Reigning champion Chris Froome saw his rivals start to whittle away as Tom Dumoulin won the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.
A stage that began under a blistering sun and temperatures reaching 41 Celsius in Spain ended in Dantesque conditions with driving rain and even hail in Andorra.
Dumoulin attacked on his own from a breakaway group on the 10km hors category climb to the finish at Arcalis following a 184.5km trek through the Pyrenees.
“It’s incredible, I cannot describe it with words. A few days ago if you’d said I would win the Andorra stage, maybe the hardest day in the Tour de France this year, I’d say you’re crazy,” beamed a shivering Dumoulin.
“I wasn’t feeling so good but suddenly it all comes together. I had good legs, it was the right time to attack — I’m so, so happy.”
Portugal’s Rui Costa took second 38sec back with Rafal Majka of Poland third.
Race leader Froome came home more than six minutes later alongside four rivals for the yellow jersey.
“It’s still a very open race at this point. I’m really happy with how it’s gone so far,” said the 2013 and 2015 Tour winner.
Two-time former winner Alberto Contador was not among Froome’s rivals having abandoned the race 80km into the stage.
Having injured his entire right side in crashes on the opening two stages, and woken up on Sunday morning with a virus, Contador was forced into quitting the Tour early for the second time in three years.
Briton Adam Yates started and finished the day second overall as he crossed the line alongside Froome to maintain his lofty position.
Only Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, Australian former team-mate of Froome’s, Richie Porte, and Ireland’s Dan Martin managed to stay with the race leader in the final few kilometres of the stage, after Froome accelerated.
“There were a lot of attacks on that final climb, I was hoping to gain a bit more time as well, but in the end there were a few of the contenders in front so I just made sure to close the gaps and finish in the same time,” added Froome.
Yates is 16sec back from Froome with Martin third at 19sec and Quintana fourth at 23sec.
Porte is outside the top 10 due to time he lost on the second stage after suffering a late puncture.
– Mountains battle –
A 20-man breakaway escaped on the first climb of the day and gradually built up a lead of more than 10 minutes.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Majka were part of the group and set about battling for king of the mountains points over the five categorised climbs of the day.
Pole Majka had started the day with a one-point advantage over Pinot, but the Frenchman finished it in the polkadot jersey with a three-point lead after coming sixth on the stage.
He had the edge over Majka on every climb until the finish.
World champion Peter Sagan closed in on green points jersey wearer Mark Cavendish by taking honours at the intermediate sprint.
On the penultimate climb, Froome’s Sky team started to crank up the pressure in the peloton, which duly thinned steadily.
Only 35 riders were still in the peloton by the time it reached the final 10km-long hors category climb to the finish.
Up front Dumoulin took advantage of some hesitancy in the breakaway to strike out alone.
Having sweated through Spain, the riders were met by an autumnal downpour in Andorra.
“One minute we’re pouring water over ourselves, it’s 35 degrees (Celsius), hot, humid — we’re suffering in the heat,” said Froome.
“The next minute hailstones are falling on us, you’re trying to ride face down so it doesnt hit your face.
“It was a pretty crazy change in temperature down to 10 degrees (Celsius).”
Finally, Froome accelerated halfway up the climb and the race was on with Quintana sticking to his wheel.
Porte came through to have a dig, as did Martin, but the top five all finished together as Italy’s Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet of France and American Tejay Van Garderen lost time. – Agence France-Presse