On the first properly challenging climbing day of the Tour de France, the champion of Italy attacked in the final three kilometres of La Planche des Belles Filles. He maintained his pace until the very top, winning the stage by fifteen seconds from a rider clad in blue, who had sprinted away from the other GC favourites on the final steep gradients, two of whom came in together, twenty seconds behind the stage winner. The Italian champion is Vincenzo Nibali, the blue-clad rider is Thibaut Pinot and the other GC men are Alejandro Valverde and Jean-Christophe Péraud, if the year is 2014, but this year the riders are Fabio Aru, Dan Martin, Chris Froome and Richie Porte.
Until three and a half kilometres to go, this stage looked like a dream for Sky. A breakaway of non-climbers had gotten away without a lot of trouble early on in the one hundred and sixty kilometre stage, with Thomas De Gendt, Pierre-Luc Perichon, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Voeckler, Mickaël Delage and Dylan Van Baarle getting in the early break alongside Philippe Gilbert and Jan Bakelants, who left their confederates behind on the uncategorised climb to Plancher-les-Mines, escaping as a duo. That made them no less doomed as the chasing trains of BMC, Trek and Sky closed them down. Sky, incidentally, were not forced to do as much work as they might be accustomed to nor as much as they might have expected, as BMC toiled to bring back the leaders in order to secure a chance of a stage win and bonus seconds. This of course left Sky with a completely intact team going onto the climb, with only Rowe, Kiryienka and Knees lost by the early gradients.
Five top climbers in tow, it was left to Kwiatkowski to do the early work. He excelled himself, pulling the peloton for almost two kilometres and bringing back the attack of Lilian Calmejane with infernal pace, leaving Sky in an even stronger position than they had been in 2012, five riders left with three and a half kilometres left to go, but Mikel Nieve couldn't keep Kwiatkowski's pressure up as Sergio Henao and Mikel Landa began to fall back, leaving the door open for Aru to attack. He did so in his customary style, hands on the hoods and venom in his legs as he forced open a huge gap between himself and Nieve, who just was not able to close the gap.
Chris Froome realised this, moving to the head of the group himself and attacking out of the saddle in order to limit Aru's advantage. He was followed immediately by Richie Porte, Romain Bardet and Dan Martin, who quickly formed a group of four ahead of the rest of the peloton, including Quintana, Contador, Fuglsang, yellow jersey Thomas and other expected contenders. These contenders would begin to come back, almost making contact with the four again, but they had clearly been outclassed on the stage. They weren't the only ones, as even Froome and Porte could not find enough speed to reel Aru back in, or even drop Bardet and Martin.
Finally, Aru hit the infernal gradients of the final three hundred metres, but there was no chance of him cracking. He reached the flatter gradients on the approach to the line and celebrated his victory, which brought him into the podium places. A few seconds later, the race for second hit those gradients, as Martin brought his Flèche Wallonne experience to bear, taking four seconds on Froome and Porte, along with second place on the stage. The former Sky teammates came in together, Froome taking the four bonus seconds for third place and taking the yellow jersey, something he's never lost in his career.
- Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana - 3:44:06
- Daniel Martin (IRE), Quick-Step Floors - 0:16
- Chris Froome (UK), Team Sky - 0:20
- Richie Porte (AUS), BMC - st
- Romain Bardet (FRA), AG2R La Mondiale - 0:24
- Simon Yates (UK), Orica-Scott - 0:26
- Rigoberto Úran (COL), Cannondale-Drapac - st
- Alberto Contador (ESP), Trek-Segafredo - st
- Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team - 0:34
- Geraint Thomas (UK), Team Sky - 0:40
- Chris Froome (UK), Team Sky - 18:38:59
- Geraint Thomas (UK), Team Sky - 0:12
- Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana - 0:14
- Daniel Martin (IRE), Quick-Step Floors - 0:25
- Richie Porte (AUS), BMC - 0:39
- Simon Yates (UK), Orica-Scott - 0:43
- Romain Bardet (FRA), AG2R La Mondiale - 0:47
- Alberto Contador (ESP), Trek-Segafredo - 0:52
- Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team - 0:54
- Rafal Majka (POL), Bora-Hansgrohe - 1:01
Arnaud Démare keeps hold of the points classification and Aru takes the polka-dots. Pierre Latour loses his white jersey to Simon Yates.