Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) won stage 11 of the 2017 Tour de France as Fabio Aru (Astana) claimed the race lead in Peyragudes.
Aru accelerated away from Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the final 250m of the stage, after Team Sky had led the peloton for the entire stage, and though Bardet claimed stage victory on the brutally steep final slope, Aru gained enough time in third place to take over the yellow jersey.
Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) was also in the GC group that contested the finish, keeping hold of the white jersey in the process, but Aru now leads Froome by six seconds overall.
British champion Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) had earlier got into the break for the first time in this year's race, going solo over the Port de Bales, before the effort got the better of him on the Col de Peyresourde with little more than 5km to go.
That left the yellow jersey group, minus Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), both dropped on the Peyresourde, to contest the finish.
And it was Bardet who proved strongest on the brutal final slope, with Froome unable to hold the wheels of his rivals - the first signs of weakness he has shown at this year's Tour.
After a few early breakaway attempts were shut down, the day’s move of 12 riders finally established with a broad mix of riders present.
Joining breakaway specialists Cummings and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) were green jersey Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors) and the man trailing him in the points classification, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb).
Matthews and Kittel’s ambitions were clear, with the intermediate sprint at 94km, and it was the Australian who took the maximum of 20 points by a tyre’s width from the German.
Kittel was first to be dropped from the group but Matthews, to his credit, was still active at the front as they climbed the category-one Col de Mente, crossing in first place ahead of De Gendt.
That move helped to protect Warren Barguil’s polka-dot jersey lead, and with his job done for the day he was dropped on the hors categorie Port de Bales.
The numbers continued to drop at the front until only De Gendt and Cummings were together, with the British champion dropping the Belgian to go solo.
Unfortunately for him, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) attacked at a similar time in the bunch, and Team Sky’s efforts to close it down – and keep the pace high – ate into his lead.
At the back, Jakob Fuglsang – suffering the effects of his crash, and fractured wrist and elbow, on stage 11 – was the highest profile rider dropped from the yellow jersey group.
The gap was two minutes as Cummings led the way over the summit, with De Gendt and Cyril Gautier (Ag2r-La Mondiale) already well behind, and Barguil with a small gap chasing mountain points.
Cummings attacked the descent hard, but the peloton’s pace – with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) on the front – again cut into his lead.
Gautier crashed on the descent, misjudging a bend but managing to bunny hop the kerb to crash onto the grass verge rather than the road.
The gap went out a bit again as the peloton eased towards the bottom, while there was a further slowing of the pace at the base of the Peyresourde when Mikel Nieve inadvertently led Froome and Aru off-road and into the caravans.
Bizarrely the other GC contenders opted to slow the pace as the trio – all of whom stayed upright – chased back on.
An indicator as to why there was no attack followed, however, as Quintana popped almost as soon as the climbing started and disappeared off the back – his efforts at the Giro d’Italia clearly hindering his Tour ambitions.
Cummings’ efforts also came a cropper on the climb, however, as with the heat bearing down he was unable to resist the charge of the Sky-led, 11-strong yellow jersey group.
As Nieve and Mikel Landa led the yellow jersey group past, Cummings simply had nothing left in the tank – indicating as much to the TV moto as it swept beyond him.
That left a front group with yellow jersey Froome, white jersey Yates, Aru, Bardet, Dan Martin (QuickStep Floors), Uran, Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Contador all present.
Nieve and Landa led over the summit, though Contador cracked just before the top to leave a group of ten heading down the descent to contest the finish.
Landa continued to lead onto the final climb, shutting down Bennett’s attack, but as the gradient ramped up Aru accelerated and Froome lost his wheel.
Bardet charged past to take the stage win ahead of Uran, but Aru held on for third place, putting 20 seconds into Froome, plus four bonus seconds.
Yates lost 20 seconds to Meintjes, but climbs to sixth overall and still boasts a decent lead in the battle for the white jersey, meanwhile.
And the GC riders will take plenty of encouragement from Froome cracking at the end of the stage – with a short, 101km stage next on the cards, with three category-one climbs packed in.
Tour de France 2017: stage 12 - result
1) Romain Bardet (FRA) - Ag2r-La Mondiale - 5.49.38hrs
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) - Cannondale-Drapac +2"
3) Fabio Aru (ITA) - Astana - ST
4) Mikel Landa (ESP) - Team Sky +5"
5) Louis Meintjes (RSA) - UAE Team Emirates +7"
6) Dan Martin (IRL) - QuickStep Floors +13"
7) Chris Froome (GBR) - Team Sky +22"
8) George Bennett (NZL) - LottoNL-Jumbo +27"
9) Simon Yates (GBR) - Orica-Scott - ST
10) Mikel Nieve (ESP) - Team Sky +1.28
1) Fabio Aru (ITA) - Astana - 52.51.49hrs
2) Chris Froome (GBR) - Team Sky +6"
3) Romain Bardet (FRA) - Ag2r-La Mondiale +25"
4) Rigoberto Uran (COL) - Cannondale-Drapac +55"
5) Daniel Martin (IRL) - QuickStep Floors +1.41
6) Simon Yates (GBR) - Orica-Scott +2.13
7) Mikel Landa (ESP) - Team Sky +2.55
8) Nairo Quintana (COL) - Movistar +4.01
9) George Bennett (NZL) - LottoNL-Jumbo +4.24
10) Louis Meintjes (RSA) - UAE Team Emirates +4.51