The second shortest stage of the Tour de France for 2018 at 108.5 kilometres, the action was predicted to be heated between the contenders for the yellow jersey in Paris. The stage was either uphill or downhill all stage, and offered a chance for the big names to upset the established pecking order at the top of the standings.
The early breakaway was a large one, with many of the major teams making sure they had some climbing domestiques in the move for later in the stage. Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar, AG2R La Mondiale, Team Sunweb, Astana, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates all had riders present in the move.
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Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the first of the big names to strike out from the finish, jumping clear on the Col du Pré with 54 kilometres left in the race. Team Sky came to the fore to set a decent tempo, but didn't attempt to really ramp up the pace initially.
Valverde motored his way past dropped riders from the breakaway, linking up with teammate Marc Soler, who had sat up to wait for his team leader. The two riders managed to push Valverde's advantage out to two minutes with 40 kilometres remaining in the stage.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) used the descent from the Cormet de Roselend to escape the peloton alongside teammate Soren Kragh Andersen, with the former white-jersey wearer doing the majority of the pace-making as the Team Sunweb pair slipped across a minute gap to join Valverde's group.
Back in the peloton Team Sky still had six riders present, with Bahrain Merida occasionally chipping in some pace-making. The Sky mountain train really began to ramp up the speed on the final climb of the day, La Rosiere, to try and bring back the minute gap of Valverde and Dumoulin, as well as the three minute gap to the breakaway.
With nine kilometres left to the finish, it was Dumoulin who left a flagging Valverde behind, striking out on his own with his advantage to the peloton diminished to just 20 seconds.
Valverde was quickly caught and then dropped again by the Sky-led main group, eventually going on to concede three and a half minutes to Thomas.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the next big name to falter, slipping out the back with seven kilometres remaining and losing three minutes and 53 seconds by stage's end.
With the main group dwindling, it was Thomas who launched a big attack, leaving the others for dead as he struck out with five kilometres left.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) were the first to try and respond with their own attacks, but neither made much headway as Chris Froome (Team Sky) looked to follow wheels.
Thomas bridged the gap to Dumoulin, with the big Dutchman prepared to work despite Thomas being on his wheel, with the threat of Froome behind.
Thomas used the respite to save some energy to launch another attack, gapping Dumoulin and riding off in pursuit of the last man standing from the breakaway, Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott). Mitchelton-Scott's main man, Adam Yates, had already been unhitched by the aggression behind, while Nieve was given the all-clear to go for the stage.
Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) had been biding his time behind, letting others attack and pacing slowly back on, but he unleashed a massive offensive with four kilometres left, leaving all but Froome behind, with even the four-time Tour winner struggling to get on terms with the Irishman.
That left Quintana, Bardet, Primoz Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk (both LottoNL-Jumbo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) chasing behind, with the group not working together particularly well.
Bardet tried to attack a few times to go across to Froome and Martin, while Quintana and Nibali were happier setting tempo.
Froome attacked and managed to distance Martin, but before he could bridge over to Thomas, the Welshman had gone off on his own, overtaking Nieve to win the stage.
Froome did make it up to Dumoulin, but the Team Sunweb rider had enough left to stick with the British rider and roll over the top to finish second on the stage.
“It’s unreal I didn’t expect it at all,” said the new leader of the race, Thomas. “We were low on numbers so it was more instinct so we didn’t get caught having to ride - I saw a little gap.
“I committed to going across to Dumoulin and I was able to sit on of course, as Froome was coming across and I could see Frosty [Mikel Nieve] and he’s a good mate, it’s a shame you know, but I had to go for the win."
Thomas, who replaced BMC's Greg van Avermaet on the general classification, now leads the race by one minute and 25 seconds ahead of Froome while Dumoulin is next at one minute and 44 seconds.
“I knew there was a good chance [of going into yellow] but I didn’t know how everyone else was going to ride," said Thomas. "Wearing the yellow jersey is a massive honour. I managed to do it last year and to do it two years in a row is really nice.
“We were expecting attacks and when they go, it’s never nice to see them going away but we had confidence in each other and rode really well.”
Tom Dumoulin shapes as the main contender to challenge the top pair of Team Sky, with the former Giro d'Italia winner up to third overall.
"Soren Kragh Andersen, we had him in the break, he's a mad man on the downhills. I told him to go in front and to take it fast but not risky. Suddenly, we had a gap - he did such an amazing job I think."
Dan Martin has been very impressive since crashing hard on Stage 8, fighting back to propel himself back into the top 10 on GC after Stage 11.
"I saw that they had stopped and I was coming up behind, so I thought why not give it a go. I knew on that last four kilometres that everyone would be looking at each other and if you could get a gap it could stay.
"I just love racing in the mountains. The last few days haven't felt like racing as I have enjoyed it so much. It's a shame that I enjoy something that hurts like hell. Racing on this mountain with this crowd - there is no feeling like it!
"Everybody had a go today: Movistar had a go and then Tom [Dumoulin]. This Tour is going to be about who has the least bad 'bad day'. If I haven't of had the crash I would be a lot better off by now. I am just going to keep doing what I am doing."
The most aggressive rider award was given to Valverde who defended the tactics that saw him lose time on th day.
"We played the cards we had to play, doing what we had planned," said Valverde. "We gave it our all, and that’s the most important thing to me.
"Nairo and Mikel tried to stay as close to the main contenders as they could, and our team-mates were excellent, with Imanol, Bennati, Amador and a really superb Marc Soler. We were the team who took the biggest efforts to try something different.
"Hats off to Sky – they were superior today and it’s our turn to keep trying tomorrow, as well as for the remainder of the Tour."
With the promise of further attacking from Movistar to come, the battle for the Yellow Jersey is far from over from a competitive standpoint, though the squad wanting to unseat them will face both figurative and literal mountains.