Leader Vincenzo Nibali stamped his authority on the 2014 Tour de France with an impressive show of strength to claim victory on Stage 13's mountain-top finish at Chamrousse.
The Italian blew the field away as he attacked on the slopes of the final hors-categorie climb to finish 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Alejandro Valverde, who climbed up into second place in the general classification.
The big loser of the day was Team Sky leader Richie Porte, who started the stage in second place overall, but cracked with 12 kilometres to go and slipped right out of the general classification top 10—losing eight minutes and 48 seconds on the climb.
Tinkoff Saxo's Polish rider Rafal Majka finished second, 10 seconds behind Nibali, with NetApps rider Leopold Konig taking third.
The yellow jersey is now firmly on the shoulders of Nibali, who has a three-minute-and-37-second lead over Valverde.
Nibali started the climb of the Chamrousse shorn of all but two of his Astana teammates. Climber Michele Scarponi could not keep pace with the peloton and main-man Jakob Fuglsang crashed on the descent of the previous climb, the Col de Palaquit.
Only Lieuwe Westra and Tanel Kangert remained, and Nibali's rivals sensed an opportunity. They upped the pace on the slopes of the final climb, and with 15 kilometres to go, only a select group of 22 riders remained.
At the start of the day, Nibali told letour.com he expected to be put under pressure:
Today I expect attacks by the GC contenders. I fear mostly the riders from AG2R, Romain Bardet in particular, but the adversaries I have to control the most are Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde. It's a long stage today. That will make the race very hard. But I expect my team to do a good work again. We'll try to keep the situation under control.
King of the Mountains leader Joaquim Rodriguez was quickly shelled out the back as Movistar's John Gadret set the pace for his team leader Valverde.
Kangert then took to the front for Nibali, and the pace was too fierce for Porte, who was the next big name to feel the pinch as he dropped out of the back of the group.
|5||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||56:49:22'|
Then the attacks started. Konig was joined by Majka, and with neither of the duo a threat to the overall standings they managed to establish a gap.
Valverde tested the legs of Nibali, who reacted to stay with the Spaniard, along with Thibaut Pinot of FDJ and Laurens ten Dam of Belkin to form an elite four-man group.
With six kilometres to go, Nibali attacked and crossed the 17-second gap to the leaders, Konig and Majka.
As they looked up the road to see the yellow jersey disappear into the distance, Valverde and Pinto had no response.
Then, with three kilometres to go, Nibali made his final statement of the day as he rode away from his two companions to claim victory on the stage, and probably the Tour.
Earlier in the day, Cannondale's Alessandro De Marchi, who was the King of the Mountains at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this year, rode clear on the Category 1 Col de Palaquit, taking 10 points at the summit.
He began the final climb in the lead and with dreams of claiming the polka-dot jersey by the end of the day. But it was not to be, as the general classification riders chose Friday to flex their muscles and quickly caught the Italian.
There were also three abandonments on the road as French champion Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Daniel Navarro of Cofidis and Janier Acevedo of Garmin called time on the race.
|4||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte||Movistar||40|
Looking ahead to Stage 14, it appears even more difficult than Friday, with the giant Col d'Izoard to climb, plus two Category 1 mountains.
It will be another day to sort out the general classification contenders and another for Nibali to show his strength.