Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) won stage 11 of the Tour de France, attacking late in the stage as his phenomenal race continued.
Having worn the yellow jersey on stage ten, the Frenchman added a stage victory after an audacious, but perfectly-timed, attack inside the final three kilometres.
It was the second time Gallopin had accelerated after pre-stage favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) had chased down his first attack.
But the Slovakian’s bid for a stage victory was once again foiled as Gallopin burst clear and just about held off the bunch – in which race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) protected his overall advantage.
As racing resumed after the race day, three men went clear from the flag – or from the start of the race anyway, with race director Christian Prudhomme’s flag having gone missing on the rest day.
Former King of the Mountains leader Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Swiss champion Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) earned a small lead on the bunch to form the day’s break.
Cannondale and Orica-GreenEDGE, both riding in support of the two favourites for the stage, were happy to commit men to the chase however, to keep the three at a manageable distance throughout.
The bunch was all together as they passed the intermediate sprint – Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) both getting in the mix for points from the bunch.
However, no sooner had the sprint and feed zone been passed than the day’s climbing began and the peloton soon became very strung out with plenty of riders spat out the back.
Criterium du Dauphine winner Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) was the first to crack, still suffering the effects of his stage seven crash.
The American’s race looked to be over as he clambered off the bike and sat for some five minutes on a road barrier talking with his team, however he fought back on – albeit now in a battle with the cut off.
The sprinters were also soon dropped by the pace set by Cannondale, Orica-GreenEDGE and Garmin-Sharp.
Attacks and counter-attacks started from the bunch, just as the initial break was being broken up with Nico Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) instigating what looked to be a dangerous move.
Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp), Jesus Herrada (Movistar) and Cyril Gautier (Team Europcar) all looked to make the junction too but the peloton barely gave them an inch – Cannondale and Orica-GreenEDGE continuing to lead the way.
Roche attacked off the front with 20 kilometres to go, but once again Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) hit the front to bring the race together after the final categorised climb of the day had been crested.
The Panzerwagen, wearing the red race numbers for combativity, once again took a big turn on the front as he set a fierce descending pace.
Such was the speed, it briefly split what was left of the bunch – Sagan and world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) getting a lesson in remaining attentive as they were caught behind it.
There were no such worries for race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), however, who stayed safe before the race came back together again.
Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) attacked next, Sagan leading the chase behind him alongside team-mate Alessandro de Marchi – the latter putting in a big shift for the man in the green jersey.
He led by ten seconds as they passed under the ten kilometres to go kite, but that had been wiped out by Sagan, Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) after a phenomenally fast descent.
The Australian had done much of the chasing, and as the race came back together the four leaders worked well together to maintain their slender the lead.
Kwiatkowski rode aggressively on the front, but Gallopin was off the front again with 2.7km remaining – fighting off Sagan’s attempt to keep the race together.
His lead remained under the flamme rouge, despite the bunch bearing down upon him by the pedal stroke, and the Frenchman had enough time to cross the line arms raised in celebration.
Behind him, John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) – the only sprinter aside from Sagan to have stayed in the bunch – took second place to prove he is still a man to be reckoned with on the undulating stages.
But the day, once again, belonged to Gallopin who remains fifth overall, one of four French riders in the top eight.
Tour de France 2014: stage 11 – result
1) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol – 4.25.45hrs
2) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – ST
3) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4) Daniele Bennati (ITA) – Tinkoff-Saxo
5) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
7) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
8) Sam Dumoulin (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale
10) Kevin Reza (FRA) – Team Europcar
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 46.59.23hrs
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +2.23
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +2.47
4) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +3.01
5) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol +3.12
6) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +3.47
7) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +3.56
8) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +3.57
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4.08
10) Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +4.18