Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) won stage four of the Critérium du Dauphiné as he out-sprinted Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) as Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) moved into the yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe was consistently towards the front of affairs as breakaway rider Dario Cataldo (Astana) saw a two-minute lead demolished by Team Sky on the 4.8km climb to the finish at Lars-en-Vercors.
Sitting in the wheels, the Frenchman bided his time before, along with Thomas and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) following a final kilometre move by Martin that was enough to reel in Cataldo.
From that situation Alaphilippe was always going to be the favourite and duly unleashed a burst of speed in the final 150m to come around Thomas and Martin to take the stage win.
Meanwhile the yellow jersey of Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) was distanced in the final kilometre, meaning that the Pole slipped down into second with the race lead passing to team-mate Gianni Moscon who finished in ninth place on the day.
How it happened
Stage four of the Critérium du Dauphiné saw a decidedly brisk start as the attacks flew off the front without anyone being able to establish a decent lead, and more than 52km covered in the first hour of racing.
In fact the pace was so high that with 60km to go a few gaps even started to open in the peloton, with a brief move of 33 riders, including the race leader Michal Kwiatkowski, getting away at one point before they were pegged back by Ag2r La Mondiale.
Finally, with nearly half of the 181km stage remaining, Dario Cataldo (Astana), Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jens Keukeleire (Lotto Soudal), and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) were able to get away, being joined shortly after by Odd Christian Eiking (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Arnaud Courteille (Vital Concept), Simon Clarke (EF Education First-Drapac) and Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept) to form the main break of the day.
Those riders steadily built a lead of four minutes over the peloton, which was being controlled by Team Sky, with Keukeleire being the best-placed rider in the break having started the day 1-01 behind Kwiatkowski.
By the time the break reached the base of the hors-catégorie Col du Mont Noir their lead was over five minutes. However unsurprisingly the steep slopes started to separate the wheat from chaff and the stronger climbers came to the fore.
Odd Christian Eiking was the first to test his legs and opened up a lead on his breakaway companions, but the Norwegian rider was soon caught and passed by Cataldo who pushed on alone to the summit.
Meanwhile Sky’s pace-setting continued on the front of the bunch and steadily reduced the gap to the front of the race, eventually crossing the top of the climb at 2-45 to Cataldo with the rest of the break, as well as Ian Boswell (Katusha-Alpecin) and Edward Ravasi (UAE Team Emirates) who had counter-attacked from the bunch on the climb, halfway between the two.
That gap remained unchanged down the descent as the rain was well-timed to only start to fall once the technical upper part of the descent was over, and by the time the road started to flatten out Cataldo had extended his lead back out beyond three minutes.
With 20km remaining the steady rain turned into a downpour as Jonathan Castroviejo and Tao Geoghegan Hart continued to work on the front for Sky with the road started to turn slightly upwards through the tight roads in the base of the gorges of the Vercors Massif.
Thankfully the roads were dry for the final 12km towards the finish with Cataldo’s lead cut to just two minutes, before Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) attacked out of the peloton which was now led by Ag2r La Mondiale.
The final climb to Lars-en-Vercors started in earnest with 4.5km remaining with Cataldo still enjoying a two minute lead but with the pace steadily ramping up behind courtesy of Geoghegan Hart who quickly reeled in Edet.
Geoghegan Hart’s brutal pace was even enough to slash a minute of Cataldo’s lead in the first 1.5km of the climb, and by the time he finally pulled off the front with one kilometre remaining the gap to the front of the race was just 25 seconds.
The first attack from the main group came from Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) before Pierre La Tour countered with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and most of the rest of the group in his wake.
However the really big move came from Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) who accelerated to catch Cataldo with only Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) able to follow, and Michal Kwiatkowski being dropped.
On form Alaphilippe had the fastest finish, and duly came around Martin with 150m to go to win the stage ahead of Martin and Thomas, with Kwiatkowski crossing the line 17 seconds in arrears.
Thomas’s second place saw him pick up four bonus seconds, but that was not enough to move him into the yellow jersey which went to team-mate Gianni Moscon who finished in ninth place on the day, conceding just eight seconds.
The result means that Team Sky still hold the top three spots at the top of the general classification, with Moscon leading by six seconds over Kwiatkowski and Thomas. However Alaphilippe now moves up to fourth place at 48 seconds.
The 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné continues on Friday with a 130.5km stage from Grenoble, culminating in a hors-catégorie summit finish to Valmorel.
Critérium du Dauphiné stage four: Chazey-sur-Ain to Lans-en-Vercors, 181km
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-26-58
2 Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates
3 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
4 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, all at same time
5 Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 5 secs
6 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott. at same time
7 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
8 Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, at 8 secs
9 Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky, at same time
10 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at same time
General classification after stage four
Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky, in 13- 55-30 13:55:30
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 6 secs
3 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at same time
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 48 secs
5 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing, at 49 secs
6 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors. at 1-05
7 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-11
8 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 1-13
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-41
10 Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 1-48