LE LIORAN, France — Belgian rider Greg van Avermaet won the first mountain stage of the Tour de France with an audacious solo attack in the Massif Central on Wednesday and also claimed the overall leader's yellow jersey.
The BMC rider was part of an early nine-man breakaway and he methodically whittled down the group before accelerating past fellow Belgian Thomas De Gendt with 17 kilometers (10 miles) to go on the penultimate climb of the day.
Defending champion Chris Froome and two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana finished in the main pack, while two-time winner Alberto Contador and 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali fell out of contention.
The 31-year-old Van Avermaet also won a stage in last year's Tour and is known as a specialist at single-day classics and short stage races, having won Paris-Tours in 2011 and the Tirreno-Adriatico this year.
At the finish, Van Avermaet pointed to his chest and BMC shirt then celebrated by using his left hand for two fist pumps.
"It's special for me. It's the best jersey in the world. It's my first time and perhaps the last so I will enjoy every moment," Van Avermaet said. "It's the best moment of my career. Winning a stage is already quite something but this takes it to another level."
Van Avermaet does not consider himself a threat for the overall title. He plans to support BMC captains Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte in the Pyrenees and Alps.
"It's good to have good morale in the team and to take the pressure off," Van Avermaet said. "The main goal for us is having Tejay or Richie on the podium in Paris."
The 216-kilometer (134-mile) fifth stage from Limoges to Le Lioran featured five climbs in a constant up-and-down finish, including the 1,589-meter (5,213-foot) Pas de Peyrol.
It was the first time that the Tour reached above 1,500 meters this early in the race since the leg-breaking start to the 1979 edition, which began with three stages in the Pyrenees over the first four days.
Nibali, the 2014 winner, was dropped on the Peyrol along with world champion Peter Sagan, who was wearing the yellow jersey for a third day.
De Gendt finished second, 2:35 behind and Rafal Majka of Poland, the 2014 King of the Mountains, crossed third, 5:04 back.
Contador finished 33 seconds behind the other overall favorites while Nibali — who won the Giro d'Italia in May — lost nearly 10 minutes.
In the overall standings, Van Avermaet holds a lead of 5:11 over rising French rider Julian Alaphilippe, with Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde third, 5:13 behind.
Froome is fifth, 5:17 behind, and Quintana is seventh with the same time.
Contador, who fell twice in each of the opening two stages, is 25th, 6:38 back.
"I knew it would be hard," Contador said. "The two crashes really hurt. I'm still aching. It's not easy to recover. But I'm hanging in there."
On a sunny and pleasant day with the temperature at about 20 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit), fans — many of them wearing polka-dot King of the Mountains jerseys — lined the road in large numbers leading up to the Le Lioran ski resort.
Stage 6 Thursday is a flatter 190.5-kilometer (118-mile) leg from Arpajon-sur-Cere to Montauban. The next mountain stages come this weekend in the Pyrenees, although the Tour may not be decided until the race reaches the Alps in the third week.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf