Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) won by a hair’s width in a reduced sprint ahead of Richie Porte (BMC) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) after a masterclass in climbing and descending on stage six of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Despite missing out on the stage win Porte secured the yellow jersey for the first time in the race.
The Danish rider was part of a quartet of Porte, Froome and Fabio Aru (Astana) but Fuglsang showed the lethal edge as he out-sprinted Froome and Porte in the final stretch.
Astana will be happy with a win to commemorate Michele Scarponi but they will also be happy with both Fuglsang and Aru moving into the top five overall.
Porte continued his good form as he held a 39 second lead over former team-mate Froome and secured the yellow jersey going into the last two stages of the race.
In the race’s first battle in the mountains, the four had battled their way up the Le Mont du Chat with Richie Porte and Chris Froome working solidly to reel in Fabio Aru after he launched a solo attack.
The Italian had built up a 14 second gap over the crest of the hellish climb and its 10.3 per cent average gradient but it wasn’t enough to stay away.
However it was their descending expertise that broke them from the bigger general classification group. Froome’s desire was clear to see as he undertook Porte, giving himself the edge over the Australian on the downhill.
For most of the day a breakaway of six riders plied their trade up the road.
Made up of Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) and Thierry Hupond (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), the original breakaway had built up a lead of 5-09 as they headed towards the final climb, Le Mont du Chat.
However, being 2-20 down it was key for GC contender Romain Bardet and his team to reel the breakaway in to bridge the overall time gap that had come between him and race leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).
Driving the peloton’s pace before the climb, AG2R pushed the pace up.
However, it was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who tried to take the race by the scruff of the neck and jumped the gap up to the breakaway with a fantastic solo effort. The Spaniard was soon joined by Astana’s Fabio Aru who seemed resurgent after his long wait on the sidelines.
It wasn’t long after until Bardet joined Aru and Valverde up the road but a non-stop aggression from Aru reduced it to just Aru and Bardet as the Frenchman hung on.
It wasn’t long before the Italian took the initiative though, surging right to the front of the race as the riders peaked Le Mont du Chat.
With Chris Froome and Richie Porte both eyeing up the yellow jersey, they decided to up the ante and go after Aru. Thanks to a steady pace, the pair kept in contact with Aru.
Astana teammate, Fuglsang, was up the road though and joined up with Aru to get the GC contender to the top of the mountain first.
It wasn’t long before Aru was descending on his own towards what would be a huge win in his hunt for his first victory since his injury.
Froome and Porte had other ideas as they bridged the gap and were soon in hunt of the Italian, descending well. Controversy reared its head as Froome’s ruthless descending came into play seeing the Brit undertake Porte.
Shortly after the four riders found themselves working together on the final flat 2km, conscious of Valverde who had work his way to within 54 seconds of them.
Froome then launched his sprint first taking the others by surprise but after blowing up and nearly forcing Porte into the barriers, it was Danish rider, Fuglsang who pipped the two to the post with the smallest of margins.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2017, stage six: Parc des Oiseaux – Villars les Dombres to La Motte-Servolex (145.5km)
1. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team, at 3-41-48
2 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
4 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team, at st
5 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 0-50
6 Daniel Martin (Ire) Quick-Step Floors
7 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at st
8 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-06
9 Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek – Segafredo, at st
10 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora – Hansgrohe, at 1-14
Overall classification after stage six
1 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team, at 20-52-34
2 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 0-39
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team, at 1-15
4 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1-20
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team, at 1-24
6 Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek – Segafredo, at 1-47
7 Daniel Martin (Ire) Quick-Step Floors, at 2-14
8 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora – Hansgrohe, at 2-30
9 Romain Bardet (Fre) AG2R La Mondiale, at 2-49
10 Rafael Valls (Esp) Lotto Soudal, at 3-16