Tour de France leader Chris Froome tightened his grip on the yellow jersey after finishing runner-up to world champion Tony Martin in the 11th stage time trial on Wednesday.
Martin had set the early pace for the windswept 33 km course from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel in 36min 29sec but had a nervous wait as Froome threatened to upset his hopes of victory.
“It was a long wait,” said Martin, who started 65th from the 182 starters.
Belgium’s Tomas De Gendt, of Vacansoleil, was closest to challenge Martin before Froome went but was 1min 01sec slower than the German at the finish line to end up third.
Martin admitted he was surprised to see Froome challenge his mark.
“At the start I was quite sure I would hold on because I had a good lead on Thomas De Gendt. I didn’t think Froome would get so close,” he added.
As Martin watched nervously from the hot seat, Team Sky leader Froome came home in second place at 12 secs adrift.
However the Kenyan-born Briton’s effort meant he finished more than two minutes ahead of principal rival, two-time champion Alberto Contador of Spain, and his compatriot Alejandro Valverde.
Contador, considered Froome’s biggest rival ahead of four tough stages in the Alps beginning Sunday, could only finish 15th at 2:15.
He jumped up two places to fourth overall but has gone from being 1:51 behind to 3:54 in arrears. Fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde began the day at 1:25 behind Froome but despite remaining in second place overall the Movistar team leader is now 3:25 behind Froome. Froome, who won Olympic time trial bronze in London last year, said he had achieved what he set out to do.
third quickest ever
Martin hit an average speed of 54.271 km/h to record the third-fastest time for a time trial win in the race Wednesday as he powered to victory on stage 11.
American Greg LeMond, the race winner in 1986, 1989 and 1990, still holds the record for the fastest average speed in a time trial at the Tour, hitting an average of 54.545 km/h in 1989.
LeMond’s performance on the final day of the race allowed him to win the 24.5km stage from Versailles to Paris and relegate overnight leader Laurent Fignon to second place by just eight seconds.
The fastest time trials: 54.545 km/h: Greg LeMond (USA) - Versailles to Paris (24.5km) in 1989; 54.361 km/h: David Millar (GBR) - Pornic to Nantes (49km) in 2003; 54.271 km/h: Tony Martin (GER) - Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel (33km), ‘13.