Australian rider Mark Renshaw was eliminated from the Tour de France after an eleventh stage where the famous race started to take shape.
Renshaw – and the likes of British legend Mark Cavendish and German Marcel Kittel – had their Tour ended after finishing outside the stage’s time limit on a day where Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas not only crossed the line first, but also took the general classification lead.
The Welshman made a late surge to the lead and held on to win the 108.5km stage from Albertville to La Rosiere, finishing 20 seconds ahead of teammate and defending champion, Chris Froome, and Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.
As expected, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), who had led the race since the third stage, could not keep the pace in the mountains and went from the top of the general classification standings to crashing out of the top 10.
All that means that Thomas, this year’s Criterium du Dauphine champion, and four-time Le Tour winner Chris Froome are superbly placed for the second half of this year’s event.
Froome is now outright second, one minute and 25 seconds behind Thomas.
Thomas said he was surprised at just how good the day was for Team Sky.
“It is unreal. I didn’t expect it,” he said.
“We were low on numbers [today], so it was instinct when I went. I committed, got across to [Tom] Dumoulin and then sat on.
“It was a shame because Mikel Nieve [also in the breakaway] is a nice guy but I had to go for the win.
“It is always an honour to be in yellow. I knew it was a good chance but I didn’t know what everyone else would ride like. We were expecting attacks.
“It is never nice to see them ride away but we had confidence in each other.”
Froome hailed his teammate, who he said was “in the form of his life and fully deserves it”.
“Absolutely fantastic … it was perfect,” he said of his ride.
Thomas gets his timing right
The hilly stage was right up for grabs with around nine kilometres remaining, as Thomas decided to storm away from the peloton.
He was in hot pursuit of Dumoulin and passed him but Mitchelton-Scott’s Mikel Nieve provided a tougher challenge.
Nieve, the last remaining rider from the day’s breakaway group, tried his best to hold off Thomas, only being hauled in during the final 500 metres.
The chasing pack came speeding through, too, as Dumoulin and Froome made a late charge.
Thomas was too good, though, taking a time bonus for finishing first in the process, something that added 26 seconds to his lead over Froome.
It sets up a delicate and interesting scenario at Team Sky, who now have the two favourites in the race.
Do not discount Dumoulin, either.
Froome said afterwards that the Dutch rider was “the main guy who stands out as a threat to us right now”.
“We are going to have to keep a close eye on him,” he added.
Stage 12 will be contested in the mountains as riders race from Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs to Alpe d’Huez in one of the Tour’s iconic stages.
The gruelling stage is 175.5km long but some respite is coming, with a flat day of racing to follow.
Stage 11 results
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 3 hrs 29 mins 36 secs
2. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) + 20 secs
3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) same time
4. Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) + 22 secs
5. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
6. Daniel Martin (UAE Emirates) + 27 secs
7. Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) + 57 secs
8. Romain Bardet (AG2R) + 59 secs
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) same time
10. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) same time
General classification standings
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) + 44 hrs 6 mins 16 secs
2. Chris Froome (Team Sky) +1 min 25 secs
3. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) + 1 min 44 secs
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) + 2 mins 14 secs
5. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 2 mins 23 secs
6. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 2 mins 40 secs
7. Mikel Landa (Movistar) + 2 mins 56 secs
8. Romain Bardet (AG2R) + 2 mins 58 secs
9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 3 mins 16 secs
10. Daniel Martin (UAE Emirates) same time