MENDE – Spaniard Omar Fraile ended Belgian hopes of a Tour de France victory on their national holiday with a gutsy, maiden victory on the race on the 14th stage on Saturday.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas, of Team Sky, retained the race leader’s yellow jersey after crossing the line with teammate Chris Froome and Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) just over 18 minutes in arrears.
With four days of climbing in the Pyrenees yet to decide the outcome of the yellow jersey, the main peloton and all the race favourites were happy to allow an early breakaway escape in the opening kilometres.
Intentions seemed clear on Belgium’s national holiday after seven Belgians got in among a group of 32 front-runners, including Philippe Gilbert and yellow jersey holder Greg Van Avermaet.
And when Jasper Stuyven (Trek) capitalised on a mid-race spat between Gilbert and Fraile to break away on his own with over 30km to race, it looked like Belgium would have an extra reason to celebrate.
But Stuyven, a one-day classics specialist who finished in the top ten of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders earlier this season, fell victim to his lack of climbing prowess.
He held a 1min 40sec lead on a group of chasers with 10km to race, with the main peloton and Thomas at over 20 minutes in arrears.
But on the final, 3km climb leading to the flat finish at Mende, Fraile launched an audacious counter-attack.
The Pyrénees are coming, and @GeraintThomas86 still clings on to his Maillot Jaune! 🔥💛
Les Pyrénées arrivent, et @GeraintThomas86 s'accroche dur comme fer à son Maillot Jaune ! 🔥💛#TDF2018 pic.twitter.com/xAeAJ6A7yG
The Spaniard dug deep on the climb, whose average gradient is a punishing 10.1%, and soon had Stuyven in his sights.
When he overtook Stuyven with two kilometres to race, Fraile did not look back.
He came over the finish line with room to spare, finishing six seconds ahead of Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step), with Stuyven in third place.