Today’s Stage 15 Tour de France summit finish on Mont Ventoux had been ringed in red by riders and fans alike ever since the route of the 100th edition of the race was announced in Paris last October, and it didn’t disappoint.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome got back the time he lost on Friday’s crazy wind-battered stage and then some, and with a rest day tomorrow, the question is whether anyone can pull back more than 4 minutes on him in the Alps next week? Here’s our analysis and round-up of the reaction.
Froome hit lower slopes of the Ventoux for the final 20 kilometres or so of what was the longest stage of the race with just three team mates, Kanstantsin Sistou, Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte; shades, perhaps, of last Sunday when he found himself isolated for much of the stage and came under repeated attack from Movistar, and Nairo Quintana in particular?
Not a bit of it. All three did big turns on the front, causing some big names to be dropped until just Froome, Porte and Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Conatdor were left of the GC group, with Movistar’s Quintana again up the road on his own.
With 7 kilometres left, Froome attacked, got across to the Colombian, then with a little over 1 kilometre remaining, upped the tempo again to take a solo win on one of the most mythical – and feared – mountains in the sport.
Chris Froome of Team Sky, who leads the 100th Tour de France by 4 minutes 14 seconds from Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, and also moves into the lead of the mountains classification.
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.
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.
Sky’s team principal Sir Dave Brailsford reflected the self-belief currently coursing through the British outfit, with today’s game plan working to perfection, just as it had done on the first of two stages in the Pyrenees last Saturday when Froome took a convincing win at Ax 3 Domaines to move into the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Sir Dave Brailsford, team principal of Team Sky.
From this morning obviously we were concern about the break, who was going to be in there and how that performed.
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.
Surprisingly, despite Quintana and Froome’s moves smashing the race to pieces, there is no change this evening in the order of the riders occupying the first five places on GC – two of those behind the Team Sky man being from Belkin Pro Cycling, the other pair from Saxo-Tinkoff.
Bauke Mollema of Belkin, still second overall, although trailing Froome now by 4 minutes 14 seconds.
I'm not sure if I've ever had to go so deep. In the last ten kilometres I was really suffering.
Laurens was very strong and did a lot of work. That was great.
During the climb, some small gaps were made, but in then end I'm still second in the GC.
I had to give everything I had, but I guess you can take a lot of pain when you're second overall.
The current virtual podium is completed by Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador, who on this very mountain on the penultimate day of the 2009 race held off the challenge of Andy Schleck to seal his second overall victory.
The Spaniard hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet, but he’s aware that it will take a big upset to prevent Froome becoming the winner of the 100th edition of the race in Paris next Sunday evening.
Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff, third overall, 11 seconds behind Mollema and 4 minutes 25 seconds down on Froome.
I had enough trouble climbing in our pace as it were so 'chapeau' to him. There's really not much more you can say.
Froome is very strong. I've always been thinking about winning. That's the goal but every day there is a face-to-face situation he takes even more distance. But we'll see.
In the Tour you never know what will happen until Paris. Now I just think about recovering and enjoying the rest day. Going for second position is secondary.
It was a difficult stage. Especially because it was very fast throughout the first half. We rode at an incredible pace because teams like Europcar wanted to put someone in the break and they failed.
We arrived at the foot of Mont Ventoux with 220 kilometres in the legs and with that pace we didn't have much strength left. I was trying to follow Froome as I knew that he had to be more attentive to Quintana.
He knew that he had a chance, because it was a single climb and in a face to face with the rest, he would have the advantage.
I don't think anyone can beat Froome uphill unless he has a bad day but let's see what happens in the Alps stages where several climbs may cause damage to his team.
The Tour is not over until Paris although the overall difference is already big.
Quintana once again impressed with his attacking, although ultimately he was unable to respond to Froome’s attack as the pair headed towards the summit; he does, however, regain the lead in the best young rider’s competition from Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatowski.
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who will wear the white jersey of best young rider on Tuesday.
I had the illusion that I would win the stage but at the end I lacked strength. I gave everything I had, but this was a very difficult climb and the whole day had been raced at a fast pace.
I'm absolutely exhausted.I can see Chris Froome on the trainer now but I can only think about rest. I thought he'd be less strong than he was but he produced a violent effort and just could not follow.
I don't want to chose between a place on the podium or the white jersey – I want both. For now, I will defend the white jersey.
Prior to that ascent of the Ventoux, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan took maximum points at the day’s intermediate sprint. He had got into the day's break of 10 riders, but they were never given too much leeway with Europcar's Pierre Rolland, who had been leading the mountains classification this morning, leading what was ultimately a fruitless chase.
The Slovak is now pretty much guaranteed the green points jersey for the second year in succession – something no-one has done since Erik Zabel secured the last of his six consecutive victories in 2001.
He leads Mark Cavendish by 99 points with only one sprint finish opportunity left, next Sunday evening in Paris, where the latter has never lost.
Points classification leader Peter Sagan of Cannondale.
Today I went in the breakaway in order to get some points but I had in mind to also make the top 10 on the Mont Ventoux – it would have been something special!
Unfortunately some riders were sleeping and when they woke up we were gone and they chased us.
They didn't catch us and now I don't understand the tactic of those directeurs sportifs who ask their riders to pace the bunch after they didn't manage to catch us; it makes no sense.
I have spent a lot of energy today. I need a good rest day. The third week is going to be very hard. Now I'm thinking of surviving anyway I can.
I'm very happy that I took some important points and that I put on a show when we got caught by the bunch; this wheelie that I did was for fun, it's for the people – it makes a nice photo, no? I was doing this while the bunch was riding flat-out...
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.