Chris Froome (Team Sky) made it two wins in two days at the Criterium du Dauphine with a frightening display of climbing prowess on the Col du Beal.
Froome, in the yellow jersey, launched attack after attack on the hors categorie climb as he bid to rid himself of his GC rivals on the fierce slopes.
Time and again, however, Alberto Contador (Timkoff-Saxo) stuck with him, while Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) rounded off an elite leading group.
An enthralling battle ensued, with Froome and Contador impossible to separate as El Pistolero responded to every move made by the Kenyan-born Brit.
In a dress rehearsal for the next month’s Tour de France, it was the two who then burst clear – Froome again instigating the attack – with 600 metres to go, battling it out mano a mano for the stage.
And it was Froome who sprinted to victory, edging out his fierce rival with a powerful kick to the line as he extended his lead atop the GC after two stages.
The stage in detail
The action at the finale was preceded by an inevitable break, which consisted of Kevin Reza (Team Europcar), Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano), who set about picking up the early climbing points on offer.
Reza was the man to claim top points on every climb the break encountered, taking the polka dot jersey from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but Team Sky’s pace in the bunch ensured the escapees were kept at a manageable distance.
Danny Pate (Team Sky) was among the riders to perform a huge shift on the front of the bunch for Froome, before Geraint Thomas took over on the lower ramps of the Col du Beal.
The pace in the bunch was good throughout, with Froome, Contador and Nibali safe towards the front – with good reason as it turned out, as Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) fell further back, bringing several riders down just as the jostling for position started.
Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) was among the riders caught up in it, though the chief GC contenders all stayed safe.
At the front, Dumouser instigated an attack which resulted in De Marchi bursting clear, but his lead was cut by the pedal stroke as he approached the steeper ramps of the climb.
Froome was animated throughout the climb, talking regularly into his race radio and urging his team-mates to set a fierce pace on the front.
Thomas responded with a big shift, driving the pace up to drop white jersey leader Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) among others at the back.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was another to lose contact at the back – the Canadian offering the cameras a wry smile as the efforts of the Giro d’Italia caught up with him.
Froome continued to talk into his radio – allowing Richie Porte to drop from the front group, perhaps an indication his form is still not where he had hoped it to be.
David Lopez and then Mikel Nieve both continued to drive the fierce pace on the front – Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) the next big name to be dropped.
Nieve performed a big shift for Froome, taking him up the steepest part of the climb as Contador and Nibali sat on the defending champion’s wheel.
The stage burst into life with 5.2 kilometres remaining however, Froome looking up to assess the situation before bursting clear of the bunch.
Froome exploded into life, getting out of the saddle and flying up the climb – Contador sticking with him before Nibali, Kelderman and Van den Broeck rejoined them at the front.
No sooner had they done so though, Froome got out of the saddle and attacked again – Contador following suit as the two launched themselves up the road.
Both got out of the saddle, setting a seamless rhythm, almost sprinting up the climb as they distanced their three pursuers again.
After a huge effort, Froome eased, looking around to see Contador still on his wheel – flicking his elbows angrily to no response.
Contador remained unperturbed, sitting on his wheel, as the three pursuers caught back up again – Kelderman attacking next and earning a solo lead.
Nibali appeared to pop with 3.5 kilometres to go, but joined Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) to rejoin the front group as Froome looked to cover every attack made.
The six-man group was still together under the flamme rouge, with Froome on the front and the Team Sky man again pushed hard on the pedals to put the pressure on.
Again Contador stuck with him, again Froome relented before bursting clear again.
As the finish line approached, it was clear it would be Froome and Contador contesting the stage – the Spaniard appearing to catch Froome again with 100 metres to go.
Froome dug deep to find another burst of energy however, crossing a bike length clear of Contador to make it two wins in two days.
Kelderman followed them over four seconds later, but Nibali lost time – crossing in sixth place, some 27 seconds back.
The second group was led home 13 seconds later by Igor Anton (Movistar) – Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) earning a top-ten finish just behind him to complete a good day for the Brits.
Froome now holds a 12-second lead of Contador as he continued to show why he is favourite for the Tour de France next month.
Criterium du Dauphine 2014: stage two – result
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 4.24.41hrs
2) Alberto Contdor (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
3) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4”
4) Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +10”
5) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +12”
6) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +27”
7) Igor Anton (ESP) – Movistar +40”
8) Adam Yates (GBR) – Orica-GreenEDGE +42”
9) Sebastien Reichenback (SUI) – IAM Cycling +44”
10) Daniel Navarro (ESP) – Cofidis +45”
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 4.37.44hrs
2) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +12”
3) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +21”
4) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +33”
5) Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +35”
6) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +50”
7) Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) – Trek Factory Racing +1.22
8) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana – ST
9) Adam Yates (GBR) – Orica-GreenEDGE +1.31
10) Tanel Kangert (EST) – Astana +1.35