Back up the road, the three leaders’ advantage continued to grow over the chasers before Grivko was dropped on the category two ascent of the Pas de Peyrol.
It left De Gendt and Van Avermaet up the road, with the former allowed to take the maximum climbing points at the top – enough to give him the King of the Mountains lead.
The six chasers were reduced to four, meanwhile, with Vachon and Sicard dropped as all three groups on the road were trimmed by the climb.
Back in the bunch, there were some high-profile casualties as Movistar set a fast tempo – Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and yellow jersey Sagan among the riders spat out the back.
Team Sky’s Mikel Landa also lost contact with the bunch, though most of Chris Froome’s key lieutenants stayed with their leader just behind Movistar.
Movistar’s pace reduced the gap between the much-reduced peloton and the two leaders to less than seven minutes, which prompted Van Avermaet to go solo at the front
Sky took over pace-setting duties thereafter, and began to pick up the remnants of the day’s break as the climbing continued with the category-two Col du Perthus.
Two of those – Pauwels and Gautier – suffered a crash on the descent – but got back on the bike, as Van Avermaet crested the final climb of the day with a six-minute lead over the peloton.
De Gendt, now assured of the polka dot jersey, was more than two minutes behind his fellow Belgian as Van Avermaet had time to punch the air in celebration.
A late dig by Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in the GC group caught Contador out, but the other GC men left in the peloton finished together.
It leaves Van Avermaet 5’11 clear of Julian Alaphilippe, as the attention turns back to the sprinters on stage six.