Tadej Pogacar took a significant step to successfully defending his Tour de France title on Wednesday after the UAE Team Emirates rider delivered an imperious performance in a gruelling mountain 17th stage.
The Slovenian outsprinted Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard and Ecuador's Richard Carapaz at the top of the lung-busting Col du Portet for his first mountain stage win in this year's Tour after being the first attacker in the final climb.
Pogacar now leads Vingegaard by five minutes, 39 seconds with Carapaz in third place, a further four seconds back while Colombian Rigobrto Uran slipped down to fourth, 7:17 off the pace, after cracking in the mist of the Col du Portet.
Pogacar burst away 8.4km from the top of the Pyreneean pass and only Vingegaard, Carapaz and Uran could follow at first. A second acceleration was fatal to Uran, who will need a spectacular recovery in Thursday's 18th stage to Luz Ardiden, the last mountain effort of the Tour.
Barring a major meltdown on Thursday, Pogacar looks set to retain his title and while he was not as dominant as in the Alps, the 22-year-old never seemed too bothered in what was regarded as the toughest stage.
"Last week we did a lot of work, the team was always in front to control the race. Today, with a small breakaway, we saw an opportunity to go for the stage win," said Pogacar, who is also narrowing the gap with Dutchman Wout Poels in the mountains classification.
"I'm really happy to win on the hardest climb of the Tour. My team mates gave everything and I owed it to them. To win with the yellow jersey on my shoulders is something I cannot describe.
"Tomorrow if we can control like we did today we can try again but we will see."
Carapaz was in the wheels of Pogacar and Vingegaard in the steep ascent ending at 2,215 metres and despite appearing to be in pain, the 2019 Giro d'Italia champion attacked 1.4km from the top.
Pogacar, who had seemed annoyed by Carapaz's attitude, followed while Vingegaard was dropped, only for the Dane to pace himself back with the line in sight.
Pogacar then sped away and could not be followed, wrapping up a solid victory before falling flat on his back in exhaustion.
On Bastille Day, France's David Gaudu claimed an honourable fourth place, 1:19 off the pace.
But the day undoubtedly belonged to the Slovenian star, who has proven time again throughout this year's Tour why he was regarded as the man to beat. While last year's Tour was won in remarkable circumstances as Pogacar snatched victory on the penultimate stage, this year he has looked imperious throughout.