Chris Froome (Team Sky) has won stage seven of the 2012 Tour de France.
The Kenyan-born Brit sprinted clear of an illustrious leading group to seize victory at the end of the 199km stage from Tomblaine to La Planche de Belles Filles – the first mountain stage.
Froome’s team leader, Bradley Wiggins, finished third, on the wheel of defending champion, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and took the yellow jersey.
Froome said: “We’ve been out here about seven weeks earlier for a bit of ‘route recon’.
“It shows if you’ve got a plan and stick to it things come together that much easier.
“We couldn’t have asked for more. It’s been a fantastic day for us with Brad in yellow.”
The two favourites went head-to-head in the closing kilometres, but both were surprised by Froome, who, having set the pace, responded when Evans took the initiative, overcoming Wiggins’ pursuit, and sprinting clear of both of his more accomplished rivals.
Wiggins said he had realised a childhood dream by taking the yellow jersey.
“It’s been a fantastic year. I’ve been saying all year this is what we’ve been training for. I think it’s fair to say we’ve peaked now, that’s for sure.
“This is one day of many to come. Obviously we’re in the diving seat now. We’ll look to consolidate this,” he said.
Evans described Froome’s win as “incredible” and said from his position it looked as if the Team Sky man had won easily.
He added: “We could have taken on a more aggressive role in the race but when I’ve got one or was isolated already what can you do from such a long way out.
“They’ve shown their strength as a team which as we saw in Dauphine was possible. They say there’s less climbing but it’s being used to the same effect.”
Team Sky rode a commanding final 10km, shedding a host of contenders in a dominant display in support of Wiggins, who sat comfortably on fourth wheel for most of the final kilometres.
Evans and Liquigas-Cannondale leader, Vicenzo Nibali, stubbornly refused to give ground, the pair remaining with Wiggins and his team until the finish.
The start of the stage was marked by news that Ryder Hesjedal, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, had become one of eight riders to abandon overnight, a group that also included three-time world road race champion, Oscar Freire (Team Katusha).
An early break saw seven riders go clear, among them newly-crowned time trial champion of Spain, Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), winner of the mountainous ninth stage of last year’s Tour, and Volta a Catalunya victor, Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE).
The escapees claimed the first seven places at the intermediate sprint at 93.5km, but the battle for eighth was intensely fought, with Peter Sagan strengthening his hold on the green jersey by outsprinting Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) after the Australian appeared to suffer a mechanical issue.
With 50km to go, the septet’s lead was just over 4.30” as they began the climb of the third category Col du Mont de Fourche. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda-Sharp) drove the bunch in service of his Irish teammate, Dan Martin, winner of stage nine of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.
Zabriskie continued relentlessly on the front, joined by David Millar, the illustrious time trialists reducing the lead to less than 2.30” with 20km to go. Seven kilometres later, the gap had been reduced to 1.09”.
Just before 10km to go, Jurgen Van Den Broeke, the Lotto-Belisol team leader, suffered a mechanical issue, and launched a furious pursuit of the bunch in a bid to put himself back into contention.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the next of the GC contenders to suffer a mechanical, especially poor fortune for the Spaniard whose talents were ideally suited to the profile of the finish.
Meanwhile, at the head of the peloton, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) took over the pace making from Millar, bringing Wiggins and his Team Sky colleagues to the front for a final effort to haul in the breakaway, making the catch with 5.3km to go.
Team Sky’s searing pace dropped three team leaders and GC contenders: Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
Stage seven – result
1) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 4:58:35
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +2”
3) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky
4) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +7”
5) Rein Taaramae (EST) – Cofidis-Le Credit En Ligne +19”
6) Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +44”
7) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +46”
8) Janez Brajkovic (SLO) – Astana
9) Denis Menchov (RUS) – Katusha +50”
10) Maxime Monfort (BEL) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +56”
1) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky – 34:21:20
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +10”
3) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +16”
4) Rein Taaramae (EST) – Cofidis-Le Credit En Ligne +32”
5) Denis Menchov (RUS) – Katusha +54”
6) Haimar Zubeldia (SPA) -RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +59”
7) Maxime Monfort (BEL) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +1.09
8) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R-La Mondiale +1.22
9) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1:32
10) Michael Rogers (AUS) Sky Procycling +1.40