Defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) responded to predictions that he might struggle on the steep slopes of the La Planche des Belles Filles with a show of force and pride, chasing and passing late solo attacker Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to finish first amongst the overall contenders.
Alaphilippe surged away on the dirt road in the final kilometre, fighting to hold onto his leader's yellow jersey but he lost it by six seconds to Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), who was in the break of the day and finished second to stage winner Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida).
Thomas finished fourth and 1:44 behind the breakaway riders but gained nine seconds on Team Ineos teammate Egan Bernal in the surge to the finish, using his power to drive to the line after the final 24 per cent section.
He reaffirmed his leadership role at Team Inoes and cancelled the five seconds he lost to Bernal on stage 3 to Epernay.
Thomas caught Alaphillipe right on the line, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) also passing his compatriot. Pinot finished just two seconds down on Thomas, but Nairo Quintana (Movistar) lost seven seconds, with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Mikel Landa (Movistar), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Bernal losing nine seconds.
"I felt pretty good, it was a good day I guess," Thomas said modestly.
"It's one of those climbs that you really have to be patient and when Alaphilippe went, at 800 metres to go, I had the confidence to let him go, ride my own tempo and then drive it all the way to the line from 350 metres. I started to blow, though, but it was solid. It's decent."
Thomas admitted he had been concerned about attacks from the pure climbers on the steepest part of the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles.
"I thought it would be more of a solid day, it's never easy, but it was steady over the first few climbs," he explained.
"I didn't know, but felt good on the last climb and knew I had to pace it. The steep climb is not really my cup of tea, as they say. I was expecting Richie [Porte], Nairo [Quintana], Egan [Bernal], obviously, to go up there, and [Adam] Yates.
"When Movistar went, Valverde was riding, and it was solid. I was feeling good but I was unsure about things after a lack of racing. After not racing the Tour de Suisse, you don't know definitely how good you are. I knew I had decent legs; so to get a confirmation of that today is pretty good."
Avoiding the noise by living in a bubble
Thomas has ignored the doubts and speculation about his Tour de France form and his rivalry with teammate Egan Bernal by retreating into his own private world and ignoring the white noise that is generated by every moment of the Tour de France.
"It's not erased doubts for me, maybe for others who are questioning me," he said. "I stay away from all that now, I stay in my bubble and talk to my wife about the dog, our house in Cardiff or whatever. I leave all the talk to everyone else."
Thomas also pushed back on the idea that, after a strong ride on terrain that did not suit him, he is now the Tour de France favourite.
"Arrh.. I don't know. As I always say, with odds, betting and talk of favourites, I leave all that to others and worry about myself and try to do everything right," he said.
"I've had a good start, but it's only stage 6. If you look after the TT, every day after, bar two of them, are big days, so a lot of racing to come."
Looking down on all their overall rivals
Thomas is now fifth overall, 49 seconds down on new leader Ciccone. He leads the virtual classification of the Tour de France, with Bernal four seconds behind him. They look down on all their overall rivals from the summit of La Planche des Belle Filles.
Pinot is also at nine seconds, Fuglsang is at 30 seconds, Adam Yates 35 seconds, Quintana at 52 seconds and Porte at 1:07. The big loser of the day was Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), who suffered all day and lost 1:09 to Thomas. He is now 2:08 behind the Welshman in the virtual GC.
"I've still no idea what happened behind me. I just put my head down and went all the way to the line," Thomas said.
"Everyone was looking pretty good: Richie, etc. I didn't see Yatesy, but I think he was there, too. It was an important day and a test for everyone, but it's still early days I knew it wouldn't be a decisive day."