Simon Yates soloed to his second Tour de France victory of the week on stage 15 to the Prat d’Albis as the first cracks appeared in Julian Alaphilippe to bring the battle for the yellow jersey alive.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates attacked with 8.7km left of the steep climb above Foix to follow up his victory on Thursday’s stage 12 to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.
Behind, Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot attacked the reduced group of favourites and distanced Geraint Thomas, though the Welshman put in a late dig of his own to ensure he remained above the Frenchman in the general classification.
Alaphilippe finally showed the signs of weakness which have been expected from a rider never considered a contender before the Tour began – but who will enjoy an 11th day in yellow on Tuesday.
The belief that Alaphilippe is to be discounted for the overall now grows and the Tour will resume after Monday’s rest day with only 39 seconds separating Thomas in second and Emanuel Buchmann in sixth.
Alaphilippe’s advantage over Thomas was cut by 27 seconds to one minute and 35 seconds, but though Thomas moved up he will not be celebrating too much after seeing his rivals race up the road in front of him for a second consecutive day.
Pinot attacked with seven kilometres left and picked up 55 seconds on Thomas, while Thomas’ own team-mate Egan Bernal gained 31 seconds after initially keeping up with Pinot.
After the stage, Thomas said he felt much better than he did on the Tourmalet a day earlier, but chose not to attack at the end as he did not want to help rivals catch Bernal.
“I felt better than yesterday but I needed to try to pace it when it all kicked off…” he said.
“It’s a difficult one, tactics wise – I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel.”
Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk stuck with Thomas to remain 12 seconds further back in third place but Pinot is now just a further three seconds behind in fourth.
Yates did not need to worry about the battles unfolding behind him as he took another superb victory.
With his brother Adam’s general classification hopes effectively ended in a dismal day on the Tourmalet on Saturday, Simon was free to go stage hunting again.
The 26-year-old was active in a large breakaway which included several riders licking their wounds from the previous day, with Nairo Quintana, Dan Martin, and Romain Bardet all involved.
Simon Geschke attacked from the group on the steep Mur de Peguere around 45km from the finish of the 185km stage from Limoux, but Yates joined him at the summit and they raced clear of the rest.
Yates then struck out for victory early on the final climb, having the power to hold both a surging Mikel Landa and the late attack of Pinot at bay.
“I’m very proud of what I did there,” Yates said. “It was extremely hard from the start to the finish today but I raced how I like to, which is aggressive and I managed to pull it off.
“Today was the other day I had a chance for the stage win and I took it with both hands.”
But as much as Yates, this was also Pinot’s day.
Twenty-four hours after his victory on the Tourmalet, the 29-year-old made clear it is he, and not Alaphilippe, who is France’s best chance of ending a 34-year wait for a home winner on the Tour.