to be careful every day. The daily fatigue is hard to handle, for different riders from different teams. I remember from the Tour two years ago that something is likely to happen every day.
Today it was hard because of the nervousness in the bunch and Garmin launched the action very strongly. Cannondale and Orica worked hard behind and Gallopin's attack was decisive. In overall, it has gone well for me today. So far, my hardest achievement since the beginning of the Tour is stage 2 to Sheffield because the rhythm was extremely high and there was a very strong head wind, I had the peloton right behind me with a very small margin.
Andrew Talansky, last man to finish today
My back hurts but I wanted to continue for the team. I continued for the team, for the guys. They trusted me for this Tour, I did not want to stop after everything they did for me.
Talansky's sports director at Garmin-Sharp, Charly Wegelius
We know he had a very hard day, worse than we expected. We were hoping for the stage to go better than this. Unfortunately, that's the way it was. We can be content that he went that far. He did not want to give up. It's typical of cyclists but even more so of Andrew. He deserved much better.
It's very disappointing to come to this race with the kind of of expectations that Andrew had. He deserved much better than this, so that's cruel. It came from these two crashes in two days.
He needed some reassurance from Robbie (Hunter) about the situation he was in. Robbie talked him to the finish line. For someone with this character it's only natural to make it to the finish line.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.