Le Mont Ventoux: Britain`s Chris Froome took another step towards yellow jersey triumph on the Tour de France with a second mountaintop victory of the 100th edition at Mont Ventoux on Sunday.
Team Sky leader Froome finished just ahead of Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar after attacking a small group of rivals 7.2km from the summit finish of the 20.8km climb to the `Giant of Provence`.
Spain`s former two-time winner Alberto Contador (Saxo) was unable to respond when Froome spun away from a small group of riders having seen many of them drop off the pace following a strong relay from Australian teammate Richie Porte.
Having started the 242.5km 15th stage 2min 48secs down on Froome, Contador finished in sixth at 1:40 to drop to 4:25 behind the leader and 11secs adrift of second-placed Dutchman Bauke Mollema.
It is Froome`s fourth career stage win on the race and second inside a week after his victory atop Ax-Trois-Domaines in the Pyrenees on stage eight.
"It`s a mythic climb. It`s the biggest win of my career," said Froome, who needed oxygen at the finish to help him breathe.
Asked if he had wanted to send a message to Contador, Froome replied: "It wasn`t really about trying to send him a message, but obviously I`m going to try and take as much time as possible ahead of the final week.
"There`s still some hard racing to come so I`m really happy to have this advantage now."
Ahead of the second and final rest day, which will be followed by a hilly 32 km time trial and three further stages in the mountains, Contador has a significant deficit to make up.
The Spaniard remained defiant: "The gap to Froome has grown but until we get to Paris we don`t know what is going to happen."
Mollema did well to hang on to second place overall having finished just behind Contador, but he admitted: "Chris Froome is really strong in the mountains, but we knew that already."
For American Greg LeMond, a former three-time race champion and outspoken advocate of clean cycling, told French television that, barring mishaps, Froome would not be beat.
"It`s over," said the American. "When you`re as good as Froome in the mountains, you drop everyone else and there is little they can do."
On the longest stage of the race, expectations were high that Sky, having lost Vasili Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen in recent days, would come under attack from a number of teams.
But after a spell of pace-setting by Movistar on the approach to the Ventoux, Sky took over and hit full gas.
The last of an earlier nine-man breakaway, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, was caught halfway up the 20.8km trek to the Ventoux summit and after some speculative attacks, Froome`s leading group began to thin in dramatic fashion.
Former champion Andy Schleck, who rode into a ditch, and 2011 winner Cadel Evans fell off the pace before Euskaltel`s Mikel Nieve attacked with 14km remaining, prompting Quintana`s attack shortly after.
After Sky`s Pete Kennaugh`s pace-setting job was over, Porte began his relay with 9.5km to race and the Australian`s efforts did the most damage.
"When Richie took over, he really upped the pace and in the process got rid of the big GC guys on our wheels," added Froome.
Dutch climbing specialist Robert Gesink and Spain`s Alejandro Valverde were dropped and soon Mollema and Belkin teammate Laurens ten Dam were in the same predicament as Froome followed Porte`s wheel with Contador keeping a tight rein.
When Froome`s attack came, it was spectacular, the Kenyan-born Briton spinning away from his Spanish rival.
He caught Quintana with 6.7km to race and after testing the Colombian again Froome rode away for good in the final two kilometres.
"I didn`t think I`d win the stage," added Froome. "I thought Quintana was going to take the stage but in that last two kilometres he started fading and so I just raced on ahead."