Chris Froome (Team Sky) produced a stunning ride to win stage 15 of the Tour de France atop Mont Ventoux and extend his overall lead at the top of the general classification.
The Team Sky leader dropped his GC rivals to go head-to-head with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on the upper slopes of one of the Tour’s most fabled climbs.
And Froome then surged clear of the Colombian climber with a little more than a kilometre remaining to secure the most remarkable victory of his career to date.
Victory for Froome sees the Briton extend his lead over Bauke Mollema (Belkin Pro Cycling) to four minures and 14 seconds, with Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) a further 11 seconds adrift in third.
“I didn’t imagine this,” said Froome. “This climb is so historic. I didn’t see winning the stage today – I saw surrendering it to Nairo Quintana in the final stages. My main objective was to get more of a buffer in the general classification – I didn’t expect to win the stage and I really can’t believe it.
“When I did catch up to Quintana, I thought this guy is going to win and I am going to have to settle for advantage from the rest of the guys. But in the last 2km he started to fade and I had something left. When I attacked he could not stay on my wheel.”
The 242.5km stage – the longest of the 2013 race and, in fact, since the 2000 edition of the Tour – started in Givors before taking in three category four climbs and one category three ascent but they would only ever serve as an aperitif before the main course – Mont Ventoux.
After a series of unsuccessful attacks, a ten-rider breakaway went clear containing Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Julien El Fares (Sojasun), Alberto Losado (Katusha), Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Markel Irizar (RadioShack-Leopard).
The group built up a lead of approximately seven minutes by the 75km mark and while Pierre Rolland (Europcar), who started the day in the King of the Mountains jersey, and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) got within 15 seconds of bridging the gap, the duo failed to make the connection and were forced to retreat to the peloton.
Sagan, meanwhile, won the intermediate sprint to extend his points classification lead to 99 points over Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), all but securing the Slovak the green jersey for a second successive year.
Europcar led the chase in the peloton on behalf of Rolland, before Movistar took to the front in a bid to set Quintana up for victory, and the gap tumbled as the Giant of Provence approached.
Team Sky then hit the front, with Kanstantsin Siutsou, David Lopez, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas all taking turns to shell riders out of the back of the peloton, including last year’s best young rider, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and 2012 Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
Chavanel attacked from the breakaway close to the foot of the climb and established a lead of nearly 30 seconds over his former companions, who were all soon swept up by the peloton, while Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) jumped across to the Frenchman, who no doubt had visions of elevating his status as a national hero on Bastille Day.
Quintana launched his bid for glory with 13km of the 20.8km climb remaining and the 23-year-old soon moved up to Chavanel and Nieve, dropping the former and taking the latter with him as he continued on his pursuit of the summit.
Back in the peloton, Peter Kennaugh inflicted more damage to an ever-dwindling group on behalf of Froome, before pulling off to leave his team leader with only Riche Porte for company from the Sky ranks.
Porte took up pace-setting duties, while Quintana dropped Nieve with 7.5km remaining. Froome then attacked, leaving his rivals in his wake, passing Nieve, and making contact with Quintana.
The duo continued alone, with none of Froome’s GC rivals able to respond from the group behind, before Froome broke free from Quintana with 1.3km remaining to solo to a sensational win.
Victory for Froome sees the 28-year-old replace Rolland as leader of the King of the Mountains classification but the maillot jaune remains the Team Sky leader’s only goal and, going into the second rest day, Froome is in a commanding position to become the second successive Brit to win cycling’s greatest race.
Tour de France 2013 – stage 15 – result
1 Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 5:48:45 hours
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +29″
3) Mikel Nieve (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +1’23”
4) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha – same time
5) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +1’40”
6) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo-Tinkoff – same time
7) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +1’43”
8) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +1’46”
9) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +1’53”
10) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +2’08”
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 61:11:43 hours
2) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4’14”
3) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo-Tinkoff +4’25”
4) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +4’28”
5) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4’54”
6) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +5’47”
7) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +6’22”
8) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +7’11”
9) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +7’47”
10) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +7’58”