Lieuwe Westra came from nowhere to win Stage 7 of the Criterium du Dauphine while Alberto Contador cracked Chris Froome to claim the race lead.
Westra (Astana) made amends for finishing second in yesterday’s sixth stage by reeling in Yuri Trofimov and Egor Silin right on the finish line to win Stage 7 and deny Katusha its third stage victory of the race.
Behind, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Contador launched a solo attack with two kilometres to go and rode away from race leader Froome, despite the best efforts of his Sky team-mate Richie Porte to bridge the gap to their biggest rival.
Porte’s acceleration shed Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) from the contenders group, but the Australian could only battle on for so long on the cruel climb to Finhaut-Emosson, giving up his chase with a single kilometre to go and Contador 18 seconds in front.
Froome had nothing more to give as he crawled his way up the steep finish, trying only to limit the damage inflicted by Contador. The Brit eventually crossed the line 20 seconds behind him to cede the race lead.
Contador now holds an eight second lead over Froome with one stage remaining. Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky finished with Froome to move up to third overall, 39 seconds behind Froome.
“The truth is that I knew little about the final climb but I was told that the last five kilometers were very hard,” said Contador.
“I was well escorted by five of my team-mates. At two kilometres to go, I was close to my limit but I tried my luck with attacking. It’s an incredible surprise that I managed to take the yellow jersey. This is an incredible race. It has gone beyond my expectations so far but the Dauphine is not over yet.”
By 60km into the penultimate stage, 14 riders held a 5min 25sec advantage.
The group consisted of Westra (Astana), Katusha team-mates Egor Silin and Yuriy Trofimov, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), Matthias Brandle (IAM), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Lars Boom (Belkin) and Daniel Schorn (NetApp Endura).
Their lead reached a maximum of 7min 45sec at 113km before Tinkoff-Saxo took control of the chase, bringing the leader’s advantage down to five minutes on the climb to Col de la Forclaz.
Stage 4 winner Trofimov attacked the breakaway, splintering the group as he rode away to be the lone leader with 20km to go.
As he crested the climb Trofimov had 23 seconds over Silin, with Sky leading the peloton six minutes behind and the rest of the early breakaway in the gap.
Silin reached Trofimov at the base of the climb with the pair combining their efforts on the final 10.2km climb.
Nibali made a solo attack but his move came to nought as Sky methodically utilised its team members on the front of the peloton on the climb to Finhaut-Emosson.
With 5km to go, the leading pair were over four minutes in front as they turned their attention to capturing Katusha’s third stage victory of the event.
Froome’s rivals bided their time behind him, waiting for his lieutenants to falter and leave him open to attack. Movistar’s Igor Anton was the first to put the Sky train to the test.
With 4km kilometres to go Anton was reeled back as BMC’s Tour de France hope Tejay van Garderen lost contact with the yellow jersey group.
As Sky’s Mikel Nieve pulled off from the front of the peloton, Contador readied himself for his searing attack.
Meanwhile, Westra’s sensational solo effort saw him sneak up on the Katusha pair to steal the stage victory.
“I was obviously in good shape in the past few days, going into all those breaks,” said Westra. “At the beginning of the stage, I was thinking of taking a rest day for once but I had good legs, so I went for a breakaway again.
“I didn’t feel good in all the climbs but in the last one, I went at my own pace and I passed the two Russians with 200 metres to go. It’s crazy.”
The race concludes on Sunday with a 130km stage from Megeve to Courchevel.
“Tomorrow it’s a complicated stage with an uphill finish,” said Contador. “Team Sky is very strong. Whatever happens, I’m happy with how my legs are getting better and better every day. This is a preparation race. The most important for me is to be at 100 per cent of my capacities on July 5.”
Highlights to come.
(Astana’s Lieuwe Westra staggered to the finish – Sirotti)
Stage 7: 161.5km, Ville-la-Grand–Finaut-Emosson
1 Lieuwe Westra (NED) Astana 4hr 32min 51sec
2 Yury Trofimov (RUS) Katusha 0:00:07
3 Egor Silin (RUS) Katusha 0:00:16
4 Alberto Contador (ESP) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:33
5 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:51
6 Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:53
7 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky
8 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana 0:02:11
9 Romain Bardet (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:16
10 Sébastien Reichenbach (SWI) IAM Cycling 0:02:19
1 Alberto Contador (ESP) Tinkoff-Saxo 27hr 46min 51sec
2 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky 0:00:08
3 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:39
4 Wilco Kelderman (NED) Belkin 0:00:59
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) Lotto-Belisol 0:01:14
6 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana 0:01:16
7 Romain Bardet (FRA) AG2R 0:02:11
8 Sébastien Reichenbach (SWI) IAM Cycling 0:02:14
9 Leopold Konig (CZE) NetApp-Endura 0:03:00
10 Lieuwe Westra (NED) Astana 0:04:04
Cycling Central will stream all stages of the 8-15 June Critérium du DauphinéLIVE.