Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) soloed to victory on stage 11 of the Tour de France, attacking the breakaway on the Col du Tourmalet to claim the third Tour stage win of his career.
Last year’s King of the Mountains quickly earned a big gap thanks to his stinging attack on a nine per-cent ramp, and after leading the way over the summit of the climb never looked like being reeled back in again.
Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) launched a late counter-attack to claim second place, but victory for Majka was never in doubt in the end. Chris Froome (Team Sky), meanwhile, finished alongside the other GC men to retain his overall lead.
On a day always likely to suit a breakaway, there had been no shortage of riders looking to earn an advantage, with several groups of varying sizes going clear and then being brought back by the Team Sky-led peloton.
The race had come back together by the time the intermediate sprint arrived, which was bad news for Lotto-Soudal and green jersey holder Andre Greipel because they had previously been caught behind a split.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) took full advantage, reclaiming the points classification lead by bagging 17 points to Greipel’s seven.
The attacks kept coming, meanwhile, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in one large group which Team Sky reeled back in.
Finally, it was former King of the Mountains winners Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Majka who instigated the break which finally went clear.
Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) was first to bridge the gap, shortly followed by German champion Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) and Steve Morabito (FDJ), and then Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Julien Simon (Cofidis).
With the break finally away, many in the peloton eased – stopping at the roadside to answer nature’s call and bedding in for the big climbs to come.
Martin attacked the peloton with 91km remaining, attempting to bridge a gap of 3’50” to the leaders, which the Irishman did so with aplomb.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) tried to go with him but could not stick with Martin, who – after catching the break – went on to claim maximum points atop the Col d’Aspin ahead of Voeckler.
In the bunch, Astana pushed on as they hit the Col du Tourmalet, with Pinot, Bardet and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) dropped.
Up the road, Majka pressed on solo, distancing his breakaway colleagues, while the peloton continued to shrink in size further back.
The list of riders abandoning on the stage continued to grow too, with Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) the most high-profile, and Rein Taaramae (Astana), Danielle Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Ag2r-La Mondiale duo Johan Vansummeren and Ben Gastauer also calling it quits.
No rider was able to gain an advantage in the bunch on the long Tourmalet descent, and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), after narrowly avoiding collisions with a stray herd of cows and a team car, was one of several riders able to rejoin the yellow jersey group.
Up the road, Majka continued to hold a big solo lead, with Pauwels a minute behind and Martin and Buchmann another minute further back.
Martin responded well though, and attacked Buchmann and then surged past Pauwels in pursuit of Tinkoff-Saxo’s Polish ace up the road.
His counter-attack, though enough to claim the combativity award, came too late to catch Majka as he finished second for the second time in this year’s race.
What remained of the peloton crossed the line more than five minutes later, Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) having earned a gap in the closing stages to move back into the top ten.
Tour de France 2015: stage 11 – result
1) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 5.02.01hrs
2) Dan Martin (IRL) – Cannondale-Garmin +1.00
3) Serge Pauwels (BEL) – MTN-Qhubeka +1.23
4) Emannuel Buchmann (GER) – Bora-Argon 18 +2.08
5) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Team Europcar +3.34
6) Julien Simon (FRA) – Cofidis – ST
7) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Trek Factory Racing +5.11
8) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +5.19
9) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +5.21
10) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 41.03.31hrs
2) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +2.52
3) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3.09
4) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +3.59
5) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +4.03
6) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +4.04
7) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Soudal +4.33
8) Robert Gesink (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +4.35
9) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Alpecin +6.44
10) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Trek Factory Racing +7.05