Team Sky take stranglehold on Tour de France
TEAM Sky have taken a stranglehold on another Tour de France, with Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome sitting one-two after the race exploded in the Alps.
Thomas flew into the yellow jersey, surging past Mitchelton-Scott's Mikel Nieve inside the final 400m of Stage 11 and denying the Australian team a stage win.
While Nieve was going for victory, his Mitchelton-Scott team leader Adam Yates cracked under Sky's relentless pacesetting on the final climb and lost 4min42sec in a major dent to his podium hopes.
Thomas' win and 1min25sec general classification lead over Froome would appear to enhance an intriguing teammate-versus-teammate battle for the yellow jersey.
But despite his position of strength, Thomas' self-effacing nature has taken the air out of any internal disputes.
"Obviously 'Froomey' is the leader. He's won six Grand Tours and for me it's an unknown," Thomas said.
"Froomey knows how to win a three-week race. He's still the leader. For me, it's whatever happens now I think it's been a successful Tour. It's an amazing feeling to win the stage and take the jersey."
Asked how he could so easily talk down his chances while sitting in yellow, Thomas was blunt.
"That's just how I feel. Some guys might sit here and just give some PR bulls**t, but I just say how it is with me. Froomey is the leader," he said.
"For sure I'm not just going to sit up and lose time, but I think we're in a great position."
The first summit finish to the ski station of La Rosiere was the cue for fireworks as the contenders showed what they had under the hood.
Alejandro Valverde's bold attack and union with teammate Marc Solar threatened to shake things up, but with half the 108.5km stage still to run, they were eventually hauled in by the Sky train.
It wasn't until Thomas' attack from a reduced group with 5.2km remaining that the race erupted.
Thomas quickly joined Tom Dumoulin, who had earlier bridged across to Valverde, while back down the road Romain Bardet launched, drawing out Froome.
Froome then hit Bardet with a counter attack, but Nairo Quintana responded. Froome and Bardet then exchanged brief surges that came to nothing.
Hours after bemoaning that riders were "afraid" to attack Sky, it was Dan Martin's vicious acceleration that stuck - as only Froome was able to follow.
"I was really grateful to Chris for riding with me, as I knew with G up front he didn't need to. But damn he was strong and he was killing me," Martin said.
"I just love racing in the mountains. The last few days haven't felt like racing as I have enjoyed it so much. It's a shame that I enjoy something that hurts like hell. Racing on this mountain with this crowd - there is no feeling like it."
But the day's searing pace over four big climbs exposed several contenders. Mikel Landa (1min47sec), Ilnur Zakarin (1min51sec), Jakob Fuglsang, Bob Jungels and Yates (all 4min42sec) all lost time. Rigoberto Uran's latest nightmare saw him finish more than 26 minutes back.
It was all too much for sprinters Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, who finished outside the time cut and were eliminated, along with Cavendish's leadout man Mark Renshaw.
There's no respite in sight either. Thursday's 175.5km slog featuring three hors categorie mountains, including a summit finish atop Alpe d'Huez, looms as the hardest day of the Tour.