EF Education First launched an initial surge on the front of the peloton with 38 kilometres remaining in the race, but it wasn't until four kilometres later that sustained pressure brought the yellow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep), and the Team Ineos engine that the race began to split apart.
Riders slipped off the rear of the peloton, including a number of riders high on GC. Second, third and fourth overall, respectively Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), all dropped into a chasing along with pre-race favourites Richie Porte (Trek-Segafedo), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).
The group worked very hard and was able to come back to within 13 seconds of the rear of the peloton, but couldn't quite close down the final gap to get back on terms with the leaders.
The gap then began to balloon as the race got within 15 kilometres of the finish and the impetus went out of the chase, with the gap growing all the way into the finish line where they stopped the clock one minute and 40 seconds in arrears of the lead riders.
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), 20th overall, 3'59 behind
"I think we knew that it was coming, but when they put it in the gutter there I was the last guy not to get across. It's disappointing but the race goes on.
"It's just a power thing to be honest, when they put it in the gutter on the left hand side it's a different thing and I obviously just wasn't up to it today.
"There are quite a lot of GC guys in my boat, so I'll guess we'll have to do something... but there's still a lot of hard racing to come."
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), 2nd overall, 1'12 behind
"It is certainly a good blow. You just got to be on it and ready to go at any moment, and that's where we were. But yeah, we race boring anyway, don't we? It's especially nice on a day like today, where you'd never expect it, really."
"It was just a positioning error, and then they lose over a minute and a half. It's a great day from our point of view. We were attentive. We knew it was going to be stressful and nothing might happen, but you have to be there. It worked out, it did split, and we were in perfect position. It was a really good day."
"We had everyone bar two guys, and we were all just committed. BORA were there and plenty of other guys there turning on the front. And behind you could tell they went full gas, especially on the climbs, to try to close it. But then they didn't, they ran out of gas, and that's when the elastic snapped, and we got such a big gap."
Luke Rowe (Team Ineos)
"I think it was a great day. At the start we said at some point this race is going to split. There's strong wind, right direction and you know we gave it a nudge with around 50 kilometres to go and then we just waited and waited.
"We knew it was going to go at some point and we were all over it with numbers at the front. We were straight on the front foot, we knew it was on us to drive it to the line, I was saying to the guys 'this is a TTT all the way to the finish line', it's a massive day for us."
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), 11th overall, 2'33 behind
'What do you want me to say? It's a shitty day."
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), 16th, 3'22 behind
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong moment, I just took some bottles from a soigneur at the side of the road when some other teams started to pull, creating gaps in the peloton."
"We tried to close it and we came close, but in the end, there was a big-time gap with the first group. It’s not the way you want to go into the first rest day, but we know that there are another two weeks coming up where we will try to strike back. I’m looking forward to the mountain stages and the team and I are ready for a battle there."
Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), 13th, 3'18 behind
"The split was unfortunate, and we lost some important time. It's an important time loss but we'll keep going."
"The team was working well, and everybody was working up front because there were three GC riders behind. But that's the Tour…. The important things is that we didn't fall off."
Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe), 5th, 1'45 behind
"Big thanks to all my teammates, they did a tremendous job today. They always kept an eye on me and Patrick and made sure to place us to the front before they made an important move. Everything turned out splendidly and I'm very happy I was able to gain some time on a number of the main GC contenders.
Still, we have to be very cautious, the real GC battle will start at the end of this week and nothing has been decided yet. It is, certainly, good to start with an advantage and I look forward to the first mountain stages on the Pyrenees."