Nairo Quintana soloed to victory on the short, 65km stage 17 of the 2018 Tour de France to pull back time overall, but Geraint Thomas extended his yellow jersey lead with a superb ride as Chris Froome was dropped on the final climb.
Quintana burst clear of his GC rivals early on the final climb and held the advantage all the way up, with only Dan Martin – who initially followed the move but lost the Movistar man's wheel – also able to stay ahead of Thomas.
Egan Arley Bernal performed a superb job for Froome and Thomas in the front group, with Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) the highest-profile rider dropped.
Attacks from Team Sky's rivals dropped Froome, however, in the last few kilometres, but Thomas could not be shaken – finishing third to take a commanding hold on the yellow jersey.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) is now second overall, at 1’59”, after finishing fifth on the day, with Froome now third at 2’31” – 16 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The stage was always expected to produce fireworks, with such a short distance and with three big climbs, but the initial pace was slow despite the experimental grid start.
With the GC men happy to sit up and wait for their team-mates from further back, the stage started in familiar pattern – the peloton bunching up and a breakaway going clear.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was there for the second day running, while Movistar sent Alejandro Valverde – sat 11th overall – and Marc Soler up the road.
Tanel Kangert (Astana) was the most active, leading the way over the Montee du Peyragudes with polka-dot jersey and stage 16 winner Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floors) in hot pursuit.
The pace in the bunch was steady, however, with Luke Rowe pulling all the way up for Team Sky, with their rivals waiting until the Col de Val Louron-Azet to put the pressure on.
Ag2r-La Mondiale were actually the first team to try and put the hurt on but the tactic backfired as, after a huge shift from white jersey Pierre Latour, Romain Bardet was left isolated and they failed to shed Team Sky’s domestiques.
Up the road, Alaphilippe led over the second climb ahead of Kangert, but conceded defeat shortly afterwards, joking with the TV cameras as he dropped back.
Peter Sagan, in the green jersey, having hung on to the GC group until halfway into the stage, crashed on the descent, meanwhile, but remounted – knowing he only has to reach Paris now to win the points classification.
Back in the GC group, it was Quintana’s attack that did the most damage with only Bernal able to stay in the group in the wake of the change in pace.
Quintana burst away, however, opening up a 30-second lead very quickly, and that advantage had more than doubled as the climb went on – only Martin managing to stick between the GC group and the Colombian.
Quintana caught and passed Yates and then Alaphilippe, before linking up with Valverde as the team tactics came to fruition.
More attacks followed behind them, but Froome tracked a move from Roglic and Dumoulin brought the pursuing group back together.
The pace was knocked off again thereafter, allowing Wout Poels back, but the gap to the front of the race – where Kangert again led solo – continued to come down.
Valverde helped Quintana extend his advantage, with Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe) glued to their wheels, but when the Spaniard swung off, Quintana got no further assistance.
Nevertheless, he caught Kangert and immediately passed him before Majka too cracked with 6.4km still to climb.
In the GC group, Poels began to up the ante and Bardet cracked, while Valverde – who had by now dropped back – also struggled to hold the back wheel when Poels swung off and Bernal took over.
Next to attack was Roglic, again, with Thomas following the move, but Froome briefly lost the wheels until Bernal took back over on the front.
That encouraged Dumoulin to put a dig in next, with Thomas again following, but this time – even with Bernal immediately dropping to pace Froome – a gap opened up to the defending champion.
Dumoulin, Thomas, Roglic and the latter’s team-mate Steven Kruijswijk remained together, but only Roglic stayed with them of the two LottoNL-Jumbo riders.
After Quintana claimed victory and Martin took second, however, Thomas put in a late dig to take third place and the last few bonus seconds on a defining day for his Tour de France bid.
Tour de France 2018: stage 17 – result
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – 2.21.27hrs
2) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates +28”
3) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +47”
4) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +52”
5) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb – ST
6) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +1'05"
7) Egan Arley Bernal (COL) – Team Sky +1'33"
8) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1'35"
9) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar – ST
10) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +2'01"
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 70.34.11hrs
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb +1'59"
3) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2'31"
4) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +2'47"
5) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3'30"
6) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +4'19"
7) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar +4'34"
8) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5'13"
9) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates +6'33"
10) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +9'31"