Geraint Thomas delivered a major statement of intent in the defence of his Tour de France crown as he pulled clear of young team-mate Egan Bernal on the final brutal slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.
As Dylan Teuns won Stage 6 from the breakaway and young Italian Giulio Ciccone snatched the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Julian Alaphilippe, it was the sight of Thomas defying his own predictions and bursting clear of the main contenders at the last which caught the eye.
Much had been made of the five seconds Bernal picked up due to a momentary lapse from Thomas in the finale of Stage 3 in Epernay, and that gap was only expected to grow here as gradients hit 24 per cent and the surface turned to gravel.
Thomas spent Wednesday explaining why the stage did not suit him and pointing to Bernal as one of the favourites to profit, but the wily Welshman perhaps knew more than he was letting on.
“I was feeling good but I was unsure,” Thomas said. “I thought the steep climbs weren’t my cup of tea. I was expecting others – (Nairo) Quintana, Egan, (Adam) Yates – would jump up there. It was a decent day in the end.
“It is one of those climbs where you have to patient. When Alaphilippe went clear at 800 (metres to go), quite early, I had the confidence to let him go and ride my own temp and drive it all the way to the line from 350. I was starting to blow through. It is decent.”
Bahrain-Merida’s Teuns and Trek-Segafredo’s Ciccone were the last survivors of a 14-man breakaway on the 160.5km stage from Mulhouse, and both received rich rewards at the top of a climb which left many riders struggling to stand at the summit.
Teuns could celebrate a first career Tour victory while the 24-year-old Ciccone – a star of the Giro d’Italia in May as he took a stage win and the mountains classification – did just enough to take the yellow jersey by six seconds.
Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Alaphilippe did not give it up without a fight. Having stuck with the group of favourites all day, he attacked as the road turned to dust near the summit.
At first no-one reacted, but Thomas then found the reserves he needed to spring past the Frenchman, who slumped on to the barriers as soon as he crossed the line.
.@dylan_teuns wins the stage at la Planche des Belles Filles with a huge effort at the end! 🌟— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) 11 July 2019
Dylan Teuns s’impose au bout de l’effort à la Planche des Belles Filles ! 🌟#TDF2019 pic.twitter.com/pjhOJMn4Wl
The seconds Thomas has gained may not be massive – two on Thibaut Pinot, seven on Quintana and nine on a group including Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte and of course Bernal – but given the question marks over his form this was a clear answer.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin lost the wheels at the last, finishing 14 seconds behind Thomas.
Porte’s team-mate Ciccone now leads by six seconds from Alaphilippe, with Teuns up to third, 32 seconds down. Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett slots into fourth, two seconds ahead of Thomas who is 49 seconds off yellow.
In the Tour’s three previous visits to this mountain the man in yellow at the end of the day has worn it in Paris at the end of the race, but Thomas’ late dig suggests this edition has many more twists to come.
Know more about Sport360 Application