Chris Froome proved he is right back in form by soloing to victory on stage seven of the Criterium du Dauphine as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) reclaimed the race lead.
With yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) dropped in the final 12km, it was the Team Sky man and van Garderen who took control.
Froome accelerated with 1500m to go on the final climb of the Montee du Bettex, but van Garderen fought well to ensure that, while it was the Brit celebrating at the line, the BMC Racing man boasts an 18-second lead overall.
A large break went clear early on, including Eritrean King of the Mountains leader Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), who was able to seal the polka dot jersey – the first African rider ever to do so.
The 14-man move also included the likes of Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and there numbers swelled to 26 by the time they reached the Col de la Forclaz.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) were among the big names to bridge the gap, while Sky took charge of the bunch.
Sky’s pace paid dividends almost immediately, as the gap was cut to the leaders and the yellow jersey was trimmed to just 30 riders.
With British champion Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) and then Philip Deignan on the front, both proving their worth ahead of the Tour de France selection meetings, the pace on the penultimate climb – the Cote des Amerands – proved too hot for Nibali.
As The Shark slipped out the back of the peloton, Wout Poels took over pace-setting duties and stage six winner Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), defending champion Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and world number one Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were also jettisoned.
Froome’s attack was almost inevitable, but nevertheless when it came only one man – van Garderen, who has manfully matched the Kenyan-born Brit at every turn in this race – was able to follow.
Navarro and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) were the last remaining escapees, but they were caught and passed with ruthless efficiency as both Froome and van Garderen shared pace-setting duties to put time into their GC rivals.
Froome kicked again on a demanding section of the final climb, finally ridding himself of van Garderen’s attentions to take the stage win – his second of the season.
Van Garderen crossed 17 seconds later, enough to retain a small buffer overall, meaning there is everything to play for on stage eight.
Criterium du Dauphine 2015: stage seven – result
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 4.24.17hrs
2) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +17”
3) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka +41”
4) Benat Intxausti (ESP) – Movistar – ST
5) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +54”
6) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +1.08
7) Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +1.15
8) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Cannondale-Garmin +1.25
9) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +1.34
10) Daniel Navarro (ESP) – Cofidis +1.45
1) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing – 26.59.27hrs
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +18”
3) Benat Intxausti (ESP) – Movistar +45”
4) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +1.10
5) Simon Yates (GBR) – Orica-GreenEDGE +1.29
6) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.40
7) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +1.45
8) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Cannondale-Garmin +2.29
9) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Cannondale-Garmin +2.39
10) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +2.46