Laurent Brochard won the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Monday.
The Frenchman's first Tour success came after he had taken the first two of the four climbs on the 182 km leg from Pau to Loudenvielle in the heart of the Pyrenees.
Frenchmen and team-mates Laurent Brochard and Richard Virenque marked their country's National Day with a one-two finish in the first mountain stage of this year's Tour de France on Monday.
Brochard, already holder of the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey going into the 182-km ninth stage from Pau, streaked home first on the descent into Loudenvielle deep in the Pyrenees.
It was the first ever Tour stage victory for the Frenchman after he narrowly failed to win a third of the day's four climbs, having taken the first two including the 2,114-metre Tourmalet peak.
Italian Marco Pantani, who finished third in the same time as Virenque and last year's runner-up Jan Ullrich, 14 seconds behind Brochard, snatched the final climb to the 1,580-metre Val Louron peak.
Brochard sped past the trio to reclaim the lead on the long descent into Loudenvielle, leaving Virenque and Ullrich to continue with a fascinating battle of cat and mouse.
Ullrich, looking strong enough to succeed his Telekom team leader Bjarne Riis as Tour winner this year, is now second overall just 13 seconds behind Frenchman Cedric Vasseur.
Vasseur, who fought throughout the day to keep in touch with the leaders, managed to hang on to the yellow jersey despite coming in 2:57 minutes behind Brochard. But he will almost certainly lose it on Tuesday's even tougher 10th stage.
Spaniard Abraham Olano, one of the pre-race favourites, struggled early in the day but recovered strongly to finish the stage 1:07 behind and climb to third overall 1:14 adrift.
Riis and Virenque are fourth and fifth respectively with equal times 1:43 behind.
But Frenchmen Laurent Jalabert, the world number one, lost a lot of ground and is nearly six minutes behind, while Luc Leblanc, a former world champion, is out of the picture more than 36 minutes adrift.
Briton Chris Boardman, third at the start of the day, fell early in the stage and finally came in nearly 28 minutes adrift. He twisted his neck and went to hospital for X-rays.
Virenque, up front all day with Brochard, staged several attacks in the final 25 kms but each time Ullrich was equal to him and stuck with the Frenchman.
The young German did not, however, try to break away on his own even when Brochard sped back into the lead on the descent, remaining in Virenque's slipstream.
Both Ullrich and Riis denied there were differences in the Telekom team over whether the German was free to leave the Dane to fend for himself.
The mountains will continue to separate the men from the boys in the 252.5-km 10th stage on Tuesday which includes the 2,407-metre Port d'Envalira peak, the highest of the Tour, and an uphill finish in Andorra.