Chris Froome claimed a second stage victory at the Criterium du Dauphine after an intense battle on the final climb of day two.
The Team Sky rider took a breathless win ahead of Alberto Contador and retained the yellow jersey in stunning style after a string of attacks on the Col du Beal.
Froome launched his first acceleration with 5.2km to go and the remaining bunch behind were blown apart with only a handful of riders able to follow the race leader. Among them were the main contenders for this summer's Tour de France with both Contador and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) clinging on to the defending race winner as he increased the tempo.
A select group of six riders headed under the flame rouge but only Contador could live with Froome's final attack. The Spaniard tried to come around the 2013 Tour champion in a frantic final 300 metres that saw both riders sprinting for the line but Froome managed to hold off the Tinkoff-Saxo man and in turn extended his lead to 12 seconds on the general classification.
Sending a message
"It was a really, really tough day today but the team did a really big job," Froome confirmed after the stage. "It was hot out there, you could see a lot of the guys salting up, I think this is the first real hot day we've had this year in these kind of conditions, but the team did a really good job, so I'm really happy to be able to get the stage victory to be able to say thank you to them."
"It's shaping up to be a really exciting race, when Nieve pulled off I thought 'ok', this is the first time I've done a mountain top finish against my biggest rivals in a really long time now so let's open things up and let's see where everyone's at and it seemed that Alberto came after me. He was able to hold my wheel, I wouldn't say easily but I couldn't shake him and it's interesting to see a few other guys jumping around, Talansky, Kelderman, they put in a few good attacks there.
"I think in the final Alberto and I coming up to the line I think both of us were going as hard as we could. I like to think if he'd had any more he would have come around me but he's definitely in really good condition."
With Froome taking the lead from the outset 24 hours earlier, Team Sky took to the front for almost the entire stage to control the pace. Danny Pate and Vasil Kiryienka spent long spells at the head of the peloton before Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve strung out the bunch on the final climb.
There were attacks from the gun as the race departed Tarare and it was Kevin Reza (Europcar) who forged clear before being joined by Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano) in the break.
The pace rose dramatically as the peloton approached the bottom of the Col du Beal, and the steep climb quickly put a number of riders into difficulties. De Marchi forged onwards away from his counterparts but was reeled in with 7.6km still to race.
Once on his own, Froome measured his efforts as he shut down moves from Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), distancing Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) with a final burst heading under the flame rouge sealing the win.