Andrew Talansky claimed overall victory at the Criterium du Dauphine after a remarkable final stage on which both Alberto Contador and Chris Froome saw their challenges collapse.
In one of the most dramatic and compelling days of racing in recent years, Talansky, who started the stage third overall, was allowed to form part of a 23-man breakaway and went on to overhaul his 39-second deficit in the general classification to previous leader Contador by finishing 1min 6sec ahead of the Spaniard.
Contador launched a magnificent solo attack 22.5km out in a bid to catch Talansky and while it looked like he could succeed heading on to the final climb of the day, he faded in closing kilometres and had to settle for second place overall, 27 seconds down.
Froome, who had been second at the start of the day, endured a difficult stage. He was unable to follow Contador’s move and eventually finished almost five minutes behind Talansky, which left him in 12th overall, 4min 5sec down.
Nieve wins stage
The stage was won by Team Sky’s Mikel Nieve, who attacked out of the breakaway 3.4km from the finish line in Courchevel and went on to win solo by three seconds from runner-up Romain Bardet. Britain’s Adam Yates was a further two seconds back in third, which saw him rise to an impressive sixth place overall.
Talansky followed in fourth place on the day and broke down in tears when it became apparent that Contador had not done enough.
The American said: “You put your whole life into something – the sacrifices, the training, there are times when you have crashed or you’re sick - and it is the moments like this that make everything worth it. Just one moment like this makes you forget about all of it. This is why we do this, for moments like today.
“It was a very hard start. We had Ryder Hesjedal off the front and I went up to Ryder, and he rode on the front of the breakaway all day and sacrificed himself for me. It was a perfect situation. We didn’t know if it would work, but we saw the opportunity and we had to try.”
With Talansky in contention for overall victory at the start of the day, it was a major surprise when he was allowed to join the breakaway. Even more bizarrely, Contador and his Tinkoff-Saxo team allowed the gap to grow to over three minutes, and it was only when Froome formed a select chase group by attacking on the second climb of the day that the lead began to fall.
Contador joined that group but still showed no interest in chasing down Talansky, opting instead to shadow Froome, who he clearly still saw as the main threat to his lead.
However, with Froome suffering from the effects of a crash on stage six and the gap holding at 2min 20sec heading on to the penultimate climb, the category-one Cote de Montagny, Contador finally sensed the danger and set off in lone pursuit of the breakaway.
A virtuoso piece of riding saw him cut the gap to Talansky to just over a minute heading on to the final climb to Courchevel, but then he ran out of steam and could not make further inroads.
"This is definitely not a disappointment," Contador said. "I am very happy with the race I did today. I felt strong. I knew it would be difficult to keep control of the race, but what I did today, this is a victory. I think I will be in my best form for the Tour de France."
Stage eight result
1 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky, 3:20:29
2 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +3secs
3 Adam Yates (GB) Orica-GreenEdge, +5
4 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp, +9
5 Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol, same time
6 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC, +15
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +32
8 John Gadret (Fra) Movistar, +36
9 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, +41
10 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo, +1:15
20 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, +5:05
1 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp, 31:08:08
2 10 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo, +27secs
3 Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol, +35
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +43
5 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +1:20
6 Adam Yates (GB) Orica-GreenEdge, +2:05
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, +2:12
8 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky, 2:59
9 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, +3:04
10 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +3:17
12 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, +4:25