Tour de France: Sky's protective shield produces yellow for Froome
Chris Froome moved into the Tour de France's yellow jersey with a huge show of strength from Team Sky on the first proper day in the mountains.
Froome attacked on the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines, moving clear with 5.5 kilometres of the category one climb remaining and pulling clear as his rivals Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde were unable to respond.
The stage win, Froome's first of the Tour, was enough to put the Briton in yellow with South African Daryl Impey dropped early on the stage. Froome crossed the line 51 seconds ahead of team-mate Richie Porte, with the pair moving into first and second place overall. Valverde was third, one minute 10 seconds back with Contador distanced by one minute and 46 seconds as he came home in eighth place.
Sky had set a strong, steady pace at the front of the peloton up the hors categorie Col de Pailheres, carefully monitoring a series of attacks which came throughout the stage. The last and most threatening came from Colombian Nairo Quintana, who led over the Pailheres, the highest peak on this Tour, and at the foot of the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines. But he was caught midway up the hill and soon after Froome pulled clear.
Froome won stage seven of last year's Tour in La Plance des Belles Filles, when that victory put his team-mate Bradley Wiggins in a yellow jersey he would keep all the way to Paris. Now Froome's clear goal is to emulate that achievement, and the manner of yesterday's attack has already put him in a strong position.
Yesterday's stage was always billed as the one which would see the real battle commence but the ease with which Froome climbed away suggests it may not be a fair fight. A huge amount of the credit will be shared with his team-mates. They have the reputation as the strongest team in the field, but yesterday they made it plain for all to see as the road headed south from Castres and into the Pyrenees.
While Porte's second place reflects his status as Froome's chief lieutenant, there was another huge turn from Geraint Thomas on his cracked pelvis, while Tour debutant Peter Kennaugh earned the plaudits of his team as he led the Sky train over the final leg of the Pailheres, down the long descent and on to the final climb before peeling off seven kilometres from the finish.
Sky never blinked as a series of attacks were made on the brutal ascent of the Pailheres. Christophe Riblon of AG2R La Mondiale was the first to begin the climb as the last man standing from an early four-man breakaway. As the road ramped upwards, Robert Gesink made a move before the inevitable but short-lived burst from Thomas Voeckler. Quintana's was the first move from one of the serious contenders. He quickly moved to the front and stayed there to cross the summit, 2,001 metres up, alone – collecting the Souvenir Henri Desgrange which is awarded to the first rider over the highest summit of each year's Tour.
Ireland's Dan Martin finished 15th on the stage, two minutes and 34 seconds behind Froome, a result which moves him to 13th overall. Nicolas Roche drops back to 22nd after finishing four minutes down.