Vincenzo Nibali moved back into the leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France after climbing to a superb solo victory on stage ten.
On the day Alberto Contador abandoned the race following a heavy crash, Nibali emphatically underlined his status as new favourite to claim overall victory by blowing all of his rivals away on the steep summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles.
The Italian initially attacked with around 3km to go, and after subsequently catching breakaway rider Joaquim Rodriguez, he surged again with around 750m remaining to secure his second stage win of the race.
Thibaut Pinot was the next man over the line, 15 seconds later, while Alejandro Valverde took third place a further five seconds back.
Porte up to second
The result means Nibali now has a 2min 23sec lead at the top of the general classification over second-placed Richie Porte, who finished 25 seconds behind the Italian on the day in seventh place. Valverde climbs to third, 2min 47sec back.
Nibali said: “It was huge work for my team, but it was definitely a big victory for me and I am delighted by it. It has been a really good day.”
Stage ten contained no fewer than seven categorised climbs on its 161.5km journey from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, and it was between the second and third climbs that Contador suffered his race-ending crash.
Nibali ordered his Astana team-mates to slow the pace in the peloton to wait for him, but with Contador initially struggling to catch up and Michal Kwiatkowski, who was sixth overall, in the day’s breakaway, they later had to push on.
By the time Contador abandoned the race, the main bunch was left with a deficit of around four minutes to recover, but Astana received help from Movistar, Team Sky and the Lotto Belisol team of race leader Tony Gallopin, and together they cut the gap to two minutes leading on to the penultimate climb.
Sensing the danger, Kwiatkowski attacked out of the breakaway on the ascent up the Col des Chevreres and only Rodriguez could follow. The duo led as a pair heading on to the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, but then Rodriguez attacked 5.3km from home and appeared on course for a solo victory.
Nibali had other ideas, though. He launched a searing attack out of what was left of the peloton and quickly caught the Spaniard, before leaving him trailing with a second - and stage-deciding - attack inside the final 1km.
Rodriguez was also overtaken by a host of other general classification riders at the death, eventually finishing ninth, but he took maximum points on five of the day’s seven climbs and consequently moves into the mountain classification leader’s polka dot jersey.
Stage ten result
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 4:27:26
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr, +15secs
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +20
4 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, same time
5 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +22
6 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, +22
7 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky, +25
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura, +50
9 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha, +52
10 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky, +54
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 42:3:38
2 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky, +2:23
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +2:47
4 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +3:01
5 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Belisol, +3:12
6 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr, +3:47
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, +3:56
8 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +3:57
9 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida, +3:58
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin, +4:08