Romain Bardet of AG2R-La Mondiale attacked on the Col du Glandon to take an impressive solo win on Stage 18 of the Tour de France at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne this afternoon.
Europcar's Pierre Rolland finished second, 33 seconds behind, with Movistar's Winner Anacona third on the 186.5km stage from Gap, which included the spectacular climb of the Lacets de Montvernier, making its debut in the race.
It's the second victory for a French rider in this year's race, and the second for AG2R-La Mondiale after Alexis Vuillermoz won Stage 8 at Mur de Bretagne.
Chris Froome remains in control of the race, crossing the line around 3 minutes behind the stage winner to maintain his 3 minute 10 second advantage on GC, with Team Sky shutting down attacks by rivals including Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador on the Col du Glandon, the longest ascent of this year's race.
The 24-year-old Bardet, sixth overall last year after finishing 15th in his debut Tour in 2013, leapfrogs Giant-Alpecin's Warren Barguil to become the leading French rider on this year's race, moving into 10th place overall.
He also joins Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez on 68 points at the top of the mountains classification, with the Spaniard retaining the polka dot jersey on countback.
One curiosity from today's stage was that having missed the break and being distanced by the peloton, for the first time in the 102nd edition Tinkoff-Saxo's Peter Sagan, set to win the green jersey for the fourth year in a row, failed to score points at the intermediate sprint.
Romain Bardet of AG2R-La Mondiale, today’s stage winner
I've respected our plan this morning. I had to make the breakaway and that was the hardest part. In the past few days, we've seen big groups going up the road and that's complicated to deal with.
I had to reach the Col du Glandon with the smallest group possible. I was keen to attack at the bottom but I knew there would be head wind towards the top so I waited. I've raced as if the finishing line was at the top of the Glandon.
I had two team-mates with me in the breakaway today. They were a great help. Losing at Mende has made me a winner today.
Points classification leader, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo
I need a rest day! I didn't expect to suffer so much in the climbs today. I've made the breakaways for four straight days… and I've tried again today.
But the break was gone and it didn't work out. All day, it never eased up. There are two hard days left. If it's like today, I'll be in pain.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome, still in the yellow jersey of race leader
There are a few races within the race, like Rodriguez going up the road for the King of the Mountains. Riders who are 8th or 9th overall put their team at the front of the bunch to defend their position.
It works well for us. Having Geraint Thomas in 4th position is a dream scenario. Quintana and Valverde ride more conservatively because if they go for all or nothing, they risk losing their place on the podium, so we're just focused on those two riders.
I'm in a good shape. I'm in a better shape than two years ago. I'm quite confident that I'm in control of the situation. There are two really hard stages to do. I hope to come through those two stages with no problem.
To win a stage would be amazing but at this point I'm not going to kill my team-mates for a stage win. The yellow jersey remains the priority.
It'll be my first time climbing Alpe d'Huez with a Dutchman, Wout Poels, in the team. His family and friends will be there in the Dutch Corner. It'll be our last challenge. We can expect a grand finale.
We've done harder climbs than Alpe d'Huez during this Tour de France but that's a mythical one. I hope I won't repeat what happened two years ago when I hit the wall with hungerflat.
Before that, in tomorrow's stage, it'll be my first time climbing the col de Chaussy. On the other hand, I know La Toussuire very well. It's hard climb! It's a bit easier at the end but I expect Movistar to attack me with 4 or 5km to go.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.