On a superb day for Team Sky, Froome powered clear on the steep final ramp of the first-category Planche des Belles Filles climb to win the 199km stage seven in the Vosges mountains by two seconds ahead of defending champion Evans (BMC) and team-mate Wiggins.
It was a perfect result for the British Team Sky, who blew apart the field on the early sections of the final climb before going on to take the stage, the Tour’s overall lead and the polka dot mountains jersey.
“The team was fantastic from the start. The guys did a fantastic job,” said 27-year-old Froome. “Richie Porte set a blistering pace and left me to take over in the last two kilometres. The plan was to keep Brad up but I thought, ‘I’m there, I have the legs’. And when Cadel couldn’t hold my wheel, I thought, ‘wow, this could come off’.
“Having Brad right there, two seconds behind, was fantastic. He’s in yellow and we couldn't ask for more. I’m speechless,” added Froome, runner up in last year’s Vuelta a Espana ahead of third-place Wiggins.
Froome’s win saw the Kenyan-born Briton move to the top of the mountains classification to complete a near-clean sweep for Team Sky.
Wiggins now leads Evans by 10 seconds in the GC, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas – who took fourth place in the stage – in third, 16 seconds behind the yellow jersey.
“It’s an incredible feeling and this is something I have dreamed of since being a child,” said 32-year-old Wiggins after putting on the first Tour maillot jaune of his career. “We’ve trained for this all year. I knew Chris Froome could take the win and I was happy to follow Cadel to the line.”
Team Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates was bullish about his riders’ achievements – but preached caution with still two weeks of the race remaining.
“We are here to try win the Tour. It’s a long way between here and Paris but today we delivered as we have done all season,” said Yates.
“We laid down the law and showed everyone what we can do. The victory is sweet. I’m really happy for Froomy and Brad’s yellow but there is still a long way to go.”
Estonian youngster Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) finished fifth in the stage, 19 seconds down on Froome, to move into fourth place in the GC and take the white jersey as the race’s best young rider.
But there was disappointment for a cluster of GC riders who lost valuable time on the race’s first serious rendezvous for the race favourites.
Russian veteran Denis Menchov (Katusha) struggled to keep up with the leading group on the final section of the climb, crossing the finish in ninth place, 50 seconds in arrears. Menchov retains his fifth place in the GC but is now 54 seconds down on the summit.
Having lost more than two minutes following the large pile-up that marred stage six, Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) lost a further 1:09 on Saturday to drop outside the top 20.
Schleck’s RadioShack team-mate Andreas Kloeden finished more than two minutes down to drop to 16th in the GC, while overnight yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara, also of RadioShack, managed to limit his losses to less than two minutes but dropped outside the top 10.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale) rode the final climb with gusto to take a solid 11th place and move into the top 10. Roche is now eighth, one place ahead of Froome, who trails team-mate Wiggins by 1:32.
Played out under blue skies and bright sun, Saturday’s stage saw a vastly depleted peloton take to the start in Tomblaine following a host of withdrawals in the wake of Friday’s headline-grabbing crash.
A further nine riders pulled out of the race overnight to add to the four who abandoned the race immediately after the incident, with Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) the most notable retiree.
A group of seven riders - Christophe Riblon (Ag2R), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo), Martin Velits (OPQS), Michael Albasini (GreenEdge), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Dimitriy Fofonov (Astana) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) - broke clear after around 20km of racing, with Frenchman Riblon riding into the virtual yellow jersey as the escapees rode almost six minutes ahead of the peloton.
Denmark’s Sorensen took maximum points over the stage’s two third-category climbs, but the break’s lead was quickly reduced once Team Sky came towards the front of the pack inside the final 40km.
French youngster Gautier, who won the intermediate sprint, was first to crack, the Europcar rouleur swept up with 10km remaining.
The other six escapees called it a day at the start of the Planche des Belles Filles climb, which was being used for the first time in Tour history.
Sorensen was the last of the initial leaders to throw in the towel as the Sky train powered through on the precipitous early part of the deciding climb.
Australian Michael Rogers set a fierce pace for Sky as the leading group shed bodies fast – including that of green jersey and triple stage winner, Peter Sagan (Liquigas).
With 4km to go, Rogers dropped back to leave Wiggins with both Richie Porte and Froome. In stark contrast, Evans was devoid of any BMC support.
Entering the final kilometre of the stage, the leading group was just five strong as Wiggins and Froome led the away ahead of Evans, Nibali and Taaramae.
A flat section gave Evans the chance to recover – and the Australian launched a biting attack of his own on the final 20 per cent ramp inside the last few hundred metres of the stage.
But showing the kind of form that saw him take Spain’s Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) right to the end in last September’s Vuelta, Froome had the strength to power through and take his first career win on the Tour.
Wiggins matched his main rival Evans, content to hold his wheel to the finish. Team Sky have drawn first blood – but there is still a long way to go.
The Tour continues on Sunday with the undulating 157.5km stage eight through the Jura mountains before Monday’s 41.5km crucial time trial to Besancon.
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