Chris Froome moved into the yellow jersey after winning stage eight ©Getty Images

Defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome took the overall race lead after a surprise downhill attack saw the Briton catch his nearest rivals by surprise and earn stage eight victory in Bagnères-de-Luchon.

The general classification contenders were expected to ignite their respective challenges on the first Pyrenean stage of the race, part of the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour.

It came as no surprise when Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet, who led the race by more than six minutes at the start of the day, was dropped as the peloton tackled the Col du Tourmalet at the halfway mark of the 184 kilometres stage.

Team Sky led the peloton towards the Col de Val Louron-Azet, where they caught the remnants of the day’s breakaway, as they looked to prepare Froome for a potential attack on the Col de Peyresourde.

With the vast majority of the overall contenders still in contention at the top of the final climb, bar the dropped Spaniard Alberto Contador, Froome launched a shock attack on the descent.

The move caught his key rivals, including Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and Italy’s Fabio Aru, by surprise, with the Briton able to stretch his advantage during the closing eight kilometres.

Froome crossed the line  in a time of 4 hours 57min 33sec to earn the sixth Tour de France stage win of his career, also picking up 10 bonus seconds.

Ireland’s Dan Martin led home a select chasing group 13 seconds back, which included Quintana, Aru, Spain’s Joaquim Rodriquez and Alejandro Valverde, Britain’s Adam Yates and France’s Roman Bardet.

Chris Froome moved clear on the descent after attacks on the day's climbs were foiled ©Getty Images
Chris Froome moved clear on the descent after attacks on the day's climbs were foiled ©Getty Images

“It wasn't really planned, there was nothing premeditated,” said Froome.

“My team-mates buried themselves for me from start to finish.

“To try and make the most of my team-mates' work, I thought I'd give it a try in the downhill as the few tries on the climb didn't work out.”

The Team Sky rider, chasing a third Tour de France victory, now leads the standings by 16 seconds from Yates and Rodriquez.

Yates had begun the day in second behind Van Avermaet, after the times of yesterday's stage where taken at the 3km to go mark, due one kilometre to go arch collapsing on the Briton ahead of the finish.

Quintana and Aru remain well placed 23 seconds back, while Contador's hopes of a third Tour de France look over as the Spaniard is 3:12 down.

Froome’s stage win was also Britain’s fifth in eight stages, following yesterday’s win for Steve Cummings and the three sprint successes of Mark Cavendish.

Britain also hold three of the four jerseys on offer.

Froome is wearing yellow for the overall classification and Cavendish and Yates hold the green and white jerseys, awarded to the points leader and best young rider respectively.

Poland’s Rafal Majka holds the King of the Mountains jersey.

The peloton are due to tackle another mountain stage tomorrow, an 184km route taking them from Vielha Val d'Aran to Andorra.