La Pierre-Saint Martin (France) (AFP) - Chris Froome savagely ripped the heart out of his Tour de France competition on Tuesday by streaking to victory on the first mountain stage of this year's race.
The 30-year-old Briton, who started the day in yellow, blitzed one rival after another before coming home alone at the end of the 167km 10th stage from Tarbes to la Pierre-Saint Martin.
"It was a dream day for us so hopefully we can set into that defensive way we're riding and keep the jersey," said an elated Froome.
"It's certainly not over, there's a long way to Paris and as you can see in bike racing things change very quickly."
The Sky team leader made his attack with a little over 6km left on the brutal 15km climb to the finish.
At that point, reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali had already been dropped and two-time former winner Alberto Contador was struggling.
They came home respectively 21st at 4min 27sec and 11th at 2min 51sec to see their overall title hopes shredded.
"I felt good but today I wasn't even the little brother of last year's Nibali," said the Italian champion.
Contador added: "It was a terrible day and Froome rode off to demonstrate his authority."
Only Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, and American Tejay Van Garderen to a certain extent, managed to limit their losses.
Quintana finished third on the stage at 1min 04sec, suffering the insult of Froome's domestique Richie Porte beating him to the line for second place to deny him a pair of bonus seconds.
The Colombian moved up to third overall, though he's now 3min 09sec behind Froome, albeit with several mountain stages to come.
"I'm calm, I feel good but my rival was stronger then me today, that's clear," said Quintana.
"But I'm calm because my legs feel good."
Van Garderen rode a solid race to come home 10th at 2min 30sec and hold onto second overall at 2min 52sec.
- miserable day -
But it was a miserable day for French hopes on what was their national holiday 'Bastille Day' Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet who were dropped on the lower slopes of the final climb.
In the first half of the race, a two-man breakaway of Pierrick Fedrigo and Kenneth Van Bilsen built up a 15-minute lead on the peloton.
But by the time they reached the foot of the final climb to the summit finish, their lead was down to just 2min 30sec, and their time in the sun was almost up.
Several of the favourites' teams pushed the pace as their leaders fought to start the climb at the front of the peloton.
Van Bilsen gave up the ghost 13km from the end while Fedrigo lasted another 1.5km before the battle for the stage victory overtook him.
By that point the peloton had been shredded under the pace set by Quintana's Movistar team to just 25 riders.
But already for the hosts it made miserable viewig as Peraud, runner-up to Nibali in 2014, Pinot, third last year, and Bardet, sixth 12 months ago, were amongst the debris.
As Fedrigo was caught, Dutchman Robert Geesink counter-attacked alone.
But incredibly it was Nibali next to crack more than 10km out from the finish.
Spaniard Rafael Valls had set off after Geesink and the two formed a tandem at the front with a 30sec lead.
Joaquim Rodriguez, the winner on the stage three Mur de Huy climb, and last year's king of the mountains Rafal Majka were the next to be dropped.
Sky took up the pace-setting but Quintana's teammate Alejandro Valverde attacked and the reaction from Froome's team reeled in Valls as only a dozen riders were left in the yellow jersey group.
Porte took over pace-setting and Contador was next to feel the pace and drop off, with Valverde following shortly afterwards.
Van Garderen also cracked as Geesink was caught, leaving only Froome and Quintana in Porte's wheel.
But when Froome launched his decisive attack, he dealt a crushing blow to his rivals.