Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won stage 13 of the Tour de France after a thrilling day which saw yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky) concede more than a minute to his GC rivals.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep rode strongly all day, with the whole team receiving the combativity award for their efforts, and Cavendish outsprinted Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) to secure his 25th career Tour stage victory.
Sagan extended his lead in the competition for the coveted green jersey by finsihing second for the fourth time in the 2013 Tour.
A late attack in crosswinds by Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team saw the two-time Tour champion take a sizable chunk out of his GC deficit to Froome, with Cavendish the last man to make the split to the lead group.
And he timed his sprint perfectly to beat Sagan with ease and end a torrid few days, leaving the Manxman delighted.
“It’s incredible. I’m just so, so happy,” he said. “I’m so proud of the guys – they rode out of their skins today.
“It’s incredible to be able to win that. Echelons are like falling through ice, you have five seconds to make it or it’s all over.
“I nearly missed the final break, I just managed to sprint on to join it. It wasn’t easy but I am incredibly lucky to have that team out there.”
Contador, team-mate, Roman Kreuziger, and fellow GC contenders, Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam ( Belkin) all reignited their yellow jersey challenge, but Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) saw his own hopes completely disintegrate after suffering a a broken wheel.
After riding through the 14.3km neutral zone – the longest of the 100th Tour to date – a six-man break established itself early.
Europcar’s Yohann Gene, Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Luis Mate (Cofidis), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) found themselves two minutes clear after 10km.
However, as with yesterday’s twelfth stage, the peloton was led across the mostly flat terrain by the sprinters’ teams at a torrid pace to keep the escapees at a controllable distance.
With crosswinds playing a much bigger role on the exposed roads, Omega Pharma-QuickStep injected more pace into the bunch around the 56km mark, shredding it in the process.
Yesterday’s winner, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) was among the riders dropped, as were Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
All of the jersey holders remained safe in the peloton and, realising Kittel had been dropped, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, helped by Belkin, put the pressure on at the front of the peloton.
Kittel’s group fell more than a minute behind, and the pace also saw the break caught just before the only categorised climb of the day – the category four, Cote de Crotz.
Polka-dot jersey holder, Pierre Rolland (Europcar), was allowed to take the solitary point on offer at the summit before the peloton continued to force a fast pace.
Valverde, starting second to Froome in the GC, suffered a mechanical and eventually lost considerable time on the peloton.
Valverde’s Movistar team-mates relayed to get him back in the bunch – with Rui Costa, ninth in the GC, dropping off the back to help, but they were soon caught by Kittel’s group.
Belkin sensed their chance to cement Mollema and Ten Dam’s places in the GC top ten and ensured there was no let-up in pace in the peloton, causing Valverde and Kittel’s group to fall even further behind.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Cavendish and Sagan contested the intermediate sprint, crossing in that order after Cavendish took Fabio Sabatini’s (Cannondale) wheel in front of Sagan but was unable to hold off Greipel’s acceleration.
Movistar worked to bridge back to the bunch but the peloton responded by upping the pace again – resulting in Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vaconsoleil-DCM) joining another group of riders dropped off the back.
Sensing an opportunity, Contador, Kreuziger and their Saxo-Tinkoff team mates attacked off the front, and were joined by fellow GC contenders Mollema and Ten Dam.
Cavendish and Sagan also made the leading group but Froome was dropped into a second bunch, as was Greipel, and the group quickly found itself 40 seconds behind.
Further back, Valverde saw his GC hopes obliterated, with Nairo Quintana the only Movistar rider not to lose out significantly.
With Ian Stannard and Kanstantsin Siutsou falling off the back of the second bunch, Froome found himself isolated in the middle with the gap growing.
Back at the front, Saxo-Tinkoff continued to force the pace before the sprinters took over, with Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) attacking off the front inside the final kilometre.
Matiej Bodnar (Cannondale) followed him and, as a result, was unable to provide a lead-out for Sagan, and Cavendish launched a long-range sprint to win comfortably.
Tour de France 2013 – stage 13 – result
1 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-Quickstep in 3:40:08hrs
2 Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale Pro Cycling same time
3 Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
4 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Astana Pro Team
5 Niki Terpstra (NED) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
8 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
9 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +6″
10 Michael Rogers (AUS) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +9″
1 Chris Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling 51:00:30hrs
2 Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +2’28”
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +2’45”
4 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +2’48”
5 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +3’01”
6 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Astana +4’39”
7 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +4’44”
8 Nairo Quintana (COL) Movistar +5’18”
9 Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) Ag2r-La Mondiale +5’39”
10 Daniel Martin (IRL) Garmin-Sharp +5’52”