The GC rivals traded blows as they valiantly tried to crack each other in the final kilometers of the summit finish of stage nine and the elastic in the small elite group stretched taut, very close to snapping.
A cold rain pelted down. Chris Froome (Sky) attacked. Then Richie Porte (BMC). Then Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick Step). And then Martin again. It was GC war and the last climb in the 184-kilometer mountain stage the perfect setting for a fierce battle.
Bauke Mollema clawed his way across the gap that had formed to six riders, the elastic still intact, and the contenders regrouped again.
Then Mollema calmly accelerated past.
Only four kilometers remained to the finish line where Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was on his way to the stage win, the strongest of the day's 20-rider breakaway.
But the yellow jersey-clad Froome wouldn't let the wiry Dutch climber go; the time differences amongst the top riders too close. Mollema was drawn back into the clutches of the group, and the accelerations continued.
Mollema collected his breath and attacked again. And again Froome, on the defensive to retain the yellow jersey, closed the gap.
"I felt good on the last climb, and I tried to attack a few times, but Froome chased me. After I had attacked I needed to recover a little bit, then Richie Porte went, and I just couldn't follow the first GC guys," explained Mollema.
Finally, the leading group split. Froome, Porte, Martin, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Adam Yates (ORICA-BikeExchange) pulled away in the last 2000 meters as Mollema followed with four men seconds later.
So far I am happy about the form, and hopefully I can keep this in the next two weeks.
"In the last kilometer we had a small gap from them, I was with Bardet and Rodriquez. I think in the end it was a good day, and it has been a good first week for me. Tomorrow's the rest day; time to recover. Still two weeks to go. So far I am happy about the form, and hopefully I can keep this in the next two weeks."
Mollema's group crossed the line 21 seconds behind the yellow jersey, enough to launch Mollema into 7th overall at 44 seconds. Despite the small time loss, the hunt for the overall classification is still close between the top rungs of the leaderboard.
"It was a hard race," concluded Mollema. "First it was really warm, and then on the last climb it was raining, and hail. It was a special day, really hard. I had a lot of support from the boys again today, and in the final climb they brought me to the front in good position."
Tomorrow the Tour has its first rest day.