Wout Van Aert rode clear on Mont Ventoux to take a superb solo stage victory while Tadej Pogacar withstood considerable pressure to see his overall lead in the Tour de France enhanced.
Twenty-four hours after finishing second to Mark Cavendish in a sprint, Van Aert delivered a very different show of strength to take glory on one of the most anticipated days of this year’s Tour, featuring a double ascent of one of its most feared mountains.
And while the Belgian national champion was alone in front, his team-mate Jonas Vingegaard was the first man in this Tour to find signs of weakness in Pogacar, dropping him inside the final two kilometres of the climb.
It proved only temporary as Pogacar worked with Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Uran to catch Vingegaard on the long descent to Malaucene and, with Ben O’Connor long since dropped to lose second place, Pogacar’s lead grew from two minutes to more than five as Uran became his closest challenger.
The day belonged to Van Aert, however, as the three-time cyclo-cross world champion conquered the Giant of Provence.
The 26-year-old’s two previous Tour stage wins were both in sprints, but he showed off his power on the climbs as he dropped Kenny Elissonde some 11km from the top of the second ascent of Ventoux – this time the steeper side from Bedoin – and rode away.
It was a victory which, coupled with Vingegaard’s ride to move up to third overall, offered Jumbo-Visma some considerable consolation following the loss of their main hope for yellow, Primoz Roglic, last week.
“Of course it’s emotional,” said Van Aert, who had lowered his expectations before the Tour after surgery to remove his appendix in late May hampered preparations.
“Personally for me it was hard for me to come into this Tour at the proper level and in the first week we had so much bad luck with the team, and even today we lost Tony Martin in a crash, so this is nice.
“If you keep being motivated, keep believing, some day it will work out and I’m really proud.”
Those trying to dislodge Pogacar from yellow must keep believing too, and may take some heart from seeing him lose Vingegaard’s wheel.
The Slovenian’s struggles allowed Carapaz and Uran to catch the yellow jersey by the summit, and together the three worked together to reel in Vingegaard on the descent.
“It was a hard pace for all of the climb and in the end when Vingegaard attacked, I couldn’t follow,” Pogacar said. “It was just a little but too much and I exploded a little but I managed to save it in the end with Richard Carapaz and Uran, we worked together and saved the day for everyone.
“I just had to stay calm and find a new rhythm. I knew it was not very long to the top so I set my pace and just tried to finish at the top with good legs to push on the downhill. In the end it was a good day.”
The same was not true for everyone however. The Ineos Grenadiers did a huge amount of work to try to set up Carapaz, but though he rose up one place to fourth they got little reward and saw Luke Rowe miss the time cut and drop out of the race.
Cavendish did survive, however, having time to doff his helmet in tribute at the Tom Simpson memorial near the summit of Ventoux before beating the clock by seven minutes.
The Manxman will now hope to have the legs to pursue a record-equalling 34th Tour stage win with an anticipated sprint finish to Thursday’s stage into Nimes.