Chris Froome registered an emphatic victory on the summit of Ax 3 Domaines to win the eighth stage of the 2013 Tour de France and move into the overall lead of the race.
The Kenyan-born Brit delivered an imperious performance as the first mountain stage of the hundredth Tour reached its climax, taking 1.46 from fellow pre-race favourite, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), in the final five kilometres.
Froome, who had ridden comfortably at the head of an elite group of climbers and GC contenders on the penultimate, 15.3km ascent of the Col de Pailhères, detonated the race on the final climb of the day.
Britain’s Team Sky had endured a nervous opening week to the race, Froome confessed, but had made a perfect start to the mountain stages.
“Being able to repay my team-mates with a stage win and Richie [Porte] coming second – I couldn’t have asked for more today,” he said.
“This is only the first week of the Tour. We’ve still got two weeks to go. There’s definitely going to be a lot of hard racing to come and we’re definitely going to have to defend it [the yellow jersey].”
If today’s performance is a guide, Sky will have little difficulty in keeping Froome in yellow. Paris-Nice winner, Porte, finished comfortably, some 51” behind Froome, after hanging back to discourage any counter attack from the rider responsible for the first significant move of the stage, Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The 23-year-old Columbian launched an attack with 33.5km to go on the ascent of the Pailhères, passing Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the last remaining survivor of an early breakaway, with ease.
Quintana rode alone to the 2,001-metre summit of the Pailhères, the highest of this year’s race, and began the treacherous 18.5km descent some 27 seconds ahead of Pierre Rolland (Europcar).
Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), who on any other stage would have been the rider of the day, continued his remorseless pace setting for Froome and Porte on the descent, dropping so quickly that he momentarily distanced the men for whom he was riding.
As the road finally levelled, Rolland made contact with Quintana, but the man who had worn the polka dot jersey (and, less appealingly, shorts) for much of the first week, was dropped again by the Columbian as soon as the tarmac resumed its skyward trajectory.
Almost inevitably, Kennaugh led the elite chasing group, one containing Contador, 2011 winner, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Movistar leader, Alejandro Valverde, to within touching distance of Quintana.
It was Froome, however, who completed the job, catching and passing the winner of the Tour of the Basque Country with consummate ease before setting an unanswerable pace.
Porte lingered, seemingly to deter any challenge from Movistar or Contador, but when it quickly emerged that there would be none, appeared to act on instruction to follow Froome.
Carnage unfolded in their wake. Valverde ground out a pace that could be considered no more than respectable in comparison to the Sky duo, while Contador found himself struggling to hold the wheel of team-mate, Roman Kreuziger.
Further back, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), fancied by many to win today’s stage, lost 2.06, and Evans crossed the line some 4.13 behind Froome.
A shell shocked peloton will need to regroup quickly if it is to retain any hope of halting Team Sky’s seemingly relentless charge to a second Tour de France title in as many years.
Tomorrow’s 168.5km ninth stage from Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, one punctuated with five climbs, will offer an early chance to do so.
Tour de France 2013: stage eight – result
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 5.03.18
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +51″
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.09
4) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin +1.10
5) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin +1.17
6) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Euskaltel-Euskadi + 1.35
7) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +1.46
8) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Saxo-Tinkoff – ST
9) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar
10) Igor Anton (ESP) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 32.15.55
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +51″
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.25
4) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin +1.44
5) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin +1.50
6) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +1.51
7) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Saxo-Tinkoff – ST
8) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +2.02
9) Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +2.31
10) Michael Rogers (AUS) – Saxo-TInkoff +2.40